We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

German border controls – things ain’t what they used to be…the ‘Dodendraad’

Recent events in Germany may have led some to ask if Germany still controls its borders. Well of course the German Federation does, it had an entire Border Police Force, the Bundesgrenzschutz to do that, and it has quietly been building a Federal Police Force by merging the Railway Police with the Border Police. However, the German Federal State does not seem to regard border control as that much of a priority.

It wasn’t always thus for German governments, we all know about the Berlin Wall, or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart‘, an example of German bureaucracy showing some resolve as to who crosses its borders. The Wall was of course, the weak point in the East German border, although technically it did not divide the Germanies, but the Allied Occupation Zones from the Soviet Zone and from the DDR, and for most of the time, there was no point fleeing to comradely Poland or brotherly Czechoslovakia, but that changed in the late 1980s. At the Berlin Wall, some 138 deaths have been recorded, there may have been many more.

But there was a more deadly border defence put in place by a German state, Imperial Germany, it was called the Dodendraad, a lethal electric fence, the implementation of which left, by one estimate, around 850 people killed, other reports say around 2,000 – 3,000 people were killed, including shootings etc. at the fence. You may well say ‘It doesn’t quite sound German‘, and you would be right. It wasn’t even ‘protecting’ Germany’s border, but someone else’s. The Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was put along the frontier between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands in the First World War, as a means of controlling movement over the frontier. A frontier that had two peoples with effectively one language joined by trade and family, and separated by murderous force. The Wire did not cover all of the Belgian/Dutch border, as the Kaiser did not violate Dutch neutrality by seeking to place it around Baarle-Hertog’s many borders with Baarle-Nassau.

The task facing the Imperial Army was demanding, there were no Belgian power stations to power the 2,000 Volt wires along the over 200 miles of the fence, as Belgium (we are told) had no power grid at that time.

Around the clock there was a guard every fifty up to one hundred and fifty metres. At nighttime the number of border guards was doubled, there were also more patrols. German soldiers were ordered to fire immediately after every unanswered warming. Yet they were not allowed to fire in the direction of The Netherlands. The soldiers walked from one switching cottage to the next one, returning when they met with a colleague halfways.

For the poor border Belgians, life was grim:

Placing the wire of death made it impossible to enter The Netherlands. Border traffic was reduced. For inhabitants of the border region this was a painful ordeal as their friends and relatives very often lived in both countries. All traffic to The Netherlands was forbidden or required a strict German control. Whether one could visit a relative or a friend on the other side of the border, depended on the arbitrary decision of the local commander who might – or might not – grant a written (and paid for) permit to leave the country for just a few hours or days. Belgians had to leave the country through a specific gate and had to enter again through the same gate, subject to scrutinous control and registration. If one failed to return in time from a visit to e.g. a sick relative, one simply risked having family members imprisoned or you were forced to pay a heavy fine.

So even before the Germans sent Lenin to Russia to found and then electrify the Soviet Union, they had built a model death strip that many a socialist thinking about the good old days of East Germany could have been proud of.

A new kind of freedom

As the report stage of the Identity Cards Bill approaches in the Lords, a reminder of one highlight from the first day of the committee stage Hansard, 15 Nov 2005, Col.1012:

Lord Gould of Brookwood: Both the previous speakers—the latter with great emotion—were arguing for freedom. We have to ask what greater freedom is there than the freedom to place a vote for a political party in a ballot box upon the basis of a mandate and a manifesto. That is the crux of it: the people have supported this measure. That is what the noble Earl’s father fought for. But that is too trivial an answer. I know that. The fundamental argument is that the truth is that people believe that these identity cards will affirm their identity. The noble Lord opposite said that he likes to be in this House and how he is recognised in this House because it is a community that recognises him. That is how the people of this nation feel. They feel that they are part of communities, and they want recognition. For them, recognition comes in the form of this identity card. Noble Lords may think that that is strange, but it is what they feel. This is their kind of freedom. They want their good, hard work and determination to be recognised, rewarded and respected. That is what this does.

Of course it is right and honourable for noble Lords to have their views, but I say there is another view, and it is the view of the majority of this country. They want to have the respect, recognition and freedom that this card will give them. Times have changed. Politics have changed. What would not work 50 years ago, works now. It is not just me. I have the words of the leader of your party:

“I have listened to the police and security service chiefs. They have told me that ID cards can and will help their efforts to protect the lives of British citizens against terrorist acts. How can I disregard that?”.

This is not some silly idea of the phoney left. It is a mainstream idea of modern times. It is a new kind of identity and a new kind of freedom. I respect the noble Lords’ views, but it would help if they respected the fact that the Bill and the identity cards represent the future: a new kind of freedom and a new kind of identity.

This is the sort of rhetoric that makes my blood run cold. Here’s a prefiguring example:

In our state the individual is not deprived of freedom. In fact, he has greater liberty than an isolated man, because the state protects him and he is part of the State. Isolated man is without defence.

– Benito Mussolini.

Terry Eagleton (from a review of Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism in the New Statesman) elucidates the connection:

Conservatives disdain the popular masses, while fascists mobilise and manipulate them. Some conservatives believe in ideas, but fascists have a marked preference for myths. If they think at all, they think through their blood, not their brain. Fascists regard themselves as a youthful, revolutionary avant-garde out to erase the botched past and create an unimaginably new future.

All supporters of the old-fashioned conception of individual liberty, whether they think of themselves as left or right, conservative or progressive, must do what can be done. Resist. We should not expect any quarter for outdated ideas under a new kind of freedom.

[cross-posted to Samizdata]

Literalmindedness and the redefinition of thought

Compare this:

By 2050 earlier, probably — all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.

Syme {no relation} in 1984

with this:

People’s names are already on a large number of databases.
Most of us have dozens of cards in our wallets with our identities on. We
already have a Big Brother society. ID cards mean identity fraud can be dealt with and stopped. ID cards are a means of controlling the Big Brother society rather than creating it. Big Brother society is already here.

Charles Clarke, quoted in the Eastern Daily Press today.

Controlling the Big Brother society might sound like preventing it, restraining it. But your expectations deceive you. Forget literary allusion. “Big Brother society” means whatever the establishment defines it to mean.

Now consider only the words, how they literally fit together. Big Brother society = our society. ID cards are a means of controlling society.

Travelling with the Big Brother

The land of the free is imposing privacy-busting requirementson its visitors.

At America’s insistence, passports are about to get their biggest overhaul since they were introduced. They are to be fitted with computer chips that have been loaded with digital photographs of the bearer (so that the process of comparing the face on the passport with the face on the person can be automated), digitised fingerprints and even scans of the bearer’s irises, which are as unique to people as their fingerprints.

There are so many concerns that one does not know where to start:

For one thing, the data on these chips will be readable remotely, without the bearer knowing. And—again at America’s insistence—those data will not be encrypted, so anybody with a suitable reader, be they official, commercial, criminal or terrorist, will be able to check a passport holder’s details.

So we have unencrypted details about an individual, recorded in by an unreliable manner (biometrics). That’s what I call the worst of both worlds…

A second difficulty is the reliability of biometric technology. Facial-recognition systems work only if the photograph is taken with proper lighting and an especially bland expression on the face. Even then, the error rate for facial-recognition software has proved to be as high as 10% in tests. If that were translated into reality, one person in ten would need to be pulled aside for extra screening. Fingerprint and iris-recognition technology have significant error rates, too. So, despite the belief that biometrics will make crossing a border more efficient and secure, it could well have the opposite effect, as false alarms become the norm.

And far more unpleasant as you already be ‘guilty’ of not having your non-papers in order.

The scariest problem of all is the remote-readability of the chip, which combined with unencrypted data on it, make is designed for clandestine remote reading. Deliberately.

The ICAO specification refers quite openly to the idea of a “walk-through” inspection with the person concerned “possibly being unaware of the operation”.

Privacy and liberty implications of this are enourmous… and it gets worse. Identity theft will become a matter of setting up such clandestine remote readings. Terrorists will be able to know the nationality of those they attack.

Even the authorities realised that this would be double-plus-ungood and are looking for ways to ‘protect’ the chip either by blocking radio waves with a Faraday cage or an electronic lock. As a result, some countries may need special equipment or software to read an EU passport, which undermines the ideal of a global, interoperable standard. And so we come the full joyous circle of government ‘compentence’…

Cross-posted from Samizdata.net

Coming to a bin near you, the spy that tells how much rubbish you create

The Guardian reports:

Residents of Croydon, south London, have been told that the microchips being inserted into their new wheely bins may well be adapted so that the council can judge whether they are producing too much rubbish.

If the technology suggests that they are, errant residents may be visited by officials bearing advice on how they might “manage their rubbish more effectively”.

In the shorter term the microchips will be used to tell council officers how many of the borough’s 100,000 bins the refuse collectors have emptied and how many have been missed.

Andrew Pelling, the Conservative who represents the area on the London assembly has tagged the microchips the “spy in your bin”:

The Stasi or the KGB could never have dreamed of getting a spying device in every household.

If, for example, computer hackers broke in to the system, they could see sudden reductions in waste in specific households, suggesting the owners were on holiday and the house vacant.

But a spokesman for Croydon council said the fears were unjustified.

What we don’t want is people putting into their wheely bins tins and glass and paper and textiles, all of which could go into recycling bins. It is the way forward for waste management. We are not the only council thinking about it.

So, the council, does not want people to do something that it has imposed on them, such as recycling. Well, some people do not feel like doing it and they should have the choice. Just because the council/government/anybody considers that x is good, they have no right to impose that on others. This is social totalitarianism and the sad thing is that so few see it for what it is.

Quote of the day

Sensible blog Spyblog, does an excellent job of pointing out how the state likes to keep an eye on us via CCTV systems, ID cards and by collecting our DNA. As a servant of the state it worries me, and if it worries me then it really ought to worry you.
Dave of The Policeman’s blog

An urgent call to action!


The No2ID campaign has established an e-petition aimed at 10 Downing Street demanding the end to plans for imposing mandatory ID cards and pervasive state databases recording a vast range of what you do in your life.

The No2ID campaigners have taken the line of principled objection, given that the government seem to have decided that there is no longer any room for public debate and refuses to engage with serious – and growing – civil liberty and privacy concerns with the scheme. The Home Office have not met once with civil liberties organisations yet say their concerns have been addressed whilst at the same time avoiding public meetings but at the same time having private briefing with technology partners for introducing the schemes.

Take a stand and make your voice heard while you still can at www.no2id-petition.net. Time is fast running out.

The state is not your friend.

All That Secrecy Is Expensive

During the 2003 fiscal year, the federal government spent more than $6.5 billion securing classified information, according to a new “Secrecy Report Card” from OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of government watchdog and civil liberties groups. That’s an increase of more than $800 million from the previous year, according to the group, and a nearly $2 billion jump since 2001. But it’s only a best guess, really; the report card’s accounting doesn’t include a penny from the Central Intelligence Agency, which keeps even its overall budget classified.

The big problem with having too many secrets isn’t that it’s a waste of money; it’s that it jeopardizes security, according to William Leonard. He’s the director of the ISOO, and, essentially, the man in charge of the government’s classification policies.

By keeping knowledgeable parties from sharing what they know, “secrecy guarantees a less-than-optimal outcome,” Leonard told Wired News. “In analyzing intelligence, in developing military plans, there’s a price that gets paid.”

That’s a view echoed by both the 9/11 Commission, in its final report (PDF), and several of the Defense Department’s top current and former spies.

Big Brother’s minion?

Mark Ellott has a thing or two to say about the Norwich Union’s pilot scheme for pay-as-you-drive motor insurance.

While we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society, the Norwich Union is egging us on… They are trialling a system of in-car monitoring (a black box by any other name) that records details of the vehicle’s journey. Where it went, how fast it travelled etc.

The box records real-time vehicle usage and sends the data to Norwich Union securely using mobile technology.

Each month or quarter, the motorist will receive a document similar to their mobile phone bill advising them of their journey details. Pay as you go insurance – sounds innocuous enough. During the BBC piece it was suggested that the monthly or quarterly bill may provide advice for improving the cost effectiveness of one’s driving (from an insurance point of view) by providing alternatives to the routes taken.

Even more worrying, perhaps is the quote from the Norwich Union director of the pay-as-you-drive scheme, Robert Ledger:

The interest in the pilot scheme has been phenomenal. We could have filled the pilot twice over with the amount of requests we’ve had from interested motorists, not just within the UK but from drivers around the world.

Sleepwalking indeed…

According to the BBC’s Breakfast programme, there is no clear indication yet about how the data will be stored, used and accessed – will the Norwich Union sell it? Will the police or other agencies have access to it? So far these are unanswered questions.

One motorist volunteer thinks this will give her control over her insurance costs. For a low mileage user, this may be so. For the rest of us? It is always worth remembering that insurance companies are not charities – they are investing in this because they see a revenue opportunity. Oh, how simple it all could be – analysing a driver’s record and declaring his insurance void due to, say driving several hours without a break or breaking the speed limit – or, just hiking the premium.

Personally, I prefer to control my insurance costs by playing them off against each other come renewal time.

Big Brother goes to the Olympics

New Scientist has an article looking at the US$312 million surveillance system installed for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The eyes and ears consist of 1,000 high-res and infrared videocameras peppering the city. Cell and landline telephone calls are being recorded, converted into text, and “scanned for phrases that could be linked to terrorist activity.” The software’s developers say it speaks Greek, English, Arabic, Farsi, and other major languages.

John Pike [a defence analyst] believes other undisclosed measures are undoubtedly in place, such as face recognition from video footage. He says such surveillance technology has already proven its worth in intelligence gathering. “They’re basically the sort of stuff the National Security Agency has been using for some time,” he told New Scientist. “And they seem to place great faith in it.”

via Boing Boing

We need the oxygen of publicity

It was with something akin to delight that I saw the Times, not a newspaper overly concerned with civil liberties, have on its front page* an article about objections to Britain’s developing surveillance state.

This is modern Britain

This is modern Britain

If we cannot get these issues out in the open, we will indeed see Britain ‘sleepwalking’ into what may some time in the future be a panoptic nightmare. Blair or Howard are not going to be having the security services doing ‘midnight knocks’ on the doors of those they disfavour (well, maybe for a few people in the Finsbury Park area) but make no mistake about it, the infrastructure of repression is being put in place at an astonishing rate and someday (hopefully long after I have decamped to New Hampshire) this information is going to be used by statists of both left and right with fewer qualms than Tony Blair to order every single aspect of people’s lives in Britain in ways that places the state at the centre of everything you do in ways earlier totalitarianisms could only dream of… for your own good, of course.

We have a serious battle to win and the more these issues are out of the committee rooms and in the more general public arena, the better we can argue the case for resisting the emerging Panopticon State.


When the state watches you, dare to stare back

* = Readers outside the UK may have difficulties accessing this link once it is archived due to the benighted policies of the Times newspaper.

Beware rise of Big Brother state

The Times reports that Britain’s information watchdog gives warning today that the country risks “sleepwalking into a surveillance society” because of government plans for identity cards and a population register.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, says that there is a growing danger of East German Stasi-style snooping if the State gathers too much information about individual citizens.

He singles out three projects that he believes are of particular concern. They are David Blunkett’s identity card scheme; a separate population register planned by the Office for National Statistics; and proposals for a database of every child from birth to the age of 18:

My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society where much more information is collected about people, accessible to far more people shared across many more boundaries than British society would feel comfortable with.

Downing Street responded to warnings issued by Richard Thomas,
saying there would be a watchdog to prevent situations in which personal information gathered by one Whitehall department was made indiscriminately available to other civil servants without the individual’s knowledge.

We have made it clear that there are going to be guarantees about function creep. That is not what is going to happen. There is going to be proper oversight.

Oversight. Hm, so anyone trying to access the national database will be carefully monitored by CCTV and any other available surveillance technology. Phew, that really puts my mind to rest.

Also on BBC:
Watchdog’s Big Brother UK warning