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Monday, January 02, 2006

Arizona's ever-watchful eye: moving towards a maximum surveillance and deterrence society

The Arizona Republic reported this week that if a bill put forward by State Rep. Michele Reagan and state Sen. Dean Martin passes, funds raised from speeding tickets issued by the new cameras appearing on the 101 North in Scottsdale will go to the state Department of Public Safety. Why?

According to the article,
The bill could help dispel fears that the speed-enforcement cameras will replace the DPS officers, who are still needed to catch other violations.

"That will help Scottsdale in the long run," Reagan said. "This is not about replacing officers. This is about making their jobs easier."

The legislator said she proposed using excess fines to buy DPS equipment after hearing that some officers bought their own bulletproof vests.
Police labor organizations, like the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association, have voiced criticisms of Scottsdale's freeway camera plan, hoping to preserve jobs for their members, as well as their power on the job, which they see as under threat by the automated camera system. Jim Hill, president of POSA put it this way in an article on the cameras in September:
It was a patrol cop on a routine traffic stop that caught Timothy McVeigh, and it was a patrol cop making a routine traffic stop that caught Ted Bundy. We would rather see money spent on hiring living, breathing, thinking patrol cops than on cameras.
Attacking the technology, and defending the importance of the workers he represents in an article in the Northeast Phoenix Times, Sgt. Bill Whalen, chairman of the Arizona State Troopers Labor Council said,
To think that photo enforcement is going to reduce injury accidents and deaths isn't rational. If you just request accident data on that stretch of highway, you will see that the major contributing factor is not speed.
As technology does in general, the cameras potentially threaten to replace and deskill workers - in this case police officers. In a classic labor conflict, police management, including Scottsdale police chief Rodbell, supports the cameras despite the concerns of rank and file cops.

Recognizing the threat technology represents to workers is a legitimate and prescient observation, though the police unions' critique remains quite limited. They don't generalize the analysis to other workers. Because of their role as the violent enforcers for capitalism, police solidarity with other workers is necessarily limited in practice, regardless of individual officers' sentiments on the matter. Government and capitalists routinely use technology in the workplace to deskill workers, to limit our control over critical production processes, to restrict our autonomy on the job and to reduce our numbers, all of which are advantageous from management's perspective.

But, surveillance and police technologies also act as a force multiplier, allowing police to increase their flexibility and concentrate their oppressive force more specifically. As such, they are somewhat of a special case in the eyes of elites. And that's what will spare police agencies from layoffs. As Rep. Reagan says above, elites have no intention of thinning police ranks. They hope instead to maximize the added repressive power that the new technologies will afford them in conjunction with already large police forces.

A December 5th article in the Republic makes that clear:
Loop 101 photo enforcement, which is expected to start in nearly a month, is expected to free police officers to focus on traffic issues on city streets, rather than the state freeway...

The city's nine-month camera test will allow police to focus on city streets, once the machines start nabbing speeders on the freeway.

"This allows us to take officers who've been assigned stationary speed enforcement on the 101 and put them back in neighborhoods," said Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell.
Thus, we see POSA President Jim Hill's concerns about the importance of police contact with citizens in fact do not conflict with Scottsdale's plans at all. While technology generally deskills and eliminates American workers, police officers have so far been largely spared this fate because of the special role they play in defending the wealth and power of the ruling class.

Interestingly, the American Automobile Association (AAA) agrees with what we can now safely describe as the Valley's elite consensus on the matter. Whatever disagreements amongst city elites on the desirability or efficacy of the technology, all elite parties agree that fewer cops should not result - a point worth remembering. In another article from the Arizona Republic, this one from September, Holly Johnson reported:
"We believe traffic officers are the most effective deterrent against most types of unsafe driving, including speeding," President Jim McDowell wrote in a message to readers in the September/October issue of Highroads, a magazine for AAA customers in Arizona.

"Substituting mechanical cops for real ones might be an efficient way to snag speeders, but it robs us of the multiple benefits patrol officers bring to the scene."
This consensus is important, because it illustrates that the thrust of technological advancement as elites see it is not to reduce their dependence on the police for protection, but rather to enhance their ability to dominate and exploit us through the existing law enforcement framework.

The Scottsdale city website Q and A section on photo radar states the following:
Would photo enforcement take the place of officers?

No. Scottsdale uses it to supplement the work of police officers on its streets. Since 1997, when Scottsdale began using photo radar, the city has increased the ratio of sworn officers per 1,000 citizens from 1.50 to 1.78. Photo enforcement is a tool to help officers, not a substitute.

Will law enforcement officers stop patrolling the freeway during the demonstration project?

No. They will continue their patrols.
Likewise, elites hope to increase as much as possible enforcement of existing laws and regulations against workers and others they deem exploitable or in need of control. Compliance is what they want, and elites hope with new technology to create a more powerful police force while at the same time increasing their power to modify our behavior for their own benefit (1) (2) (3) (4) (5).

While rank and file police labor organizations question the effectiveness of the cameras at deterring speeding as a political ploy to preserve their labor power, there is wide consensus amongst police management and elites that cameras do in fact reduce traffic infractions:
“Speed kills. Photo enforcement slows people down,” said Lt. Frank O’Halloran, commander of Scottsdale Police Department’s traffic enforcement section.
Scottsdale Councilman Kevin Osterman said, "This isn't the magic bullet, but it will catch speeders." Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross likewise lambasted the state legislature last year when some lawmakers threatened to intervene to obstruct the cameras. The city credits similar cameras installed on Scottsdale streets with reducing accidents.

A notable exception to this elite unanimity is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who sparred with Mayor Manross over the cameras, denouncing them as a cash cow before joining forces with DPS Director Roger Vanderpool, who for obvious institutional reasons, called for DPS pay raises and increasing DPS ranks. The Arizona Republic was quick to chastise Arpaio for straying from the flock. In a May 31st editorial, the Republic wrote:
As we've noted, photo enforcement does not replace state patrolmen, city police officers or sheriff's deputies. It is not intended to take the place of real officers, despite what representatives of some state highway patrolmen's associations have said.

It is a tool - an effective one, statistics show - that helps law enforcement agencies slow dangerously fast traffic. Some agencies, such as the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which patrols Valley freeways including Loop 101, are underfunded and short-handed.
The increasing growth of police forces and the spread of police technologies is not a good sign for people concerned with freedom, autonomy and self-determination. It isn't popular to say, but breaking the law and getting away with it is fundamental to a free society, whether viewed from a personal or social change standpoint. Nevertheless, elites now are moving forward on a project for a world of maximum surveillance and deterrence rooted in hyperdetection and prosecution of crime.

That's not to say that existing law will not change in some respects. Technological change frequently drives legislation. Such is the case with the new bill in the legislature sponsored by Sen. Marilyn Jarrett. According to a Capitol Media Services article, SB1028 would require all vehicles to display a license place on both the front and back.
The head of [the Arizona Automobile Theft Prevention Authority], Enrique Cantu, wants the change because of new technology that might help reduce the state’s high rate of stolen cars and trucks. He said police in some other states already have "license plate readers’’ — devices mounted on a patrol car that scan visible license plates.

The system then checks the plates against a list of stolen vehicles.

"If I’m driving my car down the road and you’re coming at me, I can’t tell until you’re past me whether your automobile is stolen or not,’’ Cantu said.

He said if a police officer knows the car coming up behind him is stolen, it gives the officer time to determine the best way to pull the vehicle over.
Regular readers of this blog may recall that the Mesa PD already has such technology. According to an article that ran on the device, the Mobile Plate Hunter 900:
Mesa police auto theft Detective Dennis Thomas said the cruiser roof-mounted camera system lets police cover a parking lot for stolen cars while keeping their eyes out for other problems.

"The officer can continue looking for other things, while this device detects," he said
Now reconsider again Jim Hill's comments above about the importance of traffic enforcement and it becomes clear just what advantages this sort of new technology offers the elite in terms of their ability to regulate poor and working class people.

Likewise, some lawmakers are considering bringing to Arizona a GPS monitoring system like that already in use in several other states. According to the Arizona Daily Sun,
Legislation proposed Thursday would require that any probation imposed on someone convicted of offenses classified as dangerous crimes against children must be for the rest of that person's natural life. Now, judges can -- but are not required to -- mandate probation following a prison term for sex offenders. But there is no minimum.

But the proposal, crafted by Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, goes farther: As part of probation, offenders would be linked to real-time global positioning equipment -- also for as long as they live.
Rep. Knaperek hopes to use the 24 hour-a-day tracking power of GPS to deter sex offenders from committing further crimes. She said, "You know that somebody knows where you're at at all times. And they can track you, that you were on that corner when that little girl disappeared." Some of the potential offenses are pretty broad, however, and don't include exclusively sex-related crimes, demonstrating some of the potential creep we can expect from these kinds of laws in the future. For instance, kidnapping is on the list, even though that crime is frequently perpetrated by parents involved in custody disputes, not sexual predators.

It was revealed in an Arizona Republic article last week that similar technology is being manufactured by a Valley firm called TSI Prism, which developed its RFID technology for tracking through a Department of Defense contract (far from unusual in the technology sector). The company's website quotes Executive Officer of the Technology Transfer Committee, California Department of Corrections, Larry Cothran, saying "The TSI PRISM technology will change not only the way inmates live, but how staff run the institutions. This will revolutionize prisons in California and nationwide."

The RFID technology, the company claims, can lead to "reduction or elimination of other expensive facility security equipment and/or procedures, such as armed guard towers, electrified fences and other costly perimeter security devices." This jibes pretty well with assertions from the Nebraska company that makes the devices to be used in monitoring Arizona's child predators, if it passes. That firm declares that costs can be reduced to a mere $10 a day from the $50 or more that incarceration costs through application of its tracking technology.

Consider this extended quote from the article about the TSI technology:
Greg Oester, president of TSI Prism, said the system is credited with solving a stabbing in a California prison.

"An inmate was found stabbed in his bunk at 3:30 in the morning," Oester said. "He either wouldn't say who did it, or didn't know.

"Through the database, officials were able to see that, 30 minutes before the stabbing was discovered, another inmate came into the area where the stabbing occurred. They had a confession within an hour. Ordinarily, it can take weeks, or months, if ever, before something like that is solved."

Oester said the system has reduced inmate violence by 60 percent in the California prison system since its installation in 2000.

"It lifts the veil of secrecy," Oester said. "An inmate can no longer say he wasn't there. They tend not to do things when they know they can be tracked."

The system can set off alarms if rival gang members get too close to each other, or if an inmate violates such prison rules as entering unauthorized areas. If the inmate tampers with the wristband, it is immediately detected.

The system also has a belt-mounted transmitter for staff members that can send a panic alarm, which immediately shows who is in trouble, where they are and the 20 inmates closest to him or her.

"It allows the early responders to know if it's two gang members, or if it's 15 people and what their history of violence is."

Other companies offer systems that can tell how many inmates are in an area.

"But they can't tell you who's standing next to whom, and they don't have a database to retrieve," Oester said.

Oester said the system saves money by freeing officers from inmate tracking to provide more security functions like drug or contraband sweeps [my emphasis].
Obviously the benefits for prison administration potentially are many. The company plans to use the tracking devices in a pilot project in a prison in Malaysia, but it's focus for long-term growth is domestic. "Looking at the industrialized world, the United States is the largest incarcerator. So the domestic market is our primary focus," said Oester.

In another case of defense research money bearing fruit in civilian applications, the Phoenix Business Journal reports that local defense contractor Black Diamond Advanced Technology has "just concluded its first commercial contract with American Barcode & RFID Inc. of Chandler to develop 50 prototype shopping carts for laboratory testing."

"The carts, which are equipped with a mounted computer system and monitor, provide instant checkout, eliminating long lines and human interaction [my emphasis]."

According to an article in the East Valley Tribune from December 19th,
A good example of how space-age technology can be used for everyday purposes is the shopping cart computer, designed to allow customers to purchase items directly from their carts, avoiding lines at the checkout counter. The self-checkout system includes a sidepiece mounted on the computer that contains a credit card swiper and a wireless and batteryless barcode scanner.
Unions and workers in stores planning to utilize these carts should do their utmost to keep them out. And, if they get in, workers should sabotage, disable, misplace or steal them until they are all gone, because they can be sure that unlike the case with the police, capitalists do, in fact, plan to use the technology not just to undermine retail workers' pay, but also their power on the job, which, particularly at the point of sale, is quite considerable.

Of course, the argument pitched to consumers will center around what elites call "convenience," but which really amounts to the theft of our time by capitalists and government. Because we live in a hierarchical system which allows us very little actual control over our lives, any time liberated through these technological processes (designed, instituted and controlled by elites) generally must first pass through the greedy hands of the capitalist or bureaucrat before any savings actually accrue to us - which very little, if any, ever does (1). In fact, the exact opposite is generally the case. As the exploitation level of workers rises, the ability of the capitalists to accrue wealth at our expense likewise increases.

Since one clear metric for understanding our level of exploitation is our ability to redistribute wealth, power and time in the workplace on our own terms, the benefit afforded by a technology like that manufactured by Black Diamond Advanced Technology and American Barcode & RFID Inc., from employers and retailers perspectives, can be understood quite easily:
Supply chain applications overlap with anti-theft protection, since the same labels that allow distributors, warehouses, shippers, and retailers to trace movements of merchandise can trace stolen goods or discourage theft in the first place. Much theft is done by employees -- office workers, sales clerks, longshoremen, and truckers carry home incalculable millions of dollars in merchandise and supplies every year. Employers know this but are reluctant to search employees as they come and go, since such a policy would create resentment. With RFID readers in strategic places, however, unauthorized items being carried out of a building or unloaded from a truck at a wrong place or time would trigger an alarm. This strategy would operate as a deterrent when an employee knows for certain the item will be detected.

Theft at the retail level will also be more difficult. Consumers are familiar with the hard plastic tags on high-ticket items that have to be cut off by a store employee before the merchandise can be taken out the door. Those tags are now small enough and cheap enough to be embedded in the brand label of a piece of clothing or attached to just about anything you can think of.
Control, regulation and domination. This is the future emerging before us. What can we do about it? Perhaps a lesson from some Greek anarchists offers a solution (2) (3), while we're still able to do something about it.


Blogger A World on the Edge said...

Some smart crooks, good critique too:
Masked raiders smash shop's CCTV equipment


Tue Jan 03, 05:42:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Phoenix Insurgent said...

More on surveillance as a class war tool in the workplace:


Tue Jan 03, 06:16:00 PM 2006  
Blogger A World on the Edge said...

Even worse:


Tue Jan 03, 06:28:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Phoenix Insurgent said...

Not just in the UK:

E-tracking, coming to a DMV near you

Tue Jan 03, 06:33:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Phoenix Insurgent said...

"Critics of photo enforcement have said the tax money used for it could be better spent on hiring more DPS officers.

Reagan said her bill would help support those officers.

Photo enforcement 'was never meant to take officers off the roads. But it means the officers don’t have to spend time writing tickets — they can go after drunk drivers and other things,' she said."

Tue Jan 03, 06:58:00 PM 2006  

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