Archive for the ‘CCTV’ Category

I bet you thought I was kidding. But try this lede:

Taped to the inside of a Sainsbury’s window in King’s Lynn, a printout of a map reminds teenagers of the town’s restrictions. Next to it, a notice on Norfolk Constabulary headed paper spells out the terms of a dispersal order: within the marked area, groups of two or more youngsters can be broken up by police not only if they have caused intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress to members of the public but also if their behaviour is deemed likely to do so. Initially, the order focused mainly on the area around the supermarket and adjacent bus station, but when groups of young people who were deemed to be behaving antisocially relocated, it was extended to cover most of the town centre. Drinking in groups, verbal abuse and reckless or dangerous cycling are among the antisocial activities listed.

It must be deeply weird to grow up with this stuff. Years ago I blogged that in the future, the government would introduce universal ASBO conscription – everyone would be given an ASBO at birth, and the restrictions would be removed progressively as they demonstrated that they could behave responsibly, in a manner that balanced the rights they were granted.

But in this case, they’ve implemented pretty much that. Of course some idiot will show up to say that they shouldn’t misbehave, but note that the terms of the order give the police essentially total discretion. After all, if you can’t think of a reason off the top of your head why three young people might not potentially, at some point in the indefinite future, annoy any hypothetical citizen, you simply lack imagination and you’ve got no business being on the force.

PS, what would we say if, say, a government in central Europe declared a “Roma dispersal zone” across one of its cities? Probably not much, although the EU was in fact pretty aggressive about it during the accession process and British representatives in it were no different. But you see what I mean.

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retrospectively consulted

Now this is truly remarkable. The Safer Birmingham Partnership has agreed to suspend its ANPR deployment. Hilariously, this is operationalised by putting bags over the cameras’ heads; no doubt the good people at Harry’s Place will be furious, as Muslims and RESPECT have at last succeeded in forcing something to cover its head. As supporters of the only political party that explicitly promises more CCTV, the fact that it is a surveillance camera that gets to vanish under the burka will no doubt be especially poignant for them.

However, the 72 covert installations will not be embaggened, as this would reveal their location. This probably means that any bag-free camera one encounters in Sparkbrook can be taken to be one of ’em. And of course it is amusing that they think there is any secrecy left to preserve. But the really interesting fact here is that there is going to be a retrospective public consultation, which seems to imply that ACPO and friends would like to remedy their mistake in not giving the public the opportunity to be ignored before acting, and having ignored the public’s opinions, to remove the bags and turn the cameras on.

What else could be subjected to retrospective public consultation? In a sense, all British governments are subjected to such a consultation – they do what they damn well like for five years, and then the public has an opportunity to voice inchoate rage or cynical resignation. Hence our charming new government.

Another story, but this time with real policemen – sort of. The interesting thing about the Safer Birmingham Partnership and its drive to cover Muslim areas of the city with ANPR cameras, using money from an “anti-terrorism fund”, isn’t so much the project in itself as what it reveals about the huge effort it will take to roll back the Major/Blair surveillance era.

This project exists in a zone beyond the public or private sectors, or central and local government; its lines of accountability, funding, and control bypass not just most of Birmingham City Council, parliament, and that stuff, but also the entire ministerial government. The funding, and therefore, presumably, the initiative comes straight from ACPO. The back-end infrastructure – the data centre and telecoms network – is also managed by ACPO, although it’s located at Hendon, on the government’s property.

At the local level, the agency responsible is a “partnership” between local councillors and the police – note that it’s not between the local council and the police, which implies that not all of them have been informed, and there has certainly not been a vote.

In fact, a cover story was used when the project broke ground – it was described as:

Those suspicious enough to ask what the cameras were for were given the impression they were part of a Home Office initiative to tackle vehicle crime on the Stratford Road corridor, an arterial route into the city.

This statement contains two lies, one of them regarding the cameras’ purpose, another regarding the institutional background. ACPO is not part of the Home Office and is not subject to parliamentary responsibility, civil service line management, the Freedom of Information Act, or indeed anything else.

Both the director of SBP and the police liaison officer (one Inspector Kevin Borg – presumably we will be assimilated. Join!) deny any knowledge of the scheme’s real aims, although there does seem to be some sort of problem with coordinating the many brains of the Borg.

“It was badged as Home Office money,” he [the Borg] said. “Terrorism and allied matters was not mentioned at that stage. I just don’t think it was a detail that needed to be discussed at that stage.”

He said he and the director of the SBP, Jackie Russell, who is in overall charge of the scheme, only discovered themselves that the cameras were installed as part of a counterterrorism initiative less than two months ago.

Very tellingly, though, the CCTV bureaucracy has no such trouble:

Colin Holder, who runs CCTV and ANPR for West Midlands police, said: “I’ve always known where the funding has come from. As far as I am aware, there was no intention to hide that from anyone.

So, I went to see Chris Morris’s takfiri flick, Four Lions. Short review – it’s desperately, barkingly hilarious. Stupidly funny. It started with the snickering. The snickering led to giggling and the giggling led to batshit honking horselaughs all night long.

Perhaps too funny – one of the markers of Chris Morris’s work is that everyone is an idiot, is responsible, and deserves the most extreme mockery and sarcasm. The jihadis are either simpletons, paranoiacs, or deluded. The police are bunglers. The defence establishment is desperately trying to be as ruthless as the CIA but can’t manage it. Democracy is represented by Malcolm Sprode MP, a contemptible Blairite stooge, brilliantly observed, babbling nonsense. The mainstream of British Islam is represented by a Sufi imam who is an obscurantist windbag full of half-digested quotations, who keeps his wife locked in a cupboard (“It’s not a cupboard! It’s a small room!”, he protests). The general public are either tiresome eccentrics or half-wits. The NHS employs the jihadi leader’s wife as a nurse – she is charming, tough, probably the most sane and competent person in the entire movie, and she offers him crucial psychological support when he doubts the wisdom of exploding. Even his little son is cool with Dad blowing himself up and encouraging all his friends to do so as well, and weighs in to help him through his dark night of the soul and on the way to self-induced fragmentation. The real jihadis on the North-West Frontier treat the international volunteers as especially low-grade cannon fodder, hardly surprising given the volunteers’ self-regarding pomposity and utter inability to do anything right.

This plays out in a nicely observed version of Sheffield; it’s as much a Yorkshire film as Rita, Sue, and Bob Too or This Sporting Life. There are a hell of a lot of jokes that turn on this; they only need to drive up a hill and climb over a dry stone wall in order to go from the deep city to somewhere you can safely test-fire a bomb without attracting attention. While meticulously reducing their stash of hydrogen peroxide and assembling the devices, they pose as a band – it’s Sheffield, after all. What else? Inevitably, they attract a rehearsal studio hanger-on somewhere between cool and fairly serious mental illness. Again, who else? Their in-house psychopath is responsible for proclaiming the Islamic State of Tinsley (I really began to lose it with this bit). The volunteers hugely overestimate their knowledge of Islam, and suffer from a sort of quasi-colonial superiority complex to actual Pakistanis in Pakistan – one of them makes the serious mistake of calling a Waziri sentry a “Paki banchut!”. (George MacDonald Fraser would have had him knifed for that, but Chris Morris has crueller plans for him.)

They learn that their cover has been blown from a news screen on the Sheffield Supertram; Omar, the leader, works as a security guard at Meadowhall.

There is a great moment of direction early on where the camera catches the shopping centre roof lit up just as the sun is coming up, catching it briefly showing off its oddly Islamic dome. Around the same time, we watch the CCTV feeds from within the centre through Omar’s eyes – the place is entirely empty and a large sign announces “SHOPPING”, with an arrow pointing upwards. Clearly, when he looks at Britain, this is what he sees.

Omar is a classic type, an autodidactic revolutionary, the only member of the cell with any self-reflection or intellectual depth or capacity for anything much. He’s a man surrounded by novelty-marathon running managers, daft younger brothers, and SHOPPING with an arrow; arguably, what he’s really rebelling against is the sheer horror of Chris Morris’s worldview. A main force in the plot is his progressive self-corruption – he is throughout the least convinced of them about the rightness of their cause, chiefly because he’s the only one with any capacity for doubt. As the mission progresses, he resorts to increasingly sordid deception to keep the show on the road through this or that crisis, and his eventual explosion is more motivated by horror at his failure to stop the others from blowing themselves up and a sense of having run out of options than anything else. It’s also telling that, despite his fury and loathing at British consumerism, self-satisfaction, etc, he’s by a distance the best dressed, shod, housed, and generally equipped member of the gang, redrafting his manifesto on a shiny new laptop in boxfresh trainers, although he does have to communicate with the others and The Emir through a children’s social network website called Puffin Party.

Barry, on the other hand, would have been the Islamic State of Tinsley’s chief of secret police. Barry is the only offcomed’un and the only white man in the group, not so much a convert to Islam as a lifelong convert to non-specific extremism and raging paranoia. As the plot progresses, despite his spectacular ineptness, he begins to take over as the driving force, and eventually it is his action that forces them to go ahead with the attack. One thing he has successfully learned in a long implied career of political madness is that paranoia, ideological enforcement, and ruthlessness pay. This doesn’t mean his thoughts make any sense, though; his idea of strategy is to blow up the mosque in the hope of triggering a wave of race riots and the revolution, but he rather undermines his planned false-flag operation by insisting on recording a martyrdom video taking responsibility for it. A hopeless case in anything that involves practical work, he helps to doom the plot by recruiting any fool he falls in with and blames everything that happens on Jews.

Cameras play a special role. The wannabe terrorists are compulsive film-makers – a running gag has Omar with a laptop at the kitchen table, despairingly trying to edit the latest rushes of his comrades’ martyrdom videos into something presentable. They keep filming and filming, but they always get it wrong – accidentally advertising fast food, posing with a tiny plastic gun, falling out about strategy as the camera rolls. Barry insists on doing a second video just in case they attack the mosque anyway. Omar is secretly keeping an out-takes reel for his own amusement. Reliably, people freak out and fuck up as soon as the red light comes on; Faisal falls over a sheep and accidentally triggers a suicide vest while clowning for a bit of impromptu iPhone video. Hassan makes a fool of himself at training camp by firing off a Kalashnikov for his holiday snaps. As well as Omar’s official making-of project, and their own unofficial video diaries, the state is also making a movie – several scenes show that they are under surveillance as they carry out a test explosion. But it’s a blooper in itself, a sight gag; the cops raid the wrong house and only succeed in giving themselves away and encouraging Omar to bring forward the attack.

The police response, like the mad conspiracy theories and the bomb making and the ratty, third rate band scene gaffs, has obviously had the benefit of careful observation and a close reading of the Stockwell II report – it follows the detail for Operations KRATOS and C closely, and as actually happened, the command and control system breaks down at once and the wrong man is shot, but there is far worse left to happen.

I urge you to see this film at once, although given that you read this, you probably already have done.

One outcome of all the MySociety work for this election was the survey administered by DemocracyClub volunteers to all candidates. The results by party are graphed here, with standard deviations and error bars.

Some immediate conclusions: Surprising egalitarianism. Look at question 1, which asks if the budget deficit should be reduced by taxing the rich. Only the very edge of the error bar for the Conservatives touches the 50% mark; the only parties who have any candidates who don’t agree are the BNP and UKIP. Also, question 4 (“It would be a big problem if Britain became more economically unequal over the next 5 years” – agree/disagree) shows that there is a remarkable degree of consensus here. The three main parties of the Left – the Greens, Lib Dems, and Labour – overlap perfectly, and even the lower bound on the Tory percentage is over 50%. Only the ‘kippers and the fash even skim the 50% mark at the bottom end of their distributions. This may actually not be a statement about far-right thinking, because of…

Extremist internal chaos. On every question except the one about immigration for the BNP and the one about the EU for UKIP, these two parties have huge error bars for every question. As soon as they get off that particular topic, the error bars gap out like the bid-offer spread in a crashing market. Clearly, they agree about very little other than their own particular hate-kink. So the result in my first point could just be because they always have the widest standard error and deviation.

Immigration, or a field guide to identifying British politics. If you’re a Liberal, Labour, or a Green, you’ve got no problem with immigrants. Even the upper bounds only just stroke the 50% line. All the parties of the Right, however, overlap around the 80% line. Need to identify someone’s partisan affiliation quickly? Wave an immigrant at them. The other culture-wars question about marriage is similar, although the gap is smaller and the error bars bigger.

The consensus on civil liberties. Everyone, but everyone, thinks there are far too many CCTV cameras about. All parties overlap at between 68-78%…except for Labour. Labour is the only party that supports CCTV and it supports it strongly. There is just the faintest touch of overlap between the top (i.e. least supportive) end of the Labour error range and the bottom (i.e. most supportive) of the Tories’.

Trust and honesty. Liberals, Labour, and Conservatives all think politicians are honest. No doubt this is because the respondents are themselves politicians. Interestingly, the exceptions are the BNP and UKIP. Very interestingly, the BNP is united in cynicism, whereas the UKIP error range gaps-out dramatically on this question. The Greens’ error range converges dramatically on exactly 46% agreement – they are almost perfectly in agreement that they don’t agree.

Art and culture; only ‘kippers, BNPers, and a very few extreme Tories don’t support state funding of the arts.

Britain is a European country and is committed to the European Union. You can’t argue with the data; the Tories and Greens average between 20-30% support for withdrawal, zero for the Liberals and Labour, and even the upper bound for the Tories is well under the 50% line. Obviously, the BNP and UKIP want out, which is obvious and after the election result, arguably trivial.

Pacifist fascists; bellicose conservatives; divided lefties and ‘kippers. OK, so which parties are least keen on military action against Iran, even if they are caught red-handed building a nuke? The Greens are unsurprisingly 86% against with minimal error – perhaps the only occasion they would turn up a chance to oppose nuclear power! The other is the BNP – 82% against. Who knew we would find a scenario in which the BNP would turn up a chance to kill brown people? Labour, the Liberals, and UKIP would split down the middle – they overlap perfectly around the 50% mark. The Tories, however, are the war party – 39% against, with the lower bound well clear of the other parties. The UKIP result is strange – you’d expect them to be basically like Tories or like the BNP, but they are most like Labour on this issue, although they have a tail of happy warriors. The BNP is also the party most opposed to continuing British involvement in Afghanistan – even more than the Greens. Labour, the Liberals, the Tories, and UKIP overlap heavily around being narrowly in favour, although UKIP as usual gaps out when it’s not discussing how much it hates the EU.

Even the Toriest Tories say they support UK Aid. This one’s fairly clear – even the upper bound for the Tories is well below 50% and everyone else serious is much lower. UKIP and the BNP are strongly against, but their error bars are quite wide – clearly, they’re not sure whether they hate foreigners enough that paying them not to be immigrants is a good idea.

Summary: We’re a broadly social democratic European nation, with a few nutters for comic relief. And Chris Lightfoot’s Political Survey results (the primary axis in British politics is liberty-vs-authority, strongly correlated with internationalism-vs-isolationism, and the secondary axis is egalitarianism-vs-libertarianism, but there is surprisingly little variance along it) from 2005 appear to be confirmed.

I’m actually quite pleased with our little demo. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic when we assembled in Trafalgar Square, where various speeches were made of which not one word was audible (note to the various orgs involved: I’d happily spring for some batteries for the loud hailer. I mean, my student union would have got that right, to say nothing of the SWP…). And Morrismen kept invading our space.

I originally thought this was some regrettable, Lucky Jim example of sandal-socks liberalism. Actually no; I’m informed by Tom from Boriswatch that this is actually our mayor’s idea of culture, and actual taxpayers’ money is being paid out to them. Perhaps it’s a sort of defensible-space gambit to make it harder to protest there.

Eventually, Billy Bragg – for it is he! – suggested from the platform that we march to Smith Square and picket the Local Government Association building, where the Lib Dem MPs were meeting. This basically turned the demo around, and at least it stopped him singing; off we went down Whitehall, snarling up the traffic, calling on the recently expanded camp around Brian Haw’s pad, hurling abuse at the Sky News media-slum in College Green, flanked by policemen radioing each other to work out where we were heading.

Smith Square is not roomy; this is why those TV pictures of Tories celebrating outside Central Office always looked like more of a party than they probably were. So the crowd looked bigger and the shouting was louder. And, well, we stuck around yelling until Nick Clegg came out to speak. Again, I couldn’t hear a word, and we actually found out what he said via Twitter on Tom’s BlackBerry. Which made sense, as a major aim of the demo was to get onto the TV streams and RSS feeds the MPs would no doubt be obsessively monitoring.

It wasn’t a big demo, but it was targeted – the LGA building was already staked out by a huge media presence, with the steps of the church opposite festooned with camera crews, reporters buzzing around like flies round shit, and a big ambush of photographers and more TV cams on the LGA’s steps.

This was crucial – as we were arriving during the meeting, there would be nothing for them to report on or film other than the outside of a decentish Queen Anne block, which is better architecture than it is telly. All it took was for the camera gang on the steps to swivel through 180 degrees to get a perfect angry-mob shot, while the ones on the church had a reverse angle view of a crowd apparently besieging the building. Cropping in to emphasise the speakers would tend to compress the scene, giving the impression of a more dramatic confrontation.

The results? Well, we got far more news than I expected; and we seem to have traumatised Kay Burley.

The expression on her face at the beginning is priceless. How dare they! This wasn’t on the autocue! There’s more here; later in the day, I was with Boriswatch and his charming son, Alfie, who seems to be training as a Dickensian pickpocket (he relieved his father of a £10 note with positively Sicilian panache), in the Westminster Arms, which offers its customers two TV screens, one locked on Sky News and the other to BBC News-24. With a bit of neck-craning, you could just about watch both simultaneously in a sort of split brain media experiment – what was telling was that there was more Shannon-information in the BBC feed, far less repetition, the BBC didn’t deliberately misquote Nick Clegg in all its on-screen graphics, and the BBC didn’t insist on informing me every three minutes that Mohamed Al-Fayed had sold a rather unfashionable department store.

Seriously – yesterday of all days, Al-Fayed’s sale of Harrods was in the top three stories on Sky News for at least two hours. And, as a hint, Nick Clegg didn’t say the Tories had a “right to govern”, which they repeatedly asserted as a direct quote; he said that the largest party had the right to be consulted about a coalition first, which is far from the same thing.

OK, back from eComm in Amsterdam; here’s something interesting. Besides all the stuff I was meant to be following for work, we had a presentation from a group of the sort of media-arts types who get a lot of coverage on Bruce Sterling’s blog; in fact the whole gig was faintly Beyond the Beyond-esque when it wasn’t Charlie Stross-esque. Notably, two projects struck me as emblematic of a certain kind of thinking.

The first one was the Isophone, which is a mashup of a flotation tank and a telephone. The idea is that you sink into yummy sensory deprivation while talking to someone else in the same condition; it looks like this.

the isophone, with user

Maybe it’s just me, but having to take phone calls under a state of total sensory deprivation is not my idea of fun. I couldn’t help imagining some sort of nightmarish prison call centre, a whole pool full of them.

Then there was Mutsugoto. Let the official description speak for itself.

Mutsugoto is meant to be installed in the bedrooms of two distant partners. You lay on your bed and wear a special touch-activated ring visible to a camera mounted above. A computer vision system tracks the movement of the ring and projects virtual pen strokes on your body. At the same time these pen strokes are transmitted to and projected on the body of your remote partner. If you follow your partner’s movements and your strokes cross, the lines will react with each other and reflect your synchrony. Special bed linens, silk curtains and other aspects of the physical context have been designed to enhance the mood of this romantic communication environment.

But what are the civilian applications? As they say.

Go on, this is basically a sex toy, isn't it?

Well, I think we can probably guess. Anyway, I found both of them depressing; it also struck me that too many of these projects are all about sucking information out of the virtual space and representing it on a piece of hardware in private space. Basically, a gadget that reads out Twitter feeds, that you’re meant to think is your friend. Further, once you get rid of the microphone, pointing device, keyboard, webcam, etc, you’re basically watching TV on your own. It’s read-only communication into the private realm.

The suit faction in this field, oddly, works the other way round – the M2M (Machine to Machine) community in telecoms, the big IT types, they’re all more interested in getting data from the real world and representing it in virtual space. Basically, it’s all SCADA applications – monitoring the current status of CO2 pipeline valve number 58634. Flowrate, direction, valve setting and temperature, please, and when did you last have your grease changed?

What seems to be missing from this as an artistic project is sending stuff into the public space. A lot of data gets captured from the public space into the private space; CCTV is one version, promoting your demo on Flickr and taking photos of the cops is another. Nothing much seems to be sent back, though; can’t we have truth-screamer robots that run about yelling out under-reported news? Of course, if you or I were to encounter one we’d probably dropkick it into a handy canal. Splosh; “Hey there! CitizenMediaBot is sinking!”

But it would at least be fun, and more fun than gazing at a waldo that turns puce when #drivel is trending again. I suspect there’s scope for this with things like Layar, who were also presenting. Then, we’re deep into the Strossosphere; “what do we want? Brains!” indeed.

tory of the week

OK, here’s Tim Loughton, Tory MP for Worthing, who’s utterly dedicated to fighting the surveillance state. He says so:

Using pupils’ fingerprints in schools has been criticised by many MPs, including Sussex Conservatives Nick Gibb and Tim Loughton, who fear sensitive information about children could fall into the wrong hands.

Mr Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has said it is another step towards a surveillance society.

And again:

The Conservatives’ children’s spokesman, Tim Loughton, challenged the value of such a database [ContactPoint].

“Which do you think is more likely to protect vulnerable children – investing in more permanent and appropriately trained social workers and reducing their caseload or instead throwing money at another expensive data disaster waiting to happen?”

He’s even against identity cards.

However, he’s pretty strong on Internet censorship:

That this House expresses its deep concern at the availability of child pornography on the internet; congratulates the Romford-based internet service provider, Real Data Services, for blocking users from being able to access websites containing child pornography; and further calls upon other internet providers to follow suit, in order to track down the perpetrators of this obscene crime against children.

And he’s all in favour of Radio Maryja, which ought to get him on the same page as Michal Kaminski – here he is on religious broadcasting.

And, of course, he’s £30,000 a year in favour of installing CCTV in classrooms, with a little help from some dodgy number-style products.

Harrop Fold, a comprehensive in Salford, is another school that has installed cameras and microphones in its classrooms, but just to monitor teachers, the school says.

In the last four years, since executive headteacher Antony Edkins took the helm, the percentage of pupils achieving five GCSEs with grades of A*-C has grown from 18% to 52%. The cameras have made a “very significant” contribution to the rise, Edkins says.

Is that significant with 95 or 99% confidence?

Of course, what’s genuinely telling here is the name of his company; Classwatch. I’m interested to know if any of you have a view on what the difference between the two worlds in his head is; I reckon he thinks that CCTV is OK because it’s directed at the mob, or at kids in state schools, who clearly deserve it.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his junket to Syria, where I think they know a thing or three about mass surveillance. There’s contemporary authoritarianisms for you.

[Shall I make Tory of the Week a regular feature? Thrashing the corpse of Labour is so 2005, and, y’know, pre-emptive activism and all that]

stars of CCTV

OK, so the Iranian police – well, the Basij, the IRGC, the spooks, the cops, the repressive state apparatus anyway – are publishing photos of demonstrators on the Web and trying to crowdsource the job of identifying the faces on their CCTV tapes. It says here. And, indeed, here they are.

Now, this is obviously a case where throwing a multi-gigabit DDOS attack at them would do nothing but gooood. If you want to load that page several thousand times, or post completely spurious information to it, of course there’s nothing I can do to stop you, even though it is no doubt against the Computer Misuse Act.

But what depresses me about this project is that the idea was originated by the West Yorkshire Police after the Bradford race riot of 2001; they got the Telegraph & Argus to publish, day after day, front pages of CCTV or other surveillance images of rioters, in the hope that the public would turn them in. Which they did.

definition

CCTV Camera: a device that detects police misconduct and informs its operator by turning the screen black.