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.