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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wi-Fi's Golden Promise and the Jackboot of the State

The Chicago Times reported last week that the city has linked up all the high school surveillance cameras into a network that feeds into the city's 911 headquarters, forming a network of 4500 cameras. Already, the city's transit cameras and some private business cameras have been similarly routed to police headquarters.

Here's the thing about this article: the real news isn't the cameras being linked up. That's scary enough if you care about freedom and privacy, but it's not the real interesting bit about this. The part to pay attention to is not the cameras streaming to the 911 center, but that they can now stream to cops in their patrol cars.
In an emergency, arriving officers also will be able to view real-time images from the cameras on screens in their squad cars.

'The key is getting the information to the police officer in that car," said Mayor Richard Daley.'
How is this accomplished? The article doesn't say, but if it's like other cities, I'll bet it's with Wi-fi.

The spread of wi-fi across city landscapes has vastly increased the ability of the police to project force in their war against the poor (which is what policing is). It allows them to deploy units strategically and with increasingly pinpoint precision, which of course also increases the ability of the ruling class to impose their version of order (exploitation, prison, povery, etc) on the rest of us. Meanwhile, we are fed the lie that wi-fi is a great boon to humanity. At worst, the detractors will say it is neutral. But is something that increases the power of the ruling class to stomp our faces into a bloody pulp "neutral"? I don't think so.

Of course, knowing this perhaps now you'll look at Tempe's much-hyped neighborhood wi-fi plan a little differently now. Tempe, as you all know, is at the forefront of municipal wi-fi. At the time it was, as such things always are, boosted as a convenience for the neighborhood and the downtown business set, while in fact it was a foundation for the coming police state. But you already knew this if you read my blog, because I warned about this in 2005. Of course, folks thought I was a crazy Luddite then...

Still, poor marketing may have bought us a little time here in Tempeasy: the roll-out of Tempe's wireless police state hasn't gone as smoothly as planned. Last month the Republic reported that both Tempe and neighboring Chandler's wi-fi projects have foundered thanks to poor marketing. At it's peak, Tempe's plan only pulled in 800 subscribers and currently it's being offered free to those who can manage to pick up a signal. If the company currently running the project pulls out, Tempe may takeover the network.

Now that things aren't turning out quite as planned, city bureaucrats are reassessing the progressive spin they put on municipal wi-fi. As reported in Computer World last month:
Dave Heck, the [Tempe's] CIO, remembers how municipal Wi-Fi advocates talked about wireless networks as shining beacons that would bring Internet connectivity to the masses. But that kind of optimism is nearly gone in Tempe, and the city's network is dead in the water.

On Dec. 28, Kite Networks Inc., a division of Gobility Inc. that had been operating the network in Tempe, cut off connections and pulled the plug on its customer service phone line and Web site. Heck said subscribers have been hounding city officials to restore the Wi-Fi service. But the city's leverage over Gobility is limited, he added.

"Obviously, the city never thought this would happen, or we would have never gotten into it," Heck said. "People are pointing fingers, with some citizens thinking [the city] had more involvement than we did. Nobody could have foreseen this."
With the failure of the business end comes doubt about the government projects as well. Last year, as an in kind substitution for rents Gobility offered the city free access for fire and police, but the project's rocky future may put the elite's short-term plan for increased policing power in jeopardy, although, knowing it's potential utility in the war against the poor and working class, they continue to defend the system.

In Philadelphia, which is experiencing a similar situation as Tempe, the project is defended in both policing terms and for the so-called progressive benefits it will bring to poor people (aside from the heavier foot of the police state, I assume). Craig Settles, the author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless, who has written about Philadelphia's wireless experience put it this way:
Mr. Settles insists wireless can help the Nutter administration attain its goals.

"It puts more police on the street," Mr. Settles stresses, "when they don't have to go back to the station to access data and write their reports. They can do mug shot six packs. They can obtain witness identification in the streets.

"When paramedics respond in Houston and Corpus Christi, they can bring up patient data and send data and photographs ahead to the emergency room. There is more effective medicine going on in the ambulance that way. They can coordinate their efforts so the emergency room can be a better responder and treatment can move more quickly.
Settles sounds a bit desperate as he pleads with us:
"You have to use the technology," Mr. Settles emphasizes. "The wireless technology gives you the ability to work ex-offenders through some sort of computer training program."

Mr. Settles is an unabashed cheerleader for Wireless Philadelphia and its mission to bridge the digital divide with low-cost computers and training for low-income households in Philadelphia.
"Some sort of computer training program?" Like prison, perhaps? What a joke.

Sure, we're told, this will help poor people, too, even as it polices them. Indeed, the real purpose of municipal wireless becomes apparent when we consider a recent article in Information Week. Aside from subsidizing gentrification and business, we're reminded by Firetide's company spokesman (the company responsible for the wi-fi project in Los Gatos, California) that, "It's free to residents wherever they can get a signal." But what else is free?
Late last month, Firetide reported that its wireless mesh system tied a video surveillance network of cameras to the West Palm Beach Police Department in Florida. Deployed in the toughest neighborhood in the 100,000-resident city, the network is aimed at helping deter gang activity, drug dealing, and prostitution. Mesh nodes are connected to Wi-Fi-enabled laptops in police cruisers.

West Palm Beach's police communications manager Michael Cambisios said the Firetide network enabled the police force to "reach into areas not accessible by fiber or cable, extending resources without increasing manpower."
There: you couldn't have it put more clearly. Wireless is what the army calls a "force multiplier" and it's bad news for the poor and working class who, we know, never get anything for free from the elite (except a prison cell or a military uniform, perhaps). When the elite begins holding out freebies to us, we had best think twice about the deal we're getting. Municipal wi-fi is a net loser for us, and we need to recognize it as such. When the uprising comes, don't forget to take out the wi-fi. It benefits them far more than it helps us.

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