Stalked in the City

(A researched rant) By Rose Mouton

Rose Mouton knows how to get vexed! Geddit? 

Whether you like it or not London is a surveillance society. Along with all the other rich countries of the world everyday life is inundated with surveillance encounters, not merely from 9-5 but around the clock.

Some encounters obtrude into the routine, like when we forget to swipe our Oyster one end of the train journey and it is a computerized tracking system that fines us four quid when we then try and touch out we want to protest that it wasn't working the other end but there's no one about except for the computer and the computer says 'busted'. Surveillance society has truly crept up on us and become part of our every day city life. 

One sunny day I decided to see just how monitored we are by counting how many times my movements were tracked as I made my way through the city. Whilst I counted how many times my movements were being tracked I couldn't help but wonder what is all this surveillance for anyway? Why should big brother care what little old me is doing with my 24/7?

Camera crazy London boosts half a million CCTV cameras. According to the Home Office this incredible number is necessary for making our streets safer, reducing the fear of crime and detecting serious offences.  So, as I walk the length of notoriously rough Coldharbour Lane I am surprised to see just one of the white cuboids staring out some way down the road!
 
One Privacy International report states, One of the features of current surveillance practice is that the cameras are often installed in high-rent commercial areas. Since the growth of CCTV as the primary means of crime prevention, more traditional, community based measures have been discarded. Hmmm. And how effective is CCTV in actually deterring delinquency? Research carried out by The Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, a part of the Home Office, in 2002 concluded that CCTV is most effective in reducing vehicle crime in car parks but it has little or no effect on crime on public transport or city centre settings.
 
I need to catch a 345 but the friggin' corner shop's closed down and there's absolutely nowhere to top up my Oyster card so this means I'll have to pay double - £2(!) to travel for ten minutes (!).  I moan about lack of Oyster top-up facilities in tube-free zones to a passenger.  You know you can register and top up on line. Most people do that now, he says.
 

But if I register and hand over all my personal details then they can stalk me! I cry. He rolls his eyes.  Well, have you got any thing to hide? he says.  I don't have anything to hide, as it happens, but why should I be obliged to have my itinerary registered (to the extent where government and ˜Transport for London. can instantly recall movements I made two years ago) just for the sake of saving £1 every time I take a bus? What is the point in having them at all? Seriously, why can't bus fares just be £1?
 
I get out my Blackberry and look it up en route. 'Oysters + purpose' I search.  A lot of irate articles pop up about civil liberties. It says in a BBC article that a ˜by-product' of the Oyster is that the police can use the data if they feel the need to know people's whereabouts. The data is on record if the police seek
records
in individual cases explains Charles Monheim, from Transport for London [ii].  So there you go, whether you like it or not, in order to use a public service at an affordable rate your movements are captured and readily available to authorities should they want to keep a tab. Does anyone remember ticking a box that said they were cool with this when they signed up for their plastic? Did it say ˜Faster, Smarter, Cheaper, Sinister' on the posters?

 'Maybe it will be good for preventing crime!' says a passenger. 'Yeah if muggers touched in to go under a dark bridge at night!' I sigh.     
I sit there simmering about all this on the 345 all the way to Stockwell.  When I get out I can see a few more CCTV cameras. The Privacy International report I mentioned earlier states that because of the resilient nature of the cameras they 'can be legitimately described as military style systems.'
 
I go to a Cash Machine I type in my PIN and am aware that this bank may well also have a record of who I am, where I am, at what time (and who knows, maybe a whole bunch of other personal details will have become available too). Could this information also get passed on to authorities? In my last article for La Bouche 'Material Mania and Credit Insania - Who's Modern Day Monster is this?' I discussed what I consider to be an increasingly unhealthy relationship between the government and corporate giants, such as banks.  Although, I can't say I have any evidence at hand that suggests information sharing goes on between the two parties over here, pondering on this topic does remind me of a real scary report I read the other day on US company 'Infragard'.  InfraGard, a group operated by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security invite private companies to become members. According to this report, Members then hand over data about the American public to the FBI.  To add insult to injury these companies will then, in exchange, learn exclusive intelligence ahead of the general public,  like a pandemic or terrorist attack. So here, we're seeing corporations benefiting from violations of civilian privacy and an all round lose-lose arrangement for the citizen. I'd like to think these sort of exchanges don't go on under the table this side of the pond but with the continued bank bailouts and handing over our public services (such a
s the recent Royal Mail) to private companies it's not looking good.
 
Anyway I'm finally topping up my Oyster and getting on the tube where I am watched by cameras for the entire duration of my journey.  If I were a protestor on my way to exercise my right to express my views at a demo the cops would be able to trace my entire journey to the protest and would have been able to obtain an awful lot of information about me.  Although, maybe protesters don't need to worry about police going to an effort to get their facts straight judging from the recent incident at the G20 protest.

As it happens I'm actually on my way to work in Hammersmith.  Upon arrival I decide to go onto Facebook, which recently deleted a provision that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. Furthermore, it added the new proviso that Facebook would in fact retain users' content and licenses after an account was terminated (Facebook decided to remove this provision due to subsequent public outrage).[iv] I check to see if I've got any messages.  I suddenly remember the InfraGuard story! I google 'Is FaceBook a member of Infragard?' but nothing comes up.  I decide to check the Infragard site to see who actually is a member but they appear to be keeping this information top secret. Oh, I do like a bit of irony with my morning coffee!


 After a very boring day at work I am delighted to be released into the weekend of parties! I meet my friend Tom in town who has just been for an after-work drink in the Camden Underworld. I tell him about my day of 'stalked in the city'. He tells me that he just had a 'big brother' experience in the club when he was asked to stamp his fingerprint on a laser upon entering the venue. This device, 'ClubScan', means you actually swipe your finger when you go into a club - This. Is. Freaky! The bouncer assured Tom that the data is deleted but it is still the perfect closing example of how bonkers things are getting.
Who knows if some excuse will be invented in the future, or some provision deleted, which would allow clubbers fingerprints to be maintained? Will ClubScan expand to PubScan and then BusScan or SchoolScan? How can we trust in this growing surveillance society that this does not happen?
 
Every different medium of  I have encountered today cites crime and homeland security as the purpose behind their creation. But why is crime still rocketing if these drastic measures have been installed to ensure it is prevented? I do not doubt that many horrendous attacks have or could have been stopped through the state watchtower, or that muggers and rapists have been rightfully brought to justice. I do not doubt that it may feel psychologically comforting to many to know that CCTV cameras are about should they be attacked. However, it is at a huge cost to civil liberties and rather than protecting the citizen it is gradually eroding to their rights to privacy, confidentiality and anonymity. And as peace activist Milan Rai says elsewhere in this issue in 'In an Ideal World', 'Most crime happens because of the inequality and oppression and poverty created by this society', so maybe the government should be investing in sorting this out first. The amount of power that is being handed over to this government or any future party in power by allowing them this level of intelligence is insane. Just imagine if in a decade or so a dictator came into power that wanted to round up all Jews or all Muslims or all Christians or all Homosexuals or all political activists. It wouldn't be hard in this town would it? LB!

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