Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Spaces of Terrorism and Risk

I'm going to be one of the guest editors for a special issue of Space and Culture.
This should be posted on their blog fairly soon, publication date will be 2011, which seems far away right now.

Space and Culture: Spaces of Terror and Risk

The interlinked discourses of terrorism and risk serve both to structure policies and drive the design of technologies, with implications ranging far beyond traditional issues of national security and international relations. Both the threat of terrorism, and the policies and technologies intended to counter it, impact upon the built and urban environment, potentially changing the nature of the space itself, as well as the way people use, inhabit and think about places and spaces. This special issue intends to map these developments and provide theoretical accounts of such trends and phenomena.

Terrorism acts as driver for diverse policies of pre-emption, prevention and prediction, including the substantial growth of surveillance. Frequently, terrorism is framed in terms of risk, with certain places, populations and activities identified as risky or suspect, and thus a proper target for monitoring and intervention. The logic of counter-terrorism is risk averse. Attempts to secure space against terrorism or other associated risks and natural hazards raise questions about what exactly is being secured and for what purposes. Which populations or activities are included or excluded from a space? What uses of space are privileged, and which are brought under the rubric of terrorism? The threat of terrorism, as well as counter-terrorism responses, impact the aesthetic and affective dimensions of architectural and urban design, and could delimit movement and experience within the space of the city. These threats and counter-measures also have profound implications for urban ethical and political life. To what extent does the risk of terrorism foster a politics of secrecy as opposed to openness? Do these conditions prevent the development of a potential ethics of hospitality or cosmopolitanism?

The spaces affected by terrorism and risk are not just physical, but also include virtual spaces such as the internet. These spaces too are designed and constructed in ways that are affected by conceptions of risk and terrorism – the decentralised communications potential of the internet is seen by governments not only as a site of radicalisation, but also of ideological conflict. Physical spaces are themselves divided up into zones of control, ranging from physical and electronic security cordons to ‘free speech zones’ and the fortified ‘Green Zone’ of Baghdad.

We seek papers (up to 8,000 words combining theory and empirical research, although shorter case studies may also be accepted) from various disciplines and theoretical standpoints that explore the following areas:

  • Surveillance, monitoring and visualisation
  • Technologies of control, terrorism prevention or risk management
  • Borders, marginal and liminal spaces
  • Urbanism and Terrorism: cities, people and infrastructure
  • Methods of risk or hazard assessment, and risk based decision making
  • Strategies of the securitisation of space
  • Policy issues and unorthodox readings of security
  • Information technology, risk and terrorism.
  • Historical examples of the effects of risk and terrorism logics upon spaces and places.
  • Case studies or comparative accounts
  • Architectural and urban design practices
  • Political and ethical considerations of terrorism and counter-terrorism

These topics are offered as suggestions, and we are also open to other subjects not outlined above that speak to space, terrorism and risk as a special theme of scholarship. Deadline for Submission is 4th December 2009.

Guest Editors:

David WillsUniversity of Birmingham – d.a.wills@bham.ac.uk

Cerwyn MooreUniversity of Birmingham – c.moore.1@bham.ac.uk

Joel McKimConcordia University – jmckim@alcor.concordia.ca

things to write about

There are so many things I need to write about here. Unfortunately, I have little to no spare time, so I'll just have to make some notes and come back to them.

  • how the talk on surveillance at Worcester 6th form went - young people and surveillance
  • Communications Data Act (or variant on that) and its surveillant provisions
  • BNP membership data loss
  • the first week in a year without a surveillance story in the UK press (24/11/08) - possibly.
  • thoughts and notes on surveillance theory coming out of thesis corrections - Deleuze, Guattari and collective assemblages of enunciation (something I've been thinking about for years, and now is going in the final version of the thesis).

Monday, 27 October 2008

Frankie Boyle on Identity Theft.

"Identity cards wont stop identity theft. They just mean that when it does happen...you're f**ked"

"Oh no!, I've lost my passport. I'll need new eyeballs and finger transplants."

clip here -the above is towards the end.

the implicit and explicit political information in social networks

Good news today. The paper that I presented at Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0 in York in 2007, written with Stuart Reeves, (then of the University of Nottingham Mixed Reality Lab, now at Glasgow) will be featuring in the next but one issue of the journal British Politics.

'Facebook as a Political Weapon' uses a case study approach to look at the way that social networks contain both explicit and implicit data, as well as the questions this raises for politics. It's going to be featured as part of British Politics' 'beyond the mainstream' section, where the editors are attempting to showcase research work that impacts upon British politics, but isn't narrowly focussed upon party politics, elections and the like.

It was fun working on the paper with Stuart, and it'll be good to see that it gets a home somewhere. I think its important to produce research which crosses disciplinary boundaries, or at the very least, uses some IT to do informed social research.

Stuart is an interesting fellow, and his research page linked above is worth checking out. He's worked with Blast Theory, the artistic group which John McGrath (Author of 'Loving Big Brother') talked about with enthusiasm at the InVisibilities surveillance studies conference in Sheffield this year. Also he had his viva a week before mine, and also passed with corrections.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

linking and referencing.

I just realised, I have a tendency to write references in academic documents as if they were hyperlinks. Apparently they're not.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

mini stylistic rant

I had my PhD viva recently. I passed, with corrections. This is a good thing.
I have a list of corrections that I need to make to the document, provided by the two examiners.
I've started making these changes, and there's one that's taking a while.

The examiners had issue with the use of quote marks in the text, which weren't not direct quotations. They refered to these as scare quotes and have asked me to remove them. There's a lot of them. I'm diligently removing them all, and its taking me a while.

But, there's a reason they're there. My research looks at discourse. Now there are two ways to produce an analysis of discourse. One involves attaching every quote to a specific author. However, there are many regularities in discourses, which are spotted by the analysis, but come straight from multiple points in the discourse. They recur so frequently, that attaching them to a specific author is actually not representing the full spread of the mentality.

So if a sentence was talking about 'identity' in a discourse, the intention would be to show that this was the way a specific concept was being utilised in a specific group's discourse, rather than giving credibility to the statement. The attempt is to put a caveat around the use of the term.

Also there are times when you just need to say 'this is how people say something' but it's not true, that's not the way the world is. The one I just deleted was talking about 'clean' identities. Clean is a metaphor. Somebodies identity can't really be clean.

or am I just dragging back a realist ontology and epistemology into my thinking?

through punctuation?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

speed camera article

Currently working on the (final?) draft of the speed cameras paper for submission next week. Just running through some of the protest group websites looked at in the paper, and found this image on the Association of British Drivers. Nice bit of subvertising or detournement. A 'rearticulation' of speed cameras as a form of crime rather than a technology of public safety.

identity and cyber-security awareness

It's Identity fraud prevention awareness week here in the UK, and Cyber-Security Awareness month in the US.

Monday, 6 October 2008

(nearly) Dr Wills

I passed my viva voce examination for my doctorate at the University of Nottingham on Friday afternoon. I now have three months to make the corrections suggested by the examiners, David Murakami Wood and David Stevens. Hopefully, I'll get the list of those fairly soon so I can crack on with them.

Very pleased with this outcome, and the viva itself was a learning experience, with several things to think about (as was re-reading through my thesis in preparation for the event). So my thanks to both examiners. I'll be reviewing some of the material as I work through the corrections, and David MW's going to give me a list of things to read, which I'm looking forward to, so some of the outputs from that should make their way here.

I need to clarify some of my arguments, bring 'the biggest theoretical output in the whole thesis' (which turns out to involve Deleuze!) out to the front and put it centre stage, cut out some elements that remain from older version of the argument (but might actually be strongly present in the IDIS paper), make clear my normative position (which will also help to cement the validity model of the project) and brush up on the complexity of surveillance history. Apparently, the best written part of the paper was the account of foucauldian Governmentality theory (which I am cemented in my belief of its applicability to the current research project).

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

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Rotterdam slides (Part 1)

On the 22nd, I flew out to Rotterdam to the joint meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST).

I was part of a panel with Andy Balmer, from the University of Nottingham, and Susanne Weber, from the University of Exceter. The Panel was titled 'Representing the Self: Bodies, Identity and Truth'. Credit goes to Andy for doing most of the work in organising the panel, which was highly enjoyable, and prompted some really good discussion. I thought I'd post the slides, then realised I'd probably need to do some writing to go with them, as the slides are intentionally sparse. (Nobody pays attention to too many bullet points)

I endedthe talk with some general comments towards the theme of the panel, representing the self: bodies, identity and truth. But, As I got to go first, I took some liberties and tried toset up some frames. I’ll mainly be talking about the ‘identity’ component, but I’ll want to show how this fundamentally ties into issues of truth.

This paper arises from a larger research project which analysed discourses of surveillance across a wide range of texts from the United Kingdom. These texts were drawn from fields including the government, governmental agencies, the media, and the banking and financial sector, in addition to groups opposing the introduction of identity cards. This paper therefore presents a section of some of the findings from that research.

Across a number of discourses studied, a fundamentally essentialist understanding of ‘identity’ as relations with structured society, mediated through the massive collection and processing of personal data has become dominant.

At this point, I gave a brief overview of the field of surveillance studies, including defending it from some gentle criticisms that I'd heard in an earlier panel (panoptic dominance and 'theory weak' apparently)

Given that I was at a studies of science and technology conference, I wanted to clarify what I meant by technology. and that it could include a wide range of things other than the obvious high-tech fancy stuff.

In places, the technology of identity and surveillance is very obviously technology - there’ll be the whole modern panoply of finger, retina or gait scanners, cctv, DNA fingerprints, and as we’ll see in a bit, some funky neuroscience and lie detection. (despite not working on CCTV much, I took this photo, and really like it, so it finds its way into quite a few presentations)

Friday, 29 August 2008

culture of surveillance contributes to mental illness

international herald tribune article
mentioned on Wired: threat level

Apparently, psychiatrists are finding more people reporting feelings of being watched, under surveillance by the internet, or feeling like they are starring in a Truman Show like movie.
They go on to say that people would likely have delusions anyway, but current cultural concerns likely inform the nature of the delusion.

I'm tempted to say 'delusion, what delusion', but thats cheap writing. Its like the problem in epsitemology with the fake sheep, hiding a real sheep in a field. You see the fake sheep, mistakenly think you've seen a real sheep, and say you know there is a sheep in the field. You're correct, but you can't be said to know this, because your mechanism for knowing it is faulty.

(there may be other ways this is commonly put, but sheep is the way my philosophy tutor did it, so its good enough for me)

There is a heavy amount of surveillance in modern society, but a lot of it isn't focused on individuals with the intensity of the Truman show. Instead it tends to be database driven, using the collection of lots of little bits of otherwise meaningless data on large groups, and collating that data. Or retroactive data collection on individuals, once they become 'of concern'. So it is fairly delusional for most of us to think we're being 'watched' 24-7. Leaving data trails? oh yes, pretty constantly...

'Securitising the Caucasus' published.

'Securitising the Cauasus: from Political Violence to Place Branding In Chechnya' by myself and Cerwyn Moore was published today in the Palgrave journal 'Place Branding and Public Diplomacy'

link to the abstract
and link to the full paper if you have access permissions, e.g. through Athens or you're on a university campus with access. Ironically, I currently don't have access, so can't download the paper I wrote.

Its a different side to my work than that normally featured on this blog, having nothing to do with Surveillance. Instead its part of my dabbling in international relations, attempting to maintain the critical, global social justice perspective that sits well with my affiliation to the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at the University of Nottingham.

I don't really like the idea of 'Place Branding' - that it is both possible and important to make sure that places in the world, if they want to compete (and of course they'll want to do that) project the correct 'brand' to the world. In the paper, we draw upon Cerwyn's expertise and knowledge of the region to use Chechnya as a case study to support a critique of Place Branding more broadly. I frame it as a fundamentally essential, euro-centrist and neo-liberal discourse, that mistakenly assumes that any country can be successful if it simply projects the right image, ignoring the structural inequalities that will keep many countries 'undeveloped'. Given this critique of the approach, and by implication of the journal, it was rather good (and academically upstanding) of them to publish the paper.

The connection to my other areas of work are probably that we made use of a discourse theory approach (as used in the PhD thesis) to the theoretical constructs of place branding, attempting to identify core themes and subject positions made available in the discourse.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Electoral commission rejects ID cards

the register again

terror laws for drinking and more

Teenagers, another 'deviant' population that serves as a folk menace to bring in tighter security, is apparently being targeted under the Identity Card Act 2006 for using fake ID to buy alcohol. So a traditional rite of passage becomes a 'terrorism' issue.

So it's interesting, that given that the ID card system is nowhere nearly in place (although its being built up from several existing databases which are currently in operation) and that the cards themselves are still a long way off, the elements of the Act that make using false identity documentation illegal are being strongly enforced.

and a very honest policeman sums up much of the effects of anti-terror legislation with:
"The Act was brought out for terrorism but it suits us very nicely"

Hang on. The idea that the identity card act would stop terrorism was largely abandoned officially by the government in face of arguments to the contrary. But it seems to dwell on in some diffuse sense that it must be about stopping terrorism, right? There's an interesting dynamic, by which an argument is officially discarded, but still seems to permeate the discursive field - almost like a silent statement.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Surveillance artists

the 'Surveillance shoe' by Jill Magid- maybe NSFW

" The Surveillance Shoe is a hybridization of surveillance hardware and a pair of high-heeled shoes. A CCD surveillance camera with infrared technology is built into the shoe's design. Due to the fixed position of the camera to the shoe, that leg remains bound within the frame. While this leg appears stable like architecture, the actual architecture becomes mobile."

Afghan Girl and Biometrics

Found this combined image whilst searching for images to illustrate a presentation on The Surveillant Identity at 4S/EASST. It caught my attention because the original image on the left, 'Afghan Girl' by Steve McCurry is the subject of one of the articles in Beautiful Suffering, the book I reviewed for Surveillance and Society. The article, 'Cover to Cover: the life cycle of an image in contemporary visual culture' looks at the circulation, and issues of power, representation and the ethics of 'taking' images, using this photo as a case study.

Then it turns up, with presumably a more recent photograph of the same woman, on the website of a university researcher looking at biometric identification technology. There was no caption or attribution of the photo, leaving yet another contextless image that is supposed to 'speak for itself', but the implication is - biometric enable us to...

do what exactly? find somebody who become famous without her knowledge or agency then disappeared back into afghanistan during a peroid of political turmoil. Great. did she want to be identified in this way? whose purposes does it serve? A women exploited to sell magazines, and all manner of stuff (as edwards examines and discusses) is now used to sell a surveillance technology.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Home Office plans for mandatory communications data storage

Guardian article

consultation paper published yesterday,

there's all the ususal stuff in this article.
a bit of European union policy washing, as these plans are the result of a European directive, but again the UK government intends to push the plans further.

"The government has already indicated that it intends to go one step further this autumn by introducing a draft communications bill which would require all the telecommunications companies to hand over this data to one central "super" database so that the police and other public authorities will be able to access it directly without having to make a request each time to the individual company holding the records."

Individual requests leave an audit trail, they can be challenged if they are thought to have no legal basis, and without making a case for the security of the private sector data controllers, it means another potential check in the system, slightly slowing down the ridiculous (leaky) data flows.

There's also a big of techno-fantasy in the plans. All UK communications data in one central database? that sounds, well, technically stupid. It's all a fantastic response to the Rose report that criticised the surveillance conducted by local authorities (bins and the like).

Communications data available to all agencies registered under RIPA apparently, so I need to check out what that entails, who's on the list currently (includes OFSTEAD apparently!) and how an agency gets added (or removed, although I'm guessing that's less likely). Because, data available to agencies, means data available to the ordinary human beings that work in those agencies - especially, if the data is directly available from the 'superdatabase'

Might be time to stop writing things down, or using email.... I'll read through the consultation document, to which I might very well write a response.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

another review of Beautiful Suffering

Ian Shapiro has just had a review of Beautiful Suffering, one of the books I reviewed for Surveillance and Society, published in Millenium, the Journal of international studies.

Shapiro's much more established than myself, it might worth a look if you have access to the journal. He focuses upon the Kantian ethics explored in the book, and the tension between the aesthetic and the ethical as evoked in the title. I attempted to use the book to show what visual culture approaches can tell us about the visual nature of surveillance, and the fact that context and language are pretty much necessary for an image to really say anything. Images are far from self-explanatory.

Summary details here, and I think you can get an abstract at least. Link to my review of the book in the column to the right.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Old Blog

I found the link to my old blog on surveillance theory and the like

It ran through most of my MA and the first year of PhD study, when I was primarily focused on theories of surveillance, and getting my head into and around the literature of surveillance, but wasn't as focused upon issues of identity. I also thought I was going to pursue a more traditional political theory approach and look at surveillance in relation to conceptions of liberal democracy.

There's some fairly substantial notes from Theorising Surveillance in 2006, and quite a lot of comments on older issues of Surveillance and Society. Might peruse some of that before my viva, although the notes are probably supersceded by this book

Thales gets ID card contract

Defence firm Thales gets first ID card contract.
IPS press release
small Register commentry

"IPS is pleased to announce that Thales has been awarded a four year contract to support IPS in delivering the early releases of the National Identity Scheme (NIS). Thales will work with IPS to design, build, test and operate the technology that will deliver the National Identity Register and support the issuing of Identity Cards from the second half of 2009."

"Thales is a world leader in the provision of mission-critical information systems for the security, aerospace and defence markets. It is a major employer in the UK, with 10,000 employees based at 60 locations."

Thales makes military stuff, including some of the following
Unmanned surveillance drones
and has set up a factory producing night vision goggles in China, which may be in violation of the EU's Arms embargo on China.

Kinda reminds me of Chapter 14 of Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine' which investigates the involvement of military firms in US domestic security and intelligence systems.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

BBC - Britain from above.

Surveillance PRETTY

A new BBC series makes use of satellite technology to create stunning images of Britain from above. Mark Sanders reports. Andrew Marr presents the series Britain from Above, the first episode of which will be broadcast on Sunday 10 August at 2100 on BBC One.

online criminal records searches

New York Times op-ed piece on new online services that allow you to search for people's criminal records, thus removing practical obscurity that old systems used to allow.

all for the better? because we should know when people are criminals right?

Or perhaps sometimes, it's important to forgive and forget.

Described by Brubaker and Cooper (200, pg.10) as a ‘common sense’ use of identity,
consistency of identity over time, space, and social sphere is required by surveillance
discourse in order for identity to carry risk information and act as a ‘risk-signifier’.
This permanence of identity arises from the reliance upon biographic identities and
the ease of storage and retrieval of digital information. It problematises any legitimate attempt to change identity, for example, changing sex, fleeing persecution, escaping from previous experiences such as a criminal record or bad debts. Even state attemptsto create new identities (for example witness protection schemes or undercover policing) will experience this difficulty due to the proliferation of identity data in the private sector.

This raises questions as to when information included as part of an
identity should be discarded by data processors. At what point does information
become irrelevant for risk analysis and decision making? Does a criminal conviction
in an individual’s youth signal that they deserve employment less than somebody
without? A decreasing level of institutional ‘forgiveness’ can be anticipated as
institutional memories expand. In previous eras, an individual could escape from a
past mistake by moving to a new city, or waiting for a period of time. With searchable
databases, individuals are linked to less salubrious elements of their identities for
longer time spans. This has implications for anybody considering public life, as they
are liable to have any negatively perceived recorded events from their life revealed.

If identity is discursively understood as consistent over time, then what happens when(counter to this construction) identity changes in some way? For example, if a
recording error is made, data is lost or corrupted, or malicious hackers change
biographical details. Combined with the discursive assumption of accuracy, such
changes are hard to refute.
A criminal record signifies a conviction in the past. It requires substantial other evidence to make an inference from that to future or current behaviour. The belief that 'once a criminal, always a criminal' interacts with presumptions of database accuracy (the NYT article notes the problems created by sharing names with people) to leave people with a stigma that will negatively effect them throughout their lives. If anybody can conduct a criminal records search for any interest (rather than legitimately sensitive fields such as law enforcement or childcare), then people with previous criminal convictions are going to be discriminated against in a way that is not part of the justice system, and in addition to the punishment they experienced for the crime they were convicted of.

"I'm sorry, I'm not giving you a job, teh internets say you are a criminal."
"I'm sorry, you can't live here, teh internets say you are a criminal. "

Another factor that risks trapping people within a cycle of criminality.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Tough Liam Byrne

Liam Byrne has not issued a press release without using the word 'Tough' since april.

The Register has just posted a nice little bit of discourse analysis-lite (well, it's content analysis really) which just amounts to pointing out that he seems to use the word quite a lot.

It seems that the word is necessary in relation to immigration policy of any sort. The interesting point, which the article doesn't make, is that there a plenty of other frames we could use to look at the issue of immigration. We could look at it through a globalisation frame and see that here are people from the interconnected, interdependent world, trying to make the best for themselves here. Or here are some of the world's most vulnerable people, who are driven to the significant action of having to leave their homes. That might prompt compassion, or optimism.

Nope. Let's be tough instead.

The Identity Card argument from the government (when it holds still) seems strongly attached to the issue of immigration. No if this is evidence of the government thinking there is a real problem with immigration, or if it is just pandering to the tabloids, I can't say. What I can say is that the government's discourse around the issue is stacked full of immigration and asylum seekers.

The nasty bit is the way that they're used in the same sentence as child abusers, fraudsters and terrorists. This serves the linguistic function of casting these people in the same light, making them symbolically equivalent.

edit - with a tiny bit from the book...

If the introduction of ID cards appears to be a way for governments to ‘get tough’
on crime and terrorism, this may make it harder to move away from such a policy
even if presented with good evidence to suggest that it is ineffective. In an attempt
to preserve face, and not be seen to back down ‘in the face of terrorists’ politicians
must persevere with a programme and find ways to justify it. Harnessing a project
to a rhetorically powerful issue (in the current climate) can therefore backfire. (Wills, 2008, p.175)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

book published today

Playing the Identity Card: Surveillance, Security and Identification in Global Perspective
edited by David Lyon and Colin Bennett, and published by Routledge today.

There's some good stuff in this book, written by some cracking folk. Scott Thompson's chapter on wartime UK identity cards is an example of good, historical scholarship, and is part of the important caveat we need to place on claims to novelty in the face of shiney new technologies.

The collection of case studies and analysis in this book demonstrates the importance of identity technologies to contemporary governance schemes. Identity card schemes represent a drive to technologically fix identities. Given that identities are multiple and used for differing purposes, and with differing characteristics, this authoritative, attributed, external identity, whose make-up is a product of unargued-for, undebated governmental priorities, combined with the optimum inputs of technological systems, this is likely to cause social problems.

I haven't got my copy yet. I'm worried it might have been sent to my old address. Actually, I'm assuming I'm getting a copy!

Part 1: Setting the Scene

1. Playing the ID card: Understanding the significance of identity Card Systems David Lyon and Colin Bennett

2. Governing by Identity Louise Amoore

Part 2: Colonial Legacies

3. The elusive panopticon: The HANIS project and the politics of standards in South Africa Keith Breckenridge

4. China’s second generation national Identity Card: Merging culture, industry, and technology for authentication, classification, and surveillance Cheryl L. Brown

5. Hong Kong’s ‘smart’ ID card: Designed to be out of control Graham Greenleaf

6. A tale of the colonial age, or the banner of new tyranny? National identification Card systems in Japan Midori Ogasawara

7. India’s new ID card: Fuzzy logics, double meanings and ethnic ambiguities Taha Mehmood

8. Population ID card systems in the Middle East: The case of the UAE Zeinab Karake Shalhoub

Part 3: Encountering Democratic Opposition

9. Separating the Sheep from the Goats: The United Kingdom’s National Registration Program and social sorting in the pre-electronic era Scott Thompson

10. The United Kingdom identity Card scheme: Shifting motivations, static technologies David Wills

11. The politics of Australia’s "Access Card" Dean Wilson

12. The INES biometric card and the politics of national identity assignment in France Laurent Laniel and Pierre Piazza

13. The US Real ID Act and the securitization of identity Kelly Gates

14. Toward a national ID card for Canada? External drivers and internal complexities Andrew Clement, Krista Boa, Simon Davis and Gus Hosein

Part 4: Transnational Regimes

15. ICAO and the biometric RFID passport: History and analysis Jeffrey Stanton

16. Another piece of Europe in your pocket: The European Health Insurance Card Willem Maas

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

3000 blank passports stolen



Interesting interview on radio 4 this morning about this. Commentator from a security company specialising in Identity theft banged on about the 'balloon effect' where criminals target other areas in response to increased security.

But this interview was phrased in terms of identity theft. Which is odd, considering that these are blank documents with no identity information on them. They're not yet associated with people. What they do have is the possibility of exploiting the institutional relationship between identity and structured institutions of the state. If you're committing identity 'theft' (a problematic term), then you don't need blank identity documents.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if this theft is used to add to the vulnerability of the current mechanisms of identity in arguments for apparently more secure identity cards. Which could never be stolen en mass or otherwise subverted, could they?

edit: register article on this here and Guardian article here

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Thesis 'wordle'

no right to study terrorism materials

Researchers have no 'right' to study terrorist materials
Times Higher Education

"In a statement issued to the university last week, Sir Colin Campbell says: "There is no 'right' to access and research terrorist materials. Those who do so run the risk of being investigated and prosecuted on terrorism charges. Equally, there is no 'prohibition' on accessing terrorist materials for the purpose of research. Those who do so are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges (although they may be held in custody for some time while the matter is investigated). This is the law and applies to all universities.""

"Oliver Blunt QC, of the Anti-Terrorism team at Furnival Chambers in London, said that academics do have a "right" to "access" terrorist materials, whether for research or otherwise, as long as they do not "possess" them.

He said: "Once the researcher knowingly downloads or saves the materials that he is accessing, then he is in 'possession' of terrorist materials.

"There is no 'right' to 'possess' terrorist materials and, while a genuine researcher would be able to establish a defence, the evidential burden is on the researcher to do so.""

What the hell does the distinction between 'access' and 'possess' mean in terms of digital files? If I click on a link to a pdf, it downloads. I can't read it unless it is on my system. Once there it'll leave a trace. The distinction collapses.

So, as somebody doing research into terrorism, should I have a lawyer on retainer, should I get legal advice about preparing a proper case about what I'm doing and what is necessary to my work? They didn't teach me that in the research methods classes.

Monday, 14 July 2008

criminal records checks for millions - vulnerability and precaution

The Register, Analysis - Criminal Record Checks could hit over 14 million people

An interesting article, which in summary suggests that very high numbers of people could have criminal record checks conducted on them due to a combination of back-covering, precaution and decentralisation. There is guidance on where checks are appropriate, but these are expansive, but also vague, leading to many employers to conduct checks in case they have to, and as an edge of competion in the market that does not. There is a definite theme of governmentality about it, where decisions are made at lower levels that add up to a high degree of surveillance activity, because of an aversion to risk - or being held responsible for the occurance of a negative event (and what is more negative than risk to childen - examples - James Bulger to Madeline McCann)

Some material from my thesis is relevant to this:

Described by Brubaker and Cooper as a ‘common sense’ use of identity[1], consistency of identity over time, space, and social sphere is required by surveillance discourse in order for identity to carry risk information and act as a ‘risk-signifier’. This permanence of identity arises from the reliance upon biographic identities and the ease of storage and retrieval of digital information. It problematises any legitimate attempt to change identity, for example, changing sex, fleeing persecution, escaping from previous experiences such as a criminal record or bad debts. Even state attempts to create new identities (for example witness protection schemes or undercover policing) will experience this difficulty due to the proliferation of identity data in the private sector.

This raises questions as to when information included as part of an identity should be discarded by data processors. At what point does information become irrelevant for risk analysis and decision making? Does a criminal conviction in an individual’s youth signal that they deserve employment less than somebody without?

A decreasing level of institutional ‘forgiveness’ can be anticipated as institutional memories expand. In previous eras, an individual could escape from a past mistake by moving to a new city, or waiting for a period of time. With searchable databases, individuals are linked to less salubrious elements of their identities for longer time spans. This has implications for anybody considering public life, as they are liable to have any negatively perceived recorded events from their life revealed. If identity is discursively understood as consistent over time, then what happens when (counter to this construction) identity changes in some way? For example, if a recording error is made, data is lost or corrupted, or malicious hackers change biographical details.

The combination of more and more people being subject to criminal background checks combined with a presumption of database accuracy, and a decreasing level of institutional 'forgetfullness' could be potentially problematic.

I'd be interested in knowing what the outputs of CRB checks are - is it full details, or a 'safe/unsafe' determination by the bureau? the CRB website wasn't extremely helpful

[1] Brubaker & Cooper, 2000, p.10

terrorists in world of warcraft

An old article in the wired threat level blog - U.S spies want to find terrorists in world of warcraft.
It's from February this year, but has interesting implications for predictive technologies.

Of course, the major difference between a digital world such as WoW and the real world is that things can be known with more more certainty in the game - because it's running on code that can be interrogated - if there is a a 'code' to the real world, then we're really not close to understanding it. Data about the virtual world is accurate, because it is the same data that IS the the virtual world. Apart from corrupted or misfiled data, it can't be wrong - if the game says that your avatar is in one part of the digital world, that's where it is.

Which is at least one thing to bear in mind when translating any 'lessons' from this to meatspace predictions, or actually - to non-game virtual environments, as they're going to be much messier than the restricted behaviour in ludic environment - games are defined by their rules.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

where was this picture taken?

This is fascinating.

Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have figured out an algorithm that can detect where a picture has been taken, with an accuracy that's 30 times better than that of chance or random guesses. And their geolocation method may not be what you'd expect.

You'd think the best way to tell where a photo was shot would be to check for important buildings, landmarks in nature, or any signposts. Not so. Alexei A. Efros, assistant professor of computer science, and James Hays, a CS graduate student, developed their program to analyze the composition of photographs by creating and scanning histograms of image properties. Their algorithm examines the full profile of color and texture in each image, and also looks at various line features and geometric patterns. Then, it groups images of unknown location with images that have known details, and the geographical matching begins. www.io9.com

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Identification 'paranoia'

I was talking to the check out assistant in the supermarket this evening, after being asked to provide ID to buy some Pimm's. She said their store policy now was to ask anybody who looked under 25 for ID, and sometimes anybody who looked under 30! This was suprising given the 'challenge 21' signs plastered about the place.

So, the legal age to purchase alcohol is 18. The outward facing policy is to ask for ID anybody who looks under 21, and actual policy adds between 4 and 9 years to this.

According to the assistant, this was because they (and I'm not sure if this is the company or the checkout staff) were doing this because they got in trouble if they were caught selling alcohol to under age people (fairly obviously). She said it was making her paranoid about it. According to her, the police were (or were thought to be) sending in people to test the store. This does happen, but I'd assumed that it was done with under-18's. According to the person I spoke with, this also happens with people who are over-18, but look under-18.

how's that judged or assessed?

Anyway, nice way to make workers paranoid. If I was being paranoid, I'd tie this to the post below. If you're between 18 and 25(or 30!) there's another pressure to tie into assorted forms of identification - documentary rather than organic or negotiated. Discretion is removed from people in workplaces by giving these massive 'margins of error' because companies are not confident enough in the abilities of their employees to make judgement calls, whilst making them paranoid about failing in those judgement calls.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


The Identity and Passport Service have launched www.mylifemyid.org to allow 16-25 year olds to 'have their say' on the identity card scheme.


currently, their say includes

"This site is government propanda [sic]"

I'll watch the video and comment on that later. I'll probably keep an (discourse analysis) eye on this.

(edit) I just had a thought, when I wrote the book chapter on UK ID cards for David Lyon and Colin Bennett, I was 25 - voice of youth?

Identity and passport services failing to be a money spinner

"Government plans to position the Identity & Passport Service as the UK's de facto identity services broker seem not to have entirely caught the imagination of the private sector, figures in IPS' annual report and accounts suggest. Although IPS recruited 44 new customers for its Passport Validation Service (PVS), income from this for the year ending March 2008 was only £357,000."

the register article

Interesting article. The problem appears to be that the government's attempts to position itself as the source of verification of individual identity are not being looked favourably upon by the private sector.

The move seems counter to recent government's desire to privatise everything and outsource services (including such 'legitimate monopoly on the use of force' activities as policing and defence). Until it becomes apparent that the government intends it's identity checking services to be dependent upon data acquired from the commercial sector. As part of it's plans for the identity card scheme the government intends to compare application data to data held by the credit reference agencies, to check that you're a real person.

Obviously this means that a 'real person' has a relationship (or several) with financial services, and has developed a credit rating of some sort. Most of us do, but in isolated cases this could cause problems. This is one of the kickers about the identity card scheme and the register behind it - it's designed to work for people with 'normal' lives - and that's normal in a fairly statistical rather than normative sense. The people it will impact are those who fall outside this profile.

So. The government positions itself as the provider of secured identities, in the face of multiple threats and forces that make identity unstable and problematic. Yet at the same time, the real picture is so much more complex than this, as 'identity' would be made up from a series of institutional relationships, each with their own logics and metrics, and reasons for being put together.

This is the problem with re-using databases, and a good justification for data protection principles against re-use of data for reasons other than it was originally collected for. The questions asked when creating a database become hidden, and the provisional data, with all it's potential for inaccuracies, flaws, double records, missing elements, etc, becomes understood as 'fact'. Then used for other purposes, importing all those errors whilst at the same time hiding them, and discursively describing the system as more accurate, safe and secure.