UK 2017: under surveillance
By Neil Mackay
Herald" -- -- IT is a chilling, dystopian
account of what Britain will look like 10 years from now: a
world in which Fortress Britain uses fleets of tiny spy-planes
to watch its citizens, of Minority Report-style pre-emptive
justice, of an underclass trapped in sink-estate ghettos under
constant state surveillance, of worker drones forced to take on
the lifestyle and values of the mega-corporation they work for,
and of the super-rich hiding out in gated communities constantly
monitored by cameras and private security guards.
This Orwellian vision of the future was compiled on the orders
of the UK's information commissioner - the independent watchdog
meant to guard against government and private companies invading
the privacy of British citizens and exploiting the masses of
information currently held on each and every one of us - by the
Surveillance Studies Network, a group of academics.
On Friday, this study, entitled A Report on the Surveillance
Society, was picked over by a select group of government
mandarins, politicians, police officers and academics in
Edinburgh. It is unequivocal in its findings, with its first
sentence reading simply: "We live in a surveillance society."
The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, endorses the
report. He says: "Today, I fear that we are, in fact, waking up
to a surveillance society that is already all around us."
The academics who compiled the study based their vision of the
future not on wild hypotheses but on existing technology,
statements made about the intentions of government and private
companies and studies by other think tanks, regulators,
professional bodies and academics.
The report authors say that they believe the key theme of the
future will be "pervasive surveillance" aimed at tracking and
controlling people and pre-empting behaviour. The authors also
say that their glimpse of the future is "fairly conservative.
The future spelled out in the report is nowhere near as
dystopian and authoritarian as it could be."
Here's how 2017 might look...
BorderGuard The Jones family are returning to Britain from
holiday in America. "It's hard to know the difference between
the two countries by what the family experience at the border,"
say the Surveillance Report authors. Britain, America, all EU
countries and all members of the G10 have outsourced their
immigration and border control services to massive private
companies. In this vignette, the futurologists give the company
the name BorderGuard.
Thanks to the never-ending war on terror, these governments have
developed "smart borders" using hidden surveillance
technologies. Cameras and scanners at passport control monitor
faces, irises and fingerprints checking them off against records
of biometric passports, or the British ID card system.
BorderGuard has access to state and transnational databases and
can also data-mine information on individuals - such as consumer
transactions - via a paid-for service provided by specialist
companies trading in information held on every individual in the
For families like the Joneses, crossing borders is relatively
swift and painless. The wealth of information held on them means
they can be quickly identified and processed. But citizens of
nations not signed up to the BorderGuard scheme face hostile and
lengthy investigations while crossing frontiers.
Racial profiling is now the norm. Asian features inevitably mean
being pulled to one side - whether or not you carry a biometric
passport or ID card.
Brandscapes Retail chains and mega-malls now use huge shared
databases - which began with data-mining reward card information
- to create a "brandscape" for every shopper.
Smart tags buried in a shopper's clothing "talk" to scanners in
shops. The system then connects to consumer databases, revealing
where the clothing was bought and by whom and what other
purchases the person has made. The system knows who you are,
where you live, what you like and don't like. Intelligent
billboards at eye level then immediately flash up adverts
dove-tailed to the consumer profile of the individual.
The wealthiest consumer-citizen can even become a "cashless
shopper". For £200, a chip can be implanted in the human body
which is loaded with a person's bank and credit details. From
then on, it's their arm that will be scanned in a shop, not
their credit card. "Cashless shoppers" also get first-class
service in mega-malls, with special lounges, spas and massage
facilities reserved only for them. Urban myths, however, are
springing up that muggers are targeting these elite consumers
and cutting the chip from their arms. There are also concerns
about hackers being able to upload viruses to the chip or empty
the chipholder's account.
Tagged Kids Scandals about child abductions and murders during
school hours mean teachers prefer tagging a child to facing
legal liability for their injury in a court. Drug testing in
schools has also become an accepted part of life following
pressure by the government to identify problem children earlier
and earlier in life. What children eat in schools is also
monitored by parents, as boys and girls are required to swipe
their school card every time they visit the canteen. The card
contains information on school attendance, academic achievement,
drug-test results, internet access and sporting activities. The
card's records are used to assess whether the child has passed
or failed their citizenship programme.
Shops are also monitoring children in order to tap into the
lucrative youth market."Children," the report says, "are
gradually becoming socialised into accepting body surveillance,
location tracking and the remote monitoring of their dietary
intake as normal."
Elites and Proles Most cities are divided between gated private
communities, patrolled by corporate security firms (which keep
insurance costs to a minimum) and high-crime former council
estates. On most estates, private companies are tasked to deal
with social evils.
Offenders have the option of having a chip voluntarily implanted
in their arm so they can be monitored at home using scanners and
sensors. Estates can be subject to "area-wide curfews",
following outbursts of antisocial behaviour, which ban anyone
under 18 from entering or leaving the estate from dusk until
Community wardens armed with Tasers enforce the law. CCTV
cameras can be viewed by residents at home on their television's
In gated communities, meanwhile, no-one can get in or out unless
their car's number plate is authorised by the automatic number
plate recognition (ANPR) devices located on gates. There are now
so many ANPR cameras across the land that it's almost impossible
to drive the length of a street without details of your car
being logged by the state.
The aesthetics of surveillance Security has been "aestheticised"
- incorporated into the design of architecture and
infrastructure - so that it is almost unnoticeable now. "It is
ubiquitous but it has disappeared," the report authors say.
Anti-suicide-bomber bollards outside embassies and government
buildings are secreted in the ground, only being activated in an
emergency when passers-by breach the range of security sensors.
Anti-government protesters are monitored by small remote-control
spy-planes, which were introduced for the 2012 London Olympics
but remained a permanent fixture.
CCTV is now embedded at eye level in lamp-posts to enable the
use of facial recognition technology.
Protest and virtual surveillance Following protests, individual
demonstrators can be monitored by camera until private security
contractors for the local authority in which the demo took place
get a chance to question them. Helmet-mounted cameras scan the
biometrics of anyone being questioned. All guards and police are
also now monitored by surveillance devices in their handheld
computers. Ironically, this has triggered civil liberties
concerns within the police union.
The report uses two "protesters", Ben and Aaron, as an example
of how police might treat dissenters. When they are taken into
custody by private security guards in Westminster, Ben undergoes
the usual DNA swab, which is analysed instantaneously, and hands
over his ID card for scanning. ID cards are still theoretically
voluntary, but not having one makes life almost impossible.
Aaron is a refusenik and doesn't own a card. That means he can't
apply for a government job or claim benefits or student loans.
He can't travel by plane or even train. To make matters worse,
Aaron is a young black man - meaning he is deemed a "high
category suspect" and is routinely stopped and brought in to the
nearest police station for questioning.
Once Ben is released, police monitoring systems piggy-back on
his hand-held device to track him as he travels across the city.
He's also been put on a communications watchlist which means all
his internet and e-mail traffic is saved by his ISP and passed
to police. As most phone calls are online now, police also get
access to these communications as well.
Call centre drones Call centres monitor everything that staff do
and surveillance information is used to recruit staff. Potential
employees are subjected to biometric and psychometric testing,
as well as lifestyle surveys. "Their lives outside work," the
authors say, "and their background, are the subject of scrutiny.
It is felt to be increasingly important that the lifestyle
profile of the employee match those of the customers to ensure
better customer service." Recruitment consultants now frequently
discard any CV which does not contain volunteered health
Once hired, staff are subjected to sporadic biometric testing
which point to potential health and psychological problems.
Thanks to iris-scanning at a gym connected to the company,
employees can be pulled up at annual assessments for not
maintaining their health. Periodic psychometric testing also
reveals if staff attitudes have changed and become incompatible
with company values.
Big Brother is looking after you Homes in the ever-growing
number of retirement villages are fitted with the "telecare"
system, with motion detectors in every room, baths with inbuilt
heart monitors, toilets which measure blood sugar levels and all
rooms fitted with devices to detect fire, flood and gas leaks.
Panic buttons are also installed in every room. Fridges have
RFID scanners which tell the neighbourhood grocery store that
pensioners are running short on provisions. The goods are then
delivered direct to the doorstep.
Huge databases in hospitals are able to compare tests on
patients throughout the country. This allows doctors to red-flag
risk factors earlier than ever before, meaning that a patient's
statistical risk of suffering, for example, a heart attack, are
predicted with much greater accuracy. The NHS will be locked in
a battle with insurance companies who want access to health
information for commercial purposes. The temptation for the NHS
is the large amounts of money on offer. The authors point out
that Iceland sold its national DNA database to private companies
for research and profit in 2004.
The data shadow Those rich enough can sign up to "personal
information management services" (Pims) which monitor all the
information that exists about an individual - a person's
so-called "data shadow". The Pims system corrects incorrect
information held by government or private companies.
Those who can't afford Pims have to live with the impact that
incorrect data can have on their lives, such as faulty credit
ratings. "Some are condemned to a purgatory of surveillance and
an inability to access information," the report authors say.
But for other people total surveillance has become an accepted
way of life. Some voluntarily carry out surveillance on their
whole lives - so-called "life-logging" where an individual
uploads online details in realtime about everything they do.
©2007 newsquest (sunday herald) limited. all rights reserved
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