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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Burn the speed cameras, as fast as possible

First, the good news. German hackers have created a RFID zapper. The portable device, made out of a gutted disposable camera, can "permanently deactivate" RFID tags in all sorts of products. The hackers say,
To defend yourself against such measures, you might want a small, simple and relatively appealing gadget to permanently deactivate RFID-Tags around you… to deactivate RFID-Tags in recently bought clothes without damaging them.
The portable nature of it potentially makes it quite a flexible tool. You could take it to the store with you, for instance.

Saboteurs have disabled or set on fire ten speed-ticketing cameras in Britain, three of them in the last four weeks. One camera was left "dripping with molten plastic" after being set on fire, and another had it's internal machinery removed, leaving an empty housing unit sitting harmlessly by the side of the road. In Girard, Ohio, someone stole their city's speed camera. The camera had collected $85,000 in fines for the city, so not everyone was sad to see it go:
Atty. James Denney's eyes widened with disbelief when informed the camera was gone. Denney is adamantly against use of the camera.

"Thank God," the Girard lawyer who has law offices on South State Street said as he looked up to the heavens and crossed himself. "We're going to have a party tonight."
The city quickly replaced the camera with another one it had planned to deploy elsewhere, hindering their plans and leaving the city out $70,000 (the cost of the machine) and, more importantly, with a reduced capacity to spy.

In another story, Austrian hackers protesting against the spread of surveillance in public spaces have developed a way to hijack the signals of police spy cameras.
A group called Quintessenz used an off-the-shelf satellite receiver to intercept the video signal transmitted by a surveillance camera overlooking a busy square in the capital Vienna. The feed had been crudely scrambled by modifying the analogue video signal but the activists were able to unscramble it using commercial video processing software.

This enabled them to view everything recorded by the camera, and revealed both its capabilities and shortcomings. "The funny thing was, the camera wasn't able to see right below itself," says Christian Moch, a spokesman for Quintessenz, "so people could carry out drug deals underneath it without being seen".
Activists also used a variety of ways to block the cameras, including laser pointers and balloons, both of which they reported as effective.

Now the bad news. Some readers of this blog may recall an entry I did on the dual use of the city of Tempe's wi-fi technology. Tempe hopes to have the whole city covered very soon, and the project will, among other bad things, allow the setting up of linked wireless cameras around town. TMCnet reports on a new project to develop solar-powered streetlights that support wi-fi. But that's not all:
Project Starsight is a partnership between Compliance Technology of Fife, Scotland, London-based sustainable development firm Kolam, Singapore-based networking company Next-G Systems and the Abertay Center for the Environment (ACE) at the University of Abertay in Dundee. The collaboration has yielded a solar-powered WiFi router/WiMax router/surveillance camera that may be situated on top of a solar-powered streetlight [my emphasis].
Apparently, Kolam supports the police state as long as it's sustainable.

The Canton Repository reports that the city of Canton plans to install police cameras throughout the city, which the city safety director dreams of making wireless.
Instead of using Time Warner, a wireless connection would be less “cumbersome,” [city safety director Bernard] Hunt said, and require less “hardware,” but Hunt said a wireless link is not possible with the Cherry Avenue camera unless repeaters are posted on city buildings so the digital signal can be transmitted to the dispatch center.

Each repeater would cost an estimated $15,000 to $20,000, Feldman said.
It's also worth noting that local officials don't plan to replace officers with cameras:
City Council recently demanded that the city double the number of new officers it will hire this year — from three to six. The book, “City Crime Rankings,” deemed Canton the 30th most dangerous city in the nation. The list of 369 cities ranks crime per capita and is based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for cities of more than 75,000 people.
Along the same lines as I reported last week about Tempe, this is more evidence that governments plan to tighten the screws on society with the aid of technology, but do not intend to replace the old police system of social control. Along with the increasing surveillance and regulation, we can expect levels of exploitation to increase as well. It's likely no coincidence that the developments parallel the growing gap between rich and poor in this country, but it seems to also signal that American elites expect to continue their widening war on workers (2).

And, on the techno-class war front, we have an article ("It's not candid; cameras may be looking") in the Beaver County Times covering the spread of surveillance in that region. Unsurprisingly, authorities of all kinds have found them useful in the class war.
Beaver County District Attorney Dale Fouse said there have been several instances in the county where cameras have helped prosecute criminals. Beaver Falls Police Chief Gary Minnette agreed. He said cameras were "a big help" in solving a bank robbery several years ago, and are useful for catching gas station drive-offs.
"A lot of times they're not in a good location or people don't have them on, but they're a lot of help," Minnette said.

For many businesses, monitoring workers often plays a role in camera use as employers try to thwart employee theft. For example, the Circle K convenience store in Patterson Township was able in August to catch an employee on camera who stole more than $1,450 by voiding items as she scanned them, and keeping the money she took from customers.

Several of the local public housing complexes, including the buildings that house the elderly, also rely upon cameras. Griffith Heights and Linmar Terrace in Aliqippa are among the locations that received surveillance equipment about a year ago.

"We try to keep their locations a secret, but they are up," said Carl DeChellis, executive director of the Beaver County Housing Authority, who says the cameras have proven helpful for police and the authority.
Please note the use of the passive voice "received" in the second to last paragraph quoted above, as if residents themselves now own and administer the technology, leaving the impression that something other than outside spying on poor people by authorities is going on.

Cameras continue to proliferate at schools as well. The Detroit News reports on a school board's plans to install 48 surveillance cameras in Ferndale schools which police will be able to monitor through the internet.
"People tend not to do things when they know that cameras are present," said Capt. Timothy Collins of the Ferndale Police Department. "People aren't going to do stupid things when they know there's a camera watching."
Again, not everyone is too keen on the idea.
The thought of being monitored in the hallways does not sit well with Ferndale High junior Grace Patti.

"It will make school feel like a prison," said Patti, 16. "I think it's a really bad idea. I feel like the school is expecting something to happen by putting these in."

Her mother, Marie Haener-Patti, feels uncomfortable with the idea of introducing middle and high school students to constant surveillance.

"The police department will have access to it, and that makes my skin crawl. It sounds like Big Brother," she said. "We're acclimating children to this feeling of being watched all the time. It just gives me the creeps."
Cleverly, but probably unwittingly, summing up the link between technological progress and exploitation, school board Vice President Vicki Brennan said, "I think it's a really good idea. It will improve the security and safety for our students. It's a reasonable and rational thing to do as technology improves."

An article from the Courier Post online about the proposed installation of cameras in the Camden school district takes the cake for most hilariously scary argument for surveillance.
Cameras installed years ago in the district's middle schools, comprehensive high schools and elementary schools do not cover all areas that are needed, District Security Operations Officer Josephine Garcia told the board Thursday night.

The district should also equip all 20 elementary schools with the cameras, Thornton said, citing a scare last month at Sumner School, where a student reported seeing an armed intruder. Although the report proved unfounded, he said, the incident demonstrated the need for greater surveillance [my emphasis].
How can an event that didn't happen justify preventive measures against it? It would be laughable if it didn't remind us that people like this make decisions that affect our lives every day.

Along similar lines, check out the Philadelphia Inquirer's recent article, "Sometimes, Big Brother is a helpful guy" for another take on the emerging surveillance society. For some contrast on the different ways the technology impacts poor people and middle class people, consider comparing that article with one that ran on eWeek.com about the LAPD's Tactical Technology Unit. Both stories show police/security using cameras to find objects lost or stashed, but the results are quite different.

The LAPD's Rampart division has installed cameras all over the district. The eWeek article covers a lot of ground, but several points in particular are worth pointing out:
Instead of simply hiring more officers, they sought unique ways to deploy technology as a "force multiplier." In effect, Sgt. Dan Gomez said, they asked themselves, "How can technology better inform the force we already have?"
As one would expect, the goal went beyond just arresting drug dealers.
"The goal [of installing the cameras] wasn't just to make arrests but ... to modify behavior," Gomez said.

According to Gomez, the impact on crime in MacArthur Park has been astounding. Compared with crime data for 2002 in that area, 2004 saw a 45 percent decrease in crime.
The article also details the deployment of other technologies:
Now the LAPD is testing a patrol car outfitted with $25,000 worth of technology—including in-car video recording, facial-recognition software and roof-mounted license-plate-recognition cameras.

Patrolling the streets and highways of L.A., this smart car uses infrared technology to scan the license plates of cars it passes on both the left and right. A computer in the trunk immediately runs the collected information against a database that is updated daily with plate numbers associated with stolen vehicles, felony wanted suspects and Amber Alerts.

If a passed car is a match, the officers in the car immediately see the information on their in-car notebook computer, Gomez said. Working continuously for 10 hours, the cameras can automatically scan between 5,000 and 8,000 cars per day, depending on the level of traffic, he said.
Officer Damien Levesque, who previously worked in the Rampart Division's gang unit, joined Gomez at the Office of Operations to begin testing a portable facial-recognition device called the Mobile Identifier.

Levesque refers to the Mobile Identifier—which is built by ViewSonic Corp. of Walnut, Calif., with software developed by Neven Vision of Santa Monica, Calif.—as a "traveling mug book."

GE Security recommended that the LAPD try Neven Vision in October 2004. At that time, Neven Vision was the only provider of embedded facial-recognition software.

The software could run completely on a handheld device instead of having to send an image request to a server for processing, said Hartmut Neven, chief technology officer of Neven Vision.

Levesque is the gang unit's expert on the Mara Salvatrucha gang. Knowing all the gang's members, he took the Mobile Identifier loaded with 1,000 mug shots into the field to see if it could identify gang members as well as he could.

When a suspect is scanned with the Mobile Identifier, nine possible images appear in order of best match to worst match. Consistently, Levesque said, the device correctly identified the person in either the first or second position.
The LAPD has big plans for all this technology.
The department plans to build a 911 center that ties in all the surveillance cameras already installed around the city—including more than 250 cameras used by the Department of Transportation for traffic control, Shephard said.

Video from the 911 center will be pushed out to stations in specific districts. Motorola Inc. this year plans to invest $1 million to install a mesh network in the Jordan Downs area of L.A. to wirelessly push surveillance video to notebook computers in patrol cars, Shephard said.

Levesque said he is pushing for a complete mobile identification package that can help book suspects in the field with facial recognition, fingerprint scanning and a language translator [all emphasis mine].
The class warfare capabilities of the elite and their protectors continue to grow exponentially. Defenselink.mil reports that US troops in the field will soon have the ability to see through walls.
The new "Radar Scope" will give warfighters searching a building the ability to tell within seconds if someone is in the next room, Edward Baranoski from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Special Projects Office, told the American Forces Press Service.

By simply holding the portable, handheld device up to a wall, users will be able to detect movements as small as breathing, he said.


"It may not change how four-man stacks go into a room (during clearing operations)," Baranoski said. "But as they go into a building, it can help them prioritize what rooms they go into. It will give them an extra degree of knowledge so they know if someone is inside."


Proposals are expected this week for the new "Visi Building" technology that's more than a motion detector. It will actually "see" through multiple walls, penetrating entire buildings to show floor plans, locations of occupants and placement of materials such as weapons caches.
With the increasingly strong links between police and the military, the militarization of local police forces and the growth of paramilitary police units, it won't be long before such technologies trickle down to local police forces, vastly increasing their ability to wage war on the poor and working class.

Of course, that's also the case with the non-lethal weapons currently being deployed in Iraq. National Defense magazine reports that the military plans to deploy a new directed energy weapon system to augment their war against the Iraqi people.
The weapon, called the active denial system, uses millimeter wave technology to inflict debilitating pain without causing death, Carlson said. It shoots a high-frequency beam at the target and penetrates the skin at a third of a millimeter, about the depth of pain-sensing nerves, according to an Air Force news release.

The weapon uses a relatively small amount of power that can be provided by a truck battery. One weapon has already been mounted on a Humvee and tested in the Nevada desert, Carlson said. It has a 1-kilometer range, and can strike an individual or widen its beam slightly to target three or four individuals grouped closely together.

“We can focus it down to an individual … up to a kilometer away, and it essentially feels like … a bee sting all over your body, and that's enough to dissuade just about anybody from pulling a trigger on a weapon or igniting a bomb,” Carlson said in a speech.
As usual, critics have limited their questions to the weapon's safety, rather than the implications of the technology's proper use (even if it is made perfectly non-lethal in all cases). Mass gatherings are vital to social change, and protests and riots are key tactics in any fight against the system and for liberation. Likewise individual resistance tactics like sabotage, theft and even violence are tremendously important to any struggle for freedom. But as technology increasingly makes public gatherings more controlled and individual resistance less possible, we have to ask ourselves just what kind of society we are likely to get.

Nevermind revolution for a moment, with the elite's hand increasingly free of the legal and illegal checks on its power provided by a militant working class, increasing exploitation, oppression and diminished civil rights can't be far behind. Do we want a society in which only the ruling class is free to act?


Blogger Cody Umland said...

That was some great good news and good coverage of the bad news as well

Sun Jan 08, 08:46:00 PM 2006  

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