Ministry of Peace

Sorry if you were lulled into a false sense of living in Wallace and Grommit world. Welcome back to Oceania .

Under the title “Big Brother is watching us all” a BBC correspondent, Humphrey Hawkesley, decribes the next generation of surveillance being developed in Maryland University. “Gait DNA” is what they call the unique pattern of personal movements that will allow computers to track people walking through a crowd.

DARPA seemed to be developing a Babelfish style programme. Plus:

“And this idea about a total surveillance society,” I asked. “Is that science fiction?”
“No, that’s not science fiction. We’re developing an unmanned airplane – a UAV – which may be able to stay up five years with cameras on it, constantly being cued to look here and there. This is done today to a limited amount in Baghdad. But it’s the way to go.

“Wow, it’s so safe, there, in Baghdad. It’s obviously working well then. Can we have it here please?”

Unlikely as those sentences may seem to be to issue from the lips of a sentient being, it looks as if the developers of these boon technologies think that we want them.

Interestingly, we, the public, don’t seem to mind. Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance. Some American cities like New York and Chicago are thinking of taking a lead from Britain where our movements are monitored round the clock by four million CCTV cameras.

Or how about these see through walls things they are developing? The Hawaian National Guard will be testing radio monitors that can read your heart rate through walls next year, in Iraq.

“… it will also show whether someone inside a house is looking to harm you, because if they are, their heart rate will be raised. And 10 years from now, the technology will be much smarter. We’ll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they’re actually thinking.”
He glanced at me quizzically, noticing my apprehension.
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “It sounds very Star Trekkish, but that’s what’s ahead.”

(The idea that a raised heart rate implies a will to murder would probably cause some surprise in a Baghdad gym, if any remain. That would certainly be one way to create a nation of inert people. Imagine taking your chances of going on a crosstrainer if there may be a surveillance bot in the street that notes your heart rate is outside the calm range)

Of course, the meaning of (the BBC man’s ) “apprehension” is “fear”, not “incredulity”. There is little doubt that these things are possible. Whether they are desirable is another matter.

Can it really be possible that most people want more of it?

I value peace and security as much as anyone. I would feel my long-term security was very much improved by a greater willingness to discuss issues and solve them.

I don’t feel my physical safety is improved by blanket surveillance. Anyone serious about circumventing this shit does so. The rest of us just seem to accept it passively.

It’s not inevitable. These are political and social choices. Are we really so pathetic that in the so-called liberal democracies we have absolutely NO control over what our societies are becoming?

[tags]Science, Technology, Society, Culture, Fear, 1984, Oceania, Paranoia, Surveillance, Democracy, Rant, Security, Government, Star Trek, UAV, BBC, Bablefish[/tags]

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