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05 May 2005

The Lamposts Are Listening

The walls once had ears in a metaphorical sense. Now modern technology is enabling the lamposts to listen to us as Westminster Council in London sets about installing microphones in lamp posts and CCTV cameras.

In towns and cities around the world the everyday journeys of everyone have long been followed on camera and startling numbers of people don't appear to have noticed, or have been led to believe that a tiny fraction of the population being criminals is sufficient justification to watch absolutely everyone, all the time.

Now, if we're not careful, we're all going to be listened to as well.

On London's public transport you can be followed by CCTV for your entire journey and tracking could be (and in all likelihood already is) automatically initiated just as soon as the Oyster Card of a tagged individual hits the system. A few stealthy photographs of everyone as they innocently pass through tube ticket barriers while innocently going about their business makes light work of constructing detailed and accurate facial recognition databases and activity profiles of everyone.

What time did an invidual enter the system? At which station? To where did they travel? Was the destination a known destination for this individual, or have they travelled somewhere new? Were they with anyone else? Did they have contact with anyone else in transit?

The possibilities are endless yet, to a lot of people, the idea of a unique, permenent, rechargeable ticket seems like such an innocuous idea.

If you are still to be convinced quite how invasive and pervasive audio/visual surveillance and tracking technology is, The Antagonist recommends setting yourself up for a few rather unpleasant surprises and taking a little time during your daily regime to expand your field of vision to include the multiplicity of CCTV cameras that are located everywhere and are frequently found 20-30 feet above eye level. Find them affixed to lamp posts, buildings and just about anything else and watch them swivel, pan and scan everything and everyone in sight. Get a feel for the size of the area each one of them covers and understand how coverage areas are overlapped to enable blanket coverage.

Recall the zoom functions on your cheap camera and imagine how much better the zoom functions might be on government surveillance devices and how much detail they would capture.

Imagine CCTV systems linked in to Automated Number Plate Recognition systems that track the wherebouts of each car that passes and, for the most part, each car owner too. Imagine these systems in patrolling police cars that automatically scan cars passed on the road and which alert units to cars that are perhaps seen driving some distance from their registered address, or at odd hours of the day given the owner's listed occupation.

Then consider that practically 100% of us aren't criminals.

It sounds like a nightmare vision of some dystopian future under an oppressive regime, or a similarly hideous past we'd all rather learn from and forget. In fact, it's the increasingly frightening reality of life in more and more self-proclaimed 'free' and 'democratic' countries around the world.

As you pootle off to the polls to cast your vote today (or not) be aware that, no matter who you vote for, the march of all technologies of political control that watch, listen to and monitor all of us, all the time, continues unabated, unchecked and unchallenged.

Forget for whom you are voting now and consider instead for what it is you are continuing to vote.

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