Saturday, 20 September 2008

playing the identity card (again)

I finally have my copy of Playing the Identity Card, after a couple of emails to Routledge chasing it up. It took longer to get to Japan than it did to Malvern. I'm very happy to have it in my hands, and will have a read through everybody else's chapter in the very near future (I read early drafts from the workshop, but I'm sure there's been revisions).

I've also volunteered to give a presentation as part of the weekly Departmental Seminar Series in POLSIS, University of Birmigham, on the 15th of October. 'Identity and Technologies of Surveillance'. Which is nice and broad but is basically a 'hi, this is me, I work here but haven't had the chance to tell all of you about my work properly, this is what I've been doing' opportunity, so I'll cast the net broadly, but basically use thesis stuff + identity cards, maybe a little bit of 'resistance to' from the speed cameas paper (which I finished a draft of and sent over to Helen). I'll either be riding high from the viva, or will need something to get me back on the politics of surveillance horse if I've fallen off. Enough equestrian metaphors.

Finally, my paper at Ethics of the War on Terror at Leicester has been moved to 11.15 or so on the Thursday morning, because I have to head up to Manchester on the Friday for a Re-Design project team meeting. Dr Gillian Youngs at the University of Leicester has been very helpful in re-arranging. I'll be talking about The Ethics of Resilience, including what its supposed to be, why the government thinks its a good idea and are promoting it, and what the political and ehical consequences of this advocacy might be.

Monday, 15 September 2008

ANPR camera network

Front page story in the guardian, so everybody's probably seen it. There's going to be a little bit about ANPR in the surveillance and society paper proposal we're writing, given that its about resistance to speed cameras in the UK.

(evening Edit: Comment is Free discussion of this story. As ever, from my discourse analysis perspective, it's the comment section that is the most interesting, as you get to see what arguments and beliefs are actually being used in the world. That and I can't get enough bitchy internet)

Also, I picked up September's Issue of Scientific American. I've never read it before, but it caught my eye in the shop because it is a special issue 'will technology kill privacy' and the 'future of privacy'. On cursory inspection it seems packed full of interesting stuff (although heavily weighted towards the specific US case in its policy and legal implications - the technology largely carries over). One thing I just saw, that I pretty much agree with is that 'privacy' harms are often actually other types of harms, and a really interesting point that is worth thinking about (and I like, having a soft spot for egalitarian, social justice arguments):

"Much (though not all) anxiety about genetic privacy would go away if medical care were affordable to everyone."

Makes you wonder how many surveillance issues can be thought of in these ways - that surveillance systems are frequently used to maintain the status quo position of inequality, because inequality tends to cause things that are system-destabilising (crime for example). So if there was less inequality, there would be less need for surveillance systems, or they could be used for more benign activities - in the above case, for epidemiological research for example.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Success actually....

From failblog, I think this one is a success actually. Anybody know where I can get some helium?

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

there's a call for papers out for an issue of Surveillance and Society on Resistance to surveillance. I know a fair few people who are intending on putting papers in, because there's something about resistance that seems to get people interested, at least within the field of surveillance studies - presumably people get into fields of political and social research because of things that interest them, or because of issues they are affected by.

I'm currently writing a paper in response to the call with Dr Helen Wells of the University of Keele. We got talking at InVisibilities earlier in the year, and found a lot of synergy between elements of our research. Hopefully the editors and reviewers will like the result.

Friday, 12 September 2008

you have nowhere to hide

Found this photo on the computer and thought I'd share. It was taken in manchester, and it looks like the summer, so I'm guessing summer '07. It features a poster on a metro station 'advertising' the TV licensing agency's ability to reduce the privacy of the home to a state of utter transparency, akin to the housing in Zamyatin's We, through the use of their database - which is 'notified whenever a new TV is purchased', with the result that 'there is nowhere to hide'.

Nice. Anyway, these folks have been pretty good at bringing out the surveillant, dystopian imagery and some funky surveillance posters. They were responsible for the stark black and white '3 people on this street do not have a TV license' posters of a while back.

But basically, they're hunting for non-normal activity in a big database. So, they don't really have x-ray vision (and there never, ever were TV detector vans) but instead operate on the heuristic that EVERYBODY owns a TV right? and if somebody hasn't paid for a license, then they must be cheating. Having not had a TV for a couple of years, I know this is abnormal behaviour,in a statistical sense, but also, sometimes seemingly abnormal in a moral sense. There's something weird about you if you don't... Having informed the agency that I didn't have a TV, they sent a man around to look around my house to see if he could find an illicit TV.

I wonder how this presumption will work with more and more people watching TV online, either through the fantastic iplayer, or illegally through various other mechanisms. The BBC has acknowledged that it will need to rethink its license fee models, but my worry is that they'll be tempted to go down the route of placing some spyware on your computer to search for televisual deviancy.

but still, I bet somebody in the advertising department had a lovely time coming up with this poster.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Risk by Dan Gardner

I've just finished reading Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by journalist Dan Gardner
Its a good read, and seems to have got a lot of favourable press attention. Gardner attempts to show how a feedback loop exists between our evolutionary psychology, contemporary information technology, and political (and economic) actors with an incentive to promote fear.

Gardner's perspective here is informed by the idea that each of us has two systems of thought, 'head' and 'gut'. Head is rational, can make use of statistical evidence, reason and analyse. Gut on the other hand is a product of our evolution, and responds to things in an emotional, rapid, unanalytical way. The two systems of thought are in competition, and head is not always capable of over-riding gut. I'm generally not a fan of evolutionary psychology as an approach, especially the type of pop culture 'men are from mars, women from venus' ideas that suggests that we are all trapped with fixed behaviour patterns that are in no way the result of cultural conditioning. At least Gardner deals with the interplay between the two systems. Additionally, you don't need to posit an evolutionary origin for psychological tendencies such as the confirmation bias and the availability heuristic, to show that the exist and that they affect our thinking on risk - which gardner does by drawing on the large literature of experimental psychology. The evolutionary psychology element does serve as a way of drawing in a lay reader however.

He has a section on perceptions of risk from crime and terrorism which are worth reading for people interested in these fields. If you've ever delved into the academic risk literature there there won't be an amazing amount of new material in this book, but if you haven't, this is a good place to start, or to get a very readable overview. No double I'll be drawing on some of this material, especially considering recent interviews I've been doing.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Sniffer dogs

There are a number of articles in the 'popular' press today that talk about about the use of sniffer dogs in the Madeline McCann investigation about how they might just have detected old blood rather than anything to do with the particular investigation, or even that they were 'rigged'

As with this whole issue, the articles are full of jingoism - british police good, foreign police bumbling and emotive language, there's also an odd double movement, in which the police are criticised for 'jumping on' the findings of the dog - but the use of the dog (by a former police dog handler) is not questioned.

If the dog detects 'very old blood' then what use is it for a criminal investigation if anything is tagged up as a false positive.

The reason I'm mentioning this, is that I've just finished reading 'Headspace' by Amber Marks, which looks into oflactory surveillance using animal 'bio-intelligence' where she investigates a number of issues around this. It's somewhat anecdotal, and I feel like I know as much about Amber's life (see, we're on first name terms) as I do about olfactory surveillance, but its an interesting look into the world of police sniffer dogs and the like. It really needs a conclusion chapter though. There's lots of interesting material in there that I'm going to go back through as it fits in with some of the issues I'm thinking about in terms of challenging statements made by surveillance systems. The problem is, having read through the (very accessible) book, I'll have to do so again to find the useful bits, and seperate them from the narrative.

Apparently, a common tendency is the discarding of false positive - dog indicates something, and something is found = success. Dog indicates something and nothing is found = dog is *too* sensitive and has picked up on something else, but its fundamental accuracy and usefulness goes unchallenged.

Monday, 1 September 2008