Friday, April 10, 2009

Surveillance & Identity

So, I've got nothing to write about. I've got bloggers block. There's only one thing to do. Sit down and here and write something and press publish and, yes, be damned. I should have something to write about - its been a heady week or two - but of course, you can't always process the life that's happening to you as it happens.

I was at Manchester's Social Media Cafe on Tuesday and tried to fit three evenings of networking into one. There was an interesting discussion on personal identity, and surveillance, and I realised that every story in the news at the moment is about this very issue. We that are rightly concerned with the government's insistence on identity cards and every other kind of monitoring of us, can only be amused how, at this particular juncture it is the fragmented, distributed nature of this "monitoring and surveillance" which is most effective - and, that's being used against the state. Surely the G20 footage, with its criminal investigation into the death of a newspaper seller shortly after being hit by the police; and Jacqui Smith and other MPs reluctance to have the details made public of how public money has been spent; and then the photograph of the secret documents held in full view by Bob Quick has been spent are the same story - where the state actually wants to "deny" the use of this information, but can't quite manage it. Only the courts - in the case of the injunction on the Guardian revealing Barclays use of tax havens - seems able to stop some of this "user generated content" - and only because it was a national newspaper, not the "crowd" who had released the information. I feel we're probably at an interesting juncture where its years away from a national identity card, yet everything about everyone is being made available - whether its your Facebook profile or the ubiquitous video phones and location-based devices we carry with us everywhere. I'm not sure how that genie gets in the bottle - yet I'm pretty sure the powers that be are looking at ways of doing it. (Just read on the difficulty of photographing in public spaces these day.

It seems that every missing child will have some footage available on CCTV, a vast difference from when it was a grainy yearbook photo that was all we had. An interesting space, as I've said. We often talk about being in a "big brother" age, after Orwell, but I'm not sure that's the case, after all, it's happened so fast, that the control of this information is currently, at least, both with us, and with the corporations that provide the service. I can imagine in a state of emergency, Google and the like being turned into quasi-agencies of the state,(in the way that previously a TV company or newspaper might have been), but its not going to be easy. More like is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where little by little we give up our privacy and our rights to how we use our own "personal identity" in return for the things it gives us, this digital soma we've become addicted to. Those of us from "the old world" can probably keep a sense of what this should be - but I'm wondering if in the near future, as the control systems become more sophisticated and pervasive, and the legal and governance frameworks tighten up even more, whether this will always be the case.

Addendum: Appropriately, Marina Hyde in today's Guardian makes a similar point about "our" surveillance of the Police - she makes the point how difficult it is to film the police, since this is in itself seen as potentially a crime (I say potentially, as I'm not sure if its been tested in court, or if its genuinely illegal?)even when they are in a public place.

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