Archive for the ‘CCTV’ Category

25 years; the strike was the first political event, indeed one of the first events, I actually remember. At least I remember power cuts and TV news broadcasts with the number of weeks the miners had been out counting up. After that, I recall Chernobyl – they set up a radiation monitor in the car park and my mother was interviewed on TV in front of it – and Gorbachev (we had a photo of him, complete with birthmark!), and then, it all starts rolling past.

Years later I actually met Scargill, at a conference of economics students; it was some testimony to his oratory that he was cheered to the echo by an audience that included about fifty per cent Young Conservatives. Perhaps it was the other fifty per cent. The organisers certainly aimed for stimulation – the other keynote speakers were John Redwood and Patrick Minford, of all people. Around the same time I met my first Scargill-hater, who actually was an ex-miner. History is like that.

Here is the man himself’s version. I don’t know the detailed history well enough to criticise it, although it strikes me that his idea of cutting off the coal supply to the steel industry, a sort of John Robb-ish cascade-failure attack, was based on a fundamentally false assumption. Namely, it assumed Thatcher cared what happened to the steelworks; as we now know, she was just as keen to screw them as she was the miners, and not much better with regard to the downstream steel-consuming industries either.

But one thing I don’t think anyone has mentioned about this is that whatever had happened in 1984, there could only ever have been a stay of execution for ten years. In 1995, the starting gun for serious climate fear was fired when the IPCC scenarios crossed the 95% confidence interval into significance; and as James Hansen says, it’s the coal. Essentially lumps of carbon, with some added toxic heavy metals for laughs, and there’s so much of the stuff that we won’t run out before we cook the planet.

Consider the alternate history for a moment; NACODS walk out as well, the government is forced to give in. Thatcher, of course, doesn’t quit, but there is either a 1922 Committee coup or else she loses the 1987 election, or perhaps there is a repeat of 1974 – she calls an election for a mandate to take on the miners again, and loses. Neil Kinnock walks into Downing Street, either in a Labour government or a coalition with the Liberals and SDP.

Where do we go from here? The TUC-driven European turn in the Labour Party hasn’t happened yet, but neither has the D-Mark shadowing and ERM fiasco. The Labour Party has taken a goodly dose of the new social movements, as in the original time-line, but the prestige of the NUM on the Left would be immense.

But whatever happens in the Kinnock-Steel government, at some point in 1995 the Chief Scientific Advisor walks into the Cabinet Room, and about ten minutes later, all hell breaks loose. After all, in this scenario we’ve been merrily burning much more coal than in the original timeline for the last ten years, and the coal lobby is the strength of the Left.

The political implications would be more than weird. The activist Left, all other things being equal, is heavily green-influenced, so it ends up against the miners. The mainstream Labour Party is wildly conflicted. And the rightwing science-dodger ecosystem has no choice but to support the miners; Anthony Browne and friends in Doncaster, probably with bags of Exxon-provided cash. Thrill as they try to tack between screwing the government and keeping their North Sea investments.

So the strike 2.0 happens in the late 90s/early 2000s, with mobile phones and the Internet on the protesters’ side (flashmobs at Ferrybridge), tasers and pervasive CCTV on the police side, and all the party affiliations surreally flipped. God knows how that would have played out.

Someone ought to write the book.

One thing this brings up is just how necessary social democracy is; sometimes, it’s not enough to be right, and huge impersonal forces are going to work their will, like the steadily rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And then, it’s up to the society we create around ourselves whether the changes that will happen will be humane or brutal and tragic.

So I reviewed the rebuilt St Pancras Station about this time last year. So, in the best Stewart Brand tradition, let’s revisit it; this time of year tends to give you opportunities to revisit major railway stations.

The first good news; the square footage of blue plywood and Tyvek has fallen, and is now close to zero. However, blue plywood extermination is still not quite complete – there is a little patch of the stuff behind Betjeman’s Bar on the upper deck. Perhaps they should keep it, as a shrine to the temporary, flexible and living nature of all buildings.

Further, the station is now functioning without needing to secrete too much temporary signage; overall, the signage has improved, although there was no way anyone was going to read the waist-high portable sign holding an amended timetable for the Thameslink service, forlornly placed between two streams of people, at 90 degrees to their eyeline. But, if you visit Betjeman’s to check out that plywood, you’d better be careful you don’t miss your train – there are no indicator boards in this part of the station, and the nearest is the one outside Eurostar arrivals. (However, their selection of real ales has increased.)

Out the back, where the path from the car park leads into the station, it’s still necessary to have perma-temporary railings marking the accessible ramp; the signs haven’t quite caught up. The Tube station is improving, slowly and painfully, and the ticket hall isn’t as poorly signed as it was last year. Further, the exit from Eurostar arrivals is as bad as ever; presumably, hordes of disoriented travellers packed into the shopping centre are a feature not a bug for someone.

The grand front entrances are still bunged by construction work on the hotel; until this is finished a lot of things will remain temporary, as the original architecture makes the whole thing a single unit. And, of course, there’s a lot of other stuff going on with the tube station, the Great Northern Hotel, changes to King’s Cross station and the like. But it’s running-in reasonably well, and how many building projects of its scale can say that?

However, occasionally you run into something terrible. Check out the Midland (sorry, “East Midlands Trains”) ticket hall, which has the odd property of looking painfully bare but not austerely functional, and also has this horrible image:

People, places...anomie and CCTV

People, places...anomie and CCTV


It’s the combination of the on-the-cheap shiny, the motivational-speaker bollocks, and the CCTV cam the size of God pointing at…what? that does it for me…

This story; from China is predictably horrible:

Chinese authorities have sentenced two women in their 70s to a year’s “re-education through labour” following their application to hold a protest demonstration during the Beijing games, a relative said yesterday.

Officials said this week they had not approved a single permit for a demonstration, despite designating three parks as protest zones.

The International Olympic Committee’s communications director said she would look at the women’s case, but stressed the games were “not a panacea for all ills”.

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbour Wang Xiuying, 77, sought to protest about their forced eviction from their homes in 2001. They went to the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) four times this month to request permission to demonstrate in the zones – created for the Olympics to counter criticism about restrictions on political expression in China…

But that isn’t my point. My point is that it’s all oddly familiar. For a start, they have been placed under an “order” which restricts their movements, subjects them to the scrutiny of a neighbourhood committee, and isn’t subject to a court hearing or to an appellant jurisdiction of any kind. Why not? Because, of course, it’s not actually punishment. Only breaking; the order would be a crime, and would result in your being sent to a labour camp.

Yes; they’ve reinvented the ASBO. Meanwhile, 77 applications to demonstrate have been made and absolutely none granted. 74, apparently, were “resolved through consultations”, another two turned down because the form wasn’t properly filled in, and another rejected on the grounds it involved a child. (Won’t somebody think of the children?) And I was fascinated by this quote from Sir Mucho Pomposo Wang Wei of the Organising Committee:

Wang Wei, vice-president of the Beijing organising committee, told reporters they should be “satisfied” with the protest zones. “The idea of demonstration is that you are hoping to resolve issues, not to demonstrate for the sake of demonstrating. We are pleased that issues have been resolved through dialogue and communication – this is how we do it in Chinese culture,” he told a press conference.

He added: “We want everyone to express their opinion. Everyone has the right to speak; this is not the same as demonstrating.

It’s so familiar; the insistence that anyone who disagrees is doing so out of spite, that only acquiescence is “serious” or “helpful”. I’m surprised he didn’t offer them a Big Conversation, but in fact, with the right mistranslation he might have done. Similarly, the re-education through labour order for disturbing the public is just a translator’s caprice away from an anti-social behaviour order.

Perhaps there’s a wider truth here; this sort of events/urban regeneration politics seems to follow the same grammar all over the world. It’s conceived of as a project; which implies there are only participants, or else obstructions. Despite the money and the bulldozers, it respects class boundaries; veering around the villas of the rich. It needs special security arrangements which always turn out to involve some sort of summary justice based on vague and unchallengeable notions of appropriateness, propriety, or order; similarly, these are always temporary but are never revoked. The state authorities and private interests involved are indistinguishable. (Interestingly, the legislative foundation tends to be very hard to get rid of; the Act on the Great Exhibition of 1851 is still in force and still a major headache for anyone planning to build on or near the original site.)

More deeply, it seems to include a sort of quasi-medical view of society, or more specifically of the city. It, and we, need to be made better. Not only the method of this treatment, but the definition of better, is reversed for the doctors; but we are responsible if it doesn’t work, because we didn’t comply sufficiently. The nudgers’ cognitive biases are not examined; it’s our fault if we don’t press the right coloured shape in response. Equally, no-one suggests subjecting the Home Office to compulsory psychotherapy in order to get rid of its hysterical anxiety, but it seems to want to make everyone happy.

So, walking back from dinner, what did I catch lurking in a side street? Yes, but yes, one of these…

There it waited, with a 4-way CCTV installation lunging out the roof like a Blairite erection…I took photographs, and the driver suddenly reversed. But he or she didn’t go. So I called the phone number on the side – 08705 899799 – and demanded to know what they were looking for. They said – Surveillance. They wanted to know where I was. I wouldn’t tell them. Why should they know? Shouldn’t they be answering the questions?

So I asked what it was surveilling. “Well, things,” said the Geordie on the line. I asked him who the scheme controller was under the Data Protection Act. “I don’t know.” “IT’S YOUR LEGAL DUTY TO KNOW.” So, I said, I’ll just have to report the company to the polis then won’t I? And I will, as soon as I’ve consulted the guys from Spyblog.

So, yer National Staff Dismissal Registry. Several people have asked me to comment on this horrible intersection of Blairite justice-style product and the good old Economic League, and they won’t be surprised that I’m against it. For all the usual reasons – you don’t actually need to do anything wrong to be on it, and there is no effective limit on who gets the information, and no way of getting off it again.

But the curious thing is how it fits into a very specific set of Government policies and ways of seeing. I started making inquiries about it, thinking that some of the old Economic League/Caprim folks might be involved. I haven’t found any yet, but the people I did find were interesting. It kicks off with something called the “Alliance Against Business Crime”, a Home Office-sponsored talking shop for large retailers (basically). It actually runs the NSDR, and until this year it received Home Office funding.

Here’s the board of directors. Note that its independent existence doesn’t even run to a Web site – it’s part of the British Retail Consortium’s facilities. The board is a lineup of interest group representatives, cops…and who’s this? Richard Barron, Director, Encams. Encams? That has a good, sinister sound to it. Right? In fact, Encams is what used to be called Keep Britain Tidy, and Barron is indeed its Director of Community Safety and Town Centres. What does this mean in practice?

Well, it looks like he and his organisation have become part of the general government-inspired push for greater private control of public space. He shares the board with one Dr. Julie Grail, chief executive of “British BIDs”. BID here means Business Improvement District, a government scheme under which private companies essentially get to take over the management of a chunk of a city. It’s been much protested about, and it’s probably worth mentioning that such police/business hybrid entities often run CCTV deployments. The AABC appears to link these with Business Crime Reduction Partnerships, which are yet another Home Office-driven security privatisation exercise. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s Hazel Blears’ fault.

Unsurprisingly, its head for the North-West is a casino security manager. Me, I find the very words give me the cold dreads. Barron, it turns out, actually went from the AABC to Keep Britain Tidy; note that this AABC newsletter encourages members to lobby the government for heavier sentencing and more toughosity in general. There you have it – the Home Office actually paying people to tell it how scared of crime they are. It’s a kind of inverted Stafford Beer process – a recursive feedback loop with the bullshit output coupled to the input.

Here we have Barron speaking at a conference for the private security industry:

The patrollers, largely young, many women, visit premises, note problems, and are in radio contact with PCSOs – as in Lincoln, four are paid for by the BID – and police. There’s a dedicated town centre police team. Bedfordshire Police entered into a baseline agreement as to where and when the team will work. As a result police in the town centre have moved from being an ‘arrest squad’ to a ‘prevention squad’. The BID runs a retail radio link and equivalent Nightnet scheme, and runs a photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies. Reported crime and stock loss have fallen.

Richard Barron, previously a regional manager for AABC, is now community safety and town centres director with charity Encams, the former Keep Britain Tidy. He too stressed the government’s cleaner-greener-safer agenda.

Note the bit about the police actually handing part of their role over, as well as the delightfully Orwellian “photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies” (I think it means people in uniforms ostentatiously photographing and following persons suspected of being poor). They are literally rolling back the frontiers of the state. Further down, you’ll notice him encouraging the distribution of more fixed-penalty tickets (thus increasing the reported crime figures).

We used to imagine the totalitarian enemy as being insanely, unnaturally orderly – Prussians heel-clicking around general staff situation conferences, Soviet officials poring over their input-output tables. Whatever short-term advantage this machine society gave them, we thought, it could never overcome the smelly creativity of our democracy. But now, keeping Britain tidy extends to a state-sponsored labour blacklisting exercise, which seems to be conceived of as a subsidy to commercial property developers. What does it say about us when a campaign against litter is part of a scheme like this?

Further, what does it say about Dan Norris MP, that he was directly involved in killing off the Economic League, but voted for ID cards?

User 64

Everyone is talking about this New Statesman story in which so-and-so visits Westminster Council’s CCTV surveillance control centre, which rather wonderfully turns out to be situated in the bowels of the dire Trocadero on Wardour Street. Apparently we have 20 per cent of world CCTV capability in Britain. But it was this response at Spyblog that inspired me. In comments, one Gareth Preston writes that:

They say that the CCTV systems in the UK are set up to tackle crime. So why do so many Male CCTV operators spend their “working hours” zooming in on female members of the public?

Hardly surprising, after all. But this reminded me of an incident in the 1990s, in the first fast upcurl of the surveillance boom, when a major British airport installed a spanking new CCTV network. As is common in many IT systems, the sysadmin had the ability to assign differential privileges to user accounts, so-say-WH Smith on the concourse could access just the camera pointing at the shiny-lettering thrillers, but a “superuser” like, say, the police or ATC could not only watch the feed of any camera on the airport, and not only control the Pan-Tilt-Zoom ones, but also take over control of any PTZ cam from whoever else was using it.

A few weeks in, and someone noticed that an extra, unauthorised user account existed on the system, User No.64. Unsurprisingly, whoever had created it had provisioned it with superuser status. Consternation. Meetings. Terrorists? (This was around about the time the IRA blew up Manchester city centre, doing millions of pounds’ worth of improvements.) It was decided not to blow the gaff, but to monitor User 64’s activity closely.

It was then discovered that the User spent his time zooming in on women’s backsides, and saving the images on tape. In fact he/she/it – well, it was only realistically going to be a he – appeared to be collecting them. Disgrace followed.

User 64

Everyone is talking about this New Statesman story in which so-and-so visits Westminster Council’s CCTV surveillance control centre, which rather wonderfully turns out to be situated in the bowels of the dire Trocadero on Wardour Street. Apparently we have 20 per cent of world CCTV capability in Britain. But it was this response at Spyblog that inspired me. In comments, one Gareth Preston writes that:

They say that the CCTV systems in the UK are set up to tackle crime. So why do so many Male CCTV operators spend their “working hours” zooming in on female members of the public?

Hardly surprising, after all. But this reminded me of an incident in the 1990s, in the first fast upcurl of the surveillance boom, when a major British airport installed a spanking new CCTV network. As is common in many IT systems, the sysadmin had the ability to assign differential privileges to user accounts, so-say-WH Smith on the concourse could access just the camera pointing at the shiny-lettering thrillers, but a “superuser” like, say, the police or ATC could not only watch the feed of any camera on the airport, and not only control the Pan-Tilt-Zoom ones, but also take over control of any PTZ cam from whoever else was using it.

A few weeks in, and someone noticed that an extra, unauthorised user account existed on the system, User No.64. Unsurprisingly, whoever had created it had provisioned it with superuser status. Consternation. Meetings. Terrorists? (This was around about the time the IRA blew up Manchester city centre, doing millions of pounds’ worth of improvements.) It was decided not to blow the gaff, but to monitor User 64’s activity closely.

It was then discovered that the User spent his time zooming in on women’s backsides, and saving the images on tape. In fact he/she/it – well, it was only realistically going to be a he – appeared to be collecting them. Disgrace followed.