Sunday, April 09, 2006

Watching me watching you

Surveillance is nothing new.

Technology has created effective ways of identifying and monitoring citizens, especially those who might resist a new ideology. Look at the first three decades of the Soviet Union. Its pioneering strategies for molding the minds of its people, monitoring compliance, and punishing non-compliance modelled government control to other totalitarian regimes around the world. Soon China, North Korea, and other Communist nations followed suit.

But what's happening in Britain? They are plunging ever deeper into citizen monitoring.

Great Britain has become what the Observer newspaper recently called the 'closed-circuit television nation,' with a guesstimated 4 million public and private surveillance cameras in use. Most of them are in London, where it is said that the average citizen shows up on screen as many as 300 times a day.

Since the 90's the US, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have been monitoring all electronic communications for threatening content. That's all your email, cell phone calls, everything.

A few years ago, an ordinary Canadian woman received an extraordinary visitor - a government investigator with a mission. He had come to question her about a recent telephone call. Apparently, Canada's Communication Security Establishment (CSE) , working covertly with Echelon, the secret surveillance system established by a partnership between the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had picked up several trigger words during her conversation with a friend. Two of the words were 'shot' and 'killed' and were totally innocuous.

What about the words you and I use in our email and telephone conversations?

Now the Mobile Gazette is reporting that the British government wants to shut down the UK's GSM networks next year and re-use the frequencies for gambling terminals and a new citizen surveillance program extending the use of the new compulsory ID cards.

We all know that in Singapore, all of the Internet Services Providers are operated by government-controlled companies. Each person in Singapore wishing to obtain an Internet account must show their national ID card to the provider to obtain an account.

Streaming of 'explicit political content', such as podcasting and videoblogging, is cleverly banned under 'election advertising rules' set in 2001. Bloggers that espouse a political line must register their sites with the government.

Is the reverse possible? Using the same technology to monitor against political corruption?

In Santo Domingo, the European Union and 2 non-government organizations will . The European Union, Citizen Participation and Intermón Oxfam have create a surveillance network to monitor against corruption in Santo Domingo. The project’s main objective is to contribute with transparency by means of applying tools similar to citizen monitoring back on the governments themselves.

Information is etching a new political landscape.

To date, most discussion of cyber-politics has centred on such traditional topics as political campaigns, lobbying, regulation and legislation. But citizenship only thrives when the entire culture encourages and reinforces social participation.

New social media channels are changing the ways in which culture and information delivery have influenced definitions of the privacy. This has a large effect on social participation.

This social participation, facilitated by social technology, helps us to define new approaches to such questions as the role of gender, race, and economic status in determining social change; the role of popular culture in shaping political values; the ways in which developing nations are exploiting (or failing to exploit) digital media to reach socio-economic goals or to establish new sorts of relationships with peers.

The international dimensions of this emerging political culture, especially the points of tension between the positive and negative uses of the same technology, are now being shaped. As the same technology eradicates some of the imbalances within today's society, it creates new ones.

We are all part of a social experiment as remarkable as the industrial revolution. All of us - the political class and the citizens, teachers and the students, rich and poor. All being watched.

Watching me watching you.


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