“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself — anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”
– George Orwell, 1984
In 1949, Eric Arthur Blair while under the pen name George Orwell penned one of the greatest dystopian novels of the modern era. The novel, 1984 became a timeless classic of oppression, surveillance, and control. It depicted a cold future society, where the Party controlled all aspects of life. It was a perpetual world at war, where its own citizens were persecuted “For your own protection”. Society was under complete surveillance, in the streets, in public places, even in their own homes. Individuality and free thought were regarded as crimes. All dissent was ruthlessly squashed.
Orwell’s work in 1984 became its own genre of dystopian fiction: Orwellian. He also coined the term “The Surveillance State”. And it seems that our State is rapidly moving towards this end. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States government passed the infamous Patriot Act, expanding the powers of the Federal government in key areas, notably in increasing information sharing between agencies and surveillance procedures. First, wiretapping was expanded to allow the capture of internet communications and to reduce the amount of information needed to get a warrant. This also expanded the amount of data and time information could be collected and stored. Basically, this act expanded surveillance capabilities, expanded the powers of warrants, and did away with the need for a warrant in many cases. And the only requirement for the use of these powers is the activity being “terrorism related”.
Fast forward to Christmas 2011. Anonymous had just completed the hacks leading to the Stratfor leaks. Soon after, they were released by Wikileaks as part of the Global Intelligence Files. Just before the planned publication, a group known only as AntiLeaks preceded to DDoS the Wikileaks websites, along with many supporter’s sites. Theses attacks many have been ‘justified’ in the eyes of the attackers. After the attacks were mitigated, Wikileaks proceeded to finish publishing the Stratfor leaks. These documents showed a partnership with a previously unknown company: Trapwire.
Trapwire’s goal, from its website is : “designed to detect patterns of pre-attack surveillance and logistical planning and introduce the basis for a paradigm shift in the methodologies traditionally applied to securing critical infrastructure, key resources and personnel.” (emphasis added). Trapwire is in the business of surveillance, and all in the name of peace and anti-terrorism. Not only Trapwire’s systems fed from their own and their clients’ cameras, the iWatch system in some major cities feeds into the database. Private company? Trapwire also feeds into the National Suspicious Activity Report. Not only is a large amount of surveillance data being held and filtered by a private company, it also is being feed to governmental agencies without due process of law.
From the Trapwire website:
“In executing our mission, we work with a wide range of law enforcement personnel and public and private security officials domestically and internationally, and similarly serve a large number of market segments.” (Emphasis added).
So what, you may ask. Maybe the government and companies are watching all the cctc camera feeds, but they cant possible view every square foot of the city. Think again. The United Kingdom alone, there are over 51,000 cctv cameras feeding into the central grid. Not only is the use of this data lightly restricted, there are new technologies that enable this information to be of greater value. UK’s Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system automatically records license place numbers and matches them against a hot-list. Even if you are not a criminal, your plate images are kept for 2 years, and the pictures of you (the occupant) are kept for 90 days. Its not only your cars that are being targeted. If you are deemed as suspicious, or near the scene of a crime, a picture of your face will be uploaded to the cloudsourcing app Facewatch, where people can match a name with your face. And its not too long until automatic face-recognition becomes standard.
These technologies are an increasingly prevalent threat to the privacy and anonymity of the individual. The surveillance state has indeed become a reality, and there is no end in sight. The time is not far away when every move will be recorded, analyses and banked. and of course it is all “for your protection”. But it is not without hope. Site such as Documenting Dystopia and other Camspotting initiative seek to build public awareness of surveillance, and where the are being watched. You can get involved as well. Documenting Dystopia maintains a database of all know camera locations, which anyone can take pictures and upload new locations. Fighting back might even be ask simple as wearing a mask in watched areas. The fight is up to the people. And the greatest weapon in this war will be knowledge.