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]

Googling ‘Welsh evil’ (or ‘BBC stupid’)

They were thrown into ecstasies of suspicion by finding we possessed a French translation of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’. If that had been the only book they found, our doom would have been sealed. It is obvious that a person who reads ‘Mein Kampf’ must be a fascist. The next moment, however, they came across a copy of Stalin’s pamphlet ‘Ways of Liquidating Trotskyists and other Double Dealers’, which reassured them somewhat. (George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia)

The BBC has learned from Google that Welsh IP addresses are 7.2% more likely (than other UK ones) to be the origin of searches concerning Jews in conjunction with certain negative terms. Since it lists these terms, the BBC story is now a high-ranked result found by such searches – or so I assume (I have not checked, lest Google record my IP address and the BBC report that Scotland has overtaken Wales). It is suggested that Google discourage these wicked Welsh googlers by not letting these combinations auto-complete.

I see no suggestion in the story that anyone contributing to it has even risen to the level of the communist secret police by e.g. correlating these queries with others from the same IP address like ‘racism evil’. (If any of the offending IP addresses also searched for ‘islamic terrorism evil’, I assume the BBC would only be the more shocked and disgusted.)

On the rare occasions when I’ve tried to imitate a Welsh accent, I often sound like I’m trying to imitate the accent of a Pakistani speaking English. I’ve been told the two accents sound similar because a high proportion of the governesses who tutored children of natives from the Indian subcontinent in the days of the Raj were Welsh. (I have no idea why that should be so or whether it is true.) If the BBC harbours the least suspicion that some of the searchers are studying anti-semitism with a view to opposing it, or that the accent of others might indeed sound Pakistani, it does not mention it.

Watching over you…

The Independent has a terrifying story, if there is no public outcry over which, I have no hope for the short-term survival of liberty in Britain. Perhaps it is just our turn to live under totalitarianism, and our children’s and grandchildren’s too (assuming liberati and other anti-social types are permitted to breed in the well-ordered society) …

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.

Read the whole thing here. Then answer me this question: by what right is this power assumed? It is no doubt being done in the name of ‘public safety’, in which case where’s the democratic mandate, and when was parliament asked?

Cross-posted to Samizdata

Touch-in, touch-out

This from Your Guide to Oyster Daily Price Capping {pdf}

Once you have reached a cap, you must continue to touch your Oyster card on the card reader on every trip. If you do not do so, you may be liable to pay a Penalty Fare or you may be prosecuted.

In other words: “Even if your travel is fully paid for, we still want to know where you are.”

Is it just me, or is the Oyster logo half a pair of handcuffs?

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.

State Bill to Limit RFID

Wired reports that a California bill is moving swiftly through the state legislature that would make it illegal for state agencies and other bodies to use the technology in state identification documents.

The bill, which California lawmakers believe is the first of its kind in the nation, would prohibit the use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chips in state identity documents such as student badges, driver’s licenses, medical cards and state employee cards. The bill allows for some exceptions.

The bill allows for a number of exceptions for the use of RFID, such as devices used for paying bridge and road tolls, ID badges used for inmates housed in prisons or mental health facilities, or ID bracelets and badges used for children under the age of four who are in the care of a government-operated medical facility.

The bill allows agencies to obtain additional exceptions to the ban if they can prove to the legislature that there is a compelling state interest to use it in certain situations and can prove that other, less invasive technologies would be unsuitable. The bill allows state agencies that already have RFID devices in place – such as the Senate and Assembly office buildings – to phase them out by 2011.

It would also outlaw skimming – which occurs when an unauthorized person with an electronic reading device surreptitiously reads the electronic information on an RFID chip without the knowledge of the person carrying or wearing the chip.

Surveillance Works Both Ways

Wired reports how in an attempt to establish equity in the world of surveillance, participants at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Seattle this week took to the streets to ferret out surveillance cameras and turn the tables on offensive eyes taking their picture.

The opposite of surveillance — French for watching from above — sousveillance refers to watching from below, essentially from beneath the eye in the sky. It’s the equivalent of keeping an eye on the eye. With that in mind, Mann conducted his tour with conference participants to see how those conducting surveillance would respond to being monitored.

In the stores, as conference attendees snapped pictures of three smoked domes in the ceiling of a Mont Blanc pen shop, an employee inside waved his arms overhead. The intruders interpreted his gesture as happy excitement at being photographed until a summoned security guard halted the photography.

Mann asked the guard why, if the Mont Blanc cameras were recording him, he couldn’t, in turn, record the cameras. But the philosophical question, asked again at Nordstrom and the Gap, was beyond the comprehension of store managers who were more concerned with the practical issues of prohibiting store photography.

Mann quoted Simon Davies of Privacy International, a London-based nonprofit that monitors civil liberties issues:

The totalitarian regime is the regime that would like to know everything about everyone but reveal nothing about itself.

He considered such a government an “inequiveillant regime” and likened it to signing a contract with another party without being allowed to keep a copy of the contract.

What I argue is that if I’m going to be held accountable for my actions that I should be allowed to record … my actions. Especially if somebody else is keeping a record of my actions.

Tracking systems may be put on cars

The Daily Texan reports that State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, isn’t happy that one-quarter to one-third of all Texans drive without automotive insurance, according to his research. He aims to change that with his proposed House Bill 2893, which includes a subsection that some find disturbing: the addition of an electronic tracking and identification system onto each vehicle.

The RFID tag would transmit a unique frequency that would show the vehicle’s make, model, identification number, the title as registered with the Department of Transportation and whether or not the driver has insurance coverage. The proposed law also makes clear that the state will create a database of insurance provider and coverage information, keeping track of who has what insurance policy and whether it is paid or not. Scott Henson, a Texas American Civil Liberties Union police accountability and homeland security specialist warns:

The language opens up the whole tracking system for any conceivable law enforcement use,” Henson said. “Once that happens, Texans’ cars might one day appear as electronic dots on law enforcement’s computer mapping screens.

The transponder lets the government track you wherever you go, whether to visit your grandmother, secretly visit a gay bar or drive to a medical supplies office, whatever.

Philip Doty, associate director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at UT-Austin goes to the heart of the matter:

In post-Patriot Act America, people have lost awareness of the little changes that lead to a chain of effects that restrict us politically and individually.

RFID Rights

Simson Garfinkel of MIT Enterprise Technology explains:

RFID technology is already broadly deployed within the United States. Between the “proximity cards” that are used to unlock many office doors and the automobile “immobilizer chips” that are built into many modern car keys, roughly 40 million Americans carry some form of RFID device in their pocket every day. I have two: last year MIT started putting RFID proximity chips into the school’s identity cards, and there is a Phillips immobilizer chip inside the black case of my Honda Pilot car keys.

He comes to an interesting conclusion:

The problem of voluntary, industry-approved privacy standards is that they’re voluntary—companies don’t need to comply with them. And the very real danger facing the RFID industry is that a suspicious public will push for regulation of this technology. Although the industry has successfully killed legislation proposed earlier this year in California and Massachusetts, high-handed actions on the part of RFID-advocates will likely empower consumer activists and their legislative allies to pass some truly stifling legislation.


I’ll be watching you (every breath you take, every move you make)

Something tells me that HMG does not expect their proposed fox-hunting ban to be awfully popular with the country folk:

Police are planning to use spy cameras in the countryside to enforce a ban on fox hunting.

Chief constables intend to site CCTV cameras on hedgerows, fences and trees along known hunting routes to enable them to photograph hunt members who break the law after hunting with hounds is outlawed.

They used to warn that ‘walls have ears’. Now walls will have eyes as well. I suppose the panopticon countryside is nothing more than a logical extension of our panoptican cities. It is merely a matter of time before every workplace and every home is wired up to the Big Eye of Big Brother. Then the nightmare really begins.

There exist all manner of varying justifications for this surveillance-fever but there is only one reason that our political masters are deploying it with such alacrity: because they can.

The same technology that enables us to chatter with each other across national boundaries is being used to create a tightly-wrapped police state.

What a very, very grim future we face.

Cross-posted from Samizdata.net

Big Brother in Chicago

Mayor of the City of Chicago has outlined elaborate camera network. The plan is to monitor the city a vast security network from a hi-tech command center. Thousands of surveillance cameras will be linked – and authorities will be alerted to crimes and terrorist acts.

Some people are concerned about “Big Brother” invading their privacy but Mayor Daley says the cameras will be located in public areas. The city’s plan is to route the live images provided by those cameras on the public way into a unified network piped into the 911 Center. There are well over 2,000 cameras that the city and its sister agencies – like the school system – monitor everyday. The city is adding another 250 cameras to potential high risk areas, most of them downtown.

That includes every city department. That includes the Chicago public schools, the CTA, city colleges. That includes the park district, any other sister agencies that have cameras out there.

Remind me exactly, how that is not Big Brother…

The Mayor retors:

You could photograph me walking down the street. They do it every day. I don’t object. You do it every day. You have that right. Why do you have that right?

Hm, I never thought that someone in his position would equate the rights of the individual (to take pictures in public places) to the ‘rights’ of the state (to monitor its citizens in public).


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

Personal data out of control

This is one scary, scary animation… It may seem exagerating and a bit on the cheesy (or sprout submarine combo) side but it is certainly my impression that things are moving in that direction.

via Dan Gillmore