“One Nation Under CCTV,” waiting for the lame ducks to get back to work

Bansky, in 2008, made this simple provocative four-word statement at Westminster, London. The words, “One nation under CCTV” were painted on the side of a building. But what’s most interesting are the details.

By Banksy – One Nation Under CCTV, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3890275

Take a closer look at this picture. The two people are painted in as part of the graffiti. (Including the dog next to the policeman.)

Odd question: Why is the cop photographing this act of ‘vandalism’? He looks as if he’s carefully framing it to to post it on social media.

Another odd question: Isn’t it funny that the policeman is also being ‘watched’ by the closed circuit camera on the wall of the building?

Cameras are so ubiquitous now we seldom notice they are there. We almost expect them to be there. Have we become desensitized to being watched? Recently the Los Angeles Police Department banned the use of facial recognition using an AI platform known as Clearview. The US Congress has been slow in enacting a law that puts some guardrails around facial recognition. It’s called the “National Biometric & Information Privacy Act of 2020’’ It stipulates that “A private entity may not collect, capture, purchase, receive through trade, or otherwise obtain a person’s or a customer’s biometric identifier” unless some conditions are met. Introduced on 3rd August this year, there seems to be no traction on this.*

Clearview AI has been investigated by the media, and lawmakers and found to be engaging into some dark data mining practices connected to facial recognition. The company declares on its website that it is “not a surveillance system.” Commissions in the Australia and the UK opened investigations into this in July.

Bansky, have you been asleep recently?


* Interesting sidebar: The way to see progress of a bill in Congress is through a website, www.govtrack.us. (Yes it sounds like ‘government track us’!) In reality we can track them – so that, in this instance, they pass a law that doesn’t track us.

Drone surveillance in Sri Lanka raises deep ethical questions

Worth listening to Prof. Rohan Samarajiva break down the pros and the cons of drone use – and related sticky issues around big data, anonymization and machine learning this brings up.

This month, Sri Lanka’s army set up a drone regiment. Terms such as ‘organic aerial reconnaissance’ and disaster response are being used. But are we know with any technology, they come ‘locked’ with ethical and social dilemmas which go unnoticed.

This kind of deep discussion that professor Samarajiva brings, around whether citizens approve or recognize the privacy they forfeit for convenience, should be asked all the time. Otherwise, just as how the data mining companies are allowed to exploit us, a new technology could do the same until it’s way too late.

We love our machines – until we begin to see how they conspire against us.

Snowden movie’s ‘Whole kingdom, Snow White” line becomes real in UK

It’s hard to separate fact from drama in ‘Snowden.’

It’s not the typical Oliver Stone version of history (meaning ridden with conspiracy theories) for one reason: It deals with groups working in the shadows, conspiring if you will, to tap into networks.

I found the line by  interesting. When Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) asks who is being surveilled, his friend (played by Zachary Quintino) tells him that the NSA tracks everyone and everything in “the whole kingdom, Snow White!”

While it is true that the whole planet is now under surveillance, it’s more true of the ‘Kingdom’ across the Atlantic. BBC reports that bulk data collections had been going on for the past 10 years. The new bill passed yesterday legalizes the UK’s global and domestic surveillance program, including collecting web and phone data of people for the past 12 months.

Oliver Stone’s screen writer must be laughing.


Will there be a backlash against the Cloud?

There’s this amazing device sold on Amazon: a two-pack outdoor waterproof surveillance camera, for just $19.50 (with free shipping is you use Prime). Menacing looking. But it has one problem.

It’s fake.

Its a deliberate fake –supposedly for people who want to pretend their property is under surveillance.

Don’t you love it? We love to be watched so much we will pay money to pretend we are doing it ourselves. Couple that with the NSA-Snowden scandal, and this story about a Houston, Texas family’s baby monitor being hacked, and it’s enough to make some people long for the pre-digital age.

The Snowden scandal has new embarrassing ramifications, in the UK. The Guardian reporter’s partner was detained in Heathrow, and had his digital devices confiscated.  But it got worse. The British government demanded the newspaper smash its hard drives in the basement, under supervision. The Guardian called it “a pointless piece of symbolism.”

Which makes you wonder if people’s social media habits are going to nose-dive when they realize that we do pay a price for a surveillant society. Do we really need this darn euphemism called the Cloud? For every good story we get about being able to track down the bad guys (the Boston bombers were, after all, tracked down within a few hours because of …cameras) you get a surveillance-off-the-wall story. Incredibly worse than the baby monitor hack.

Presence Orb, is a British company that conducts what it calls “presence analytics” happily reported that hundreds of thousands of pedestrians who walked past recycling bins in London had been ‘stalked’ by the bins, which recorded the unique ‘MAC address’ of their smartphones. A bit of a hue and cry, and the government demanded it stop doing this. It did. Surveillance of people bad, bad, bad.

Smashing hard drives, very, very, good.

There’s a good reason (I now discover) I carry a small, scruffy notebook. My useful stuff is in the Cloud. My important stuff is in my pocket.

Collective Surveillance – or crowd-sourcing an investigation

As we get to know different parts of the puzzle about the Boston Marathon bombers, one thing has become clear. The biggest leads came from cameras that were in the hands of private citizens.

To this end, read this by someone who predicted citizens’ potential:

If the day comes when millions of people go about their lives while wearing sensor-equipped wearable computers, the population could become a collective surveillant: Big everybody.

That was Howard Rheingold, in Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

How will citizen participation take shape when everyone is a reporter, a photo-journalist? It’s easy to be cynical, but I have talked to many people about this, in my book, Chat Republic, and have to admit that you win some, you lose some: freedom / security.

Crowd-sourcing, whether it is investigating health issues or knowledge is always a good thing.