Spy drones coming soon to a place near you.

For a long time now I have been giv­ing speak­ing out at con­fer­ences and in inter­views around the world about the encroach­ing nature of our sur­veil­lance states. 

One aspect of this, the endem­ic CCTV cov­er­age in the UK, is notori­ous inter­na­tion­ally. Not only the estim­ated 4 mil­lion+ pub­lic CCTV cam­er­as on Brit­ish streets, but also all the traffic cam­er­as and private secur­ity cam­er­as that sneak a peak onto our pub­lic spaces too.  As if that were not enough, earli­er this year it was also repor­ted that loc­al coun­cils are invest­ing in mobile CCTV smart spy cars too.

Addi­tion­ally, of course, we had the issue of Google Street View invad­ing our pri­vacy, and the cam­era cars also just happened to coin­cid­ent­ally hoover up the private inter­net traffic of those too trust­ing to lock their wire­less inter­net access.  Unlike the UK, the Ger­mans have thank­fully said a robust “nein” to Google’s plan.

All this, as I’ve pre­vi­ously noted, des­pite the fact that the head of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police depart­ment respons­ible for pro­cessing all this sur­veil­lance inform­a­tion went on the record to say that CCTV evid­ence is use­less in help­ing to solve all but 3% of crimes, and those merely minor.  In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nation­ally, viol­ent crime on the streets of Bri­tain has not notice­ably reduced.

But, hey, who cares about facts when secur­ity is Big Busi­ness?  Someone, some­where, is get­ting very rich by rolling out ever more Orwellian sur­veil­lance tech­no­logy. 

Talking_CCTV_CameraOn the streets of Bri­tain, it is get­ting pro­gress­ively worse.  Audi­ences across Europe and North Amer­ica have respon­ded with shocked laughter when I have men­tioned that police tri­als had been con­duc­ted in the UK using talk­ing CCTV cam­er­as that barked orders at appar­ent trans­gressors.

In 2007 Middles­brough, a town in the north east of the UK with a zero-tol­er­ance policy, began a tri­al using these talk­ing cam­er­as.  In line with a gov­ern­ment review of civil liber­ties this year, it was repor­ted over the sum­mer that the use of these cam­er­as might be phased out.  Need­less to say, the coun­cil is fight­ing a fierce rear­guard action against the remov­al of talk­ing CCTV — an obvi­ous example of the inher­ent dif­fi­culty of try­ing to wrest estab­lished power from the author­it­ies.

Then earli­er this year it emerged that vari­ous Brit­ish police forces and the Ser­i­ous Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA),  have ordered mil­it­ary-style drones to spy on the cit­izenry from the skies.  One drone man­u­fac­turer said that there had been enquir­ies about the poten­tial for mil­it­ar­isa­tion of these drones: thank­fully, his response was repor­ted as fol­lows in The Guard­i­an:

Military_drone“Mark Lawrence, dir­ect­or of Air Robot UK, said: “UAVs will, to an extent, replace heli­copters. Our air robots cost £30,000 com­pared with £10m for a fully equipped mod­ern heli­copter. We have even been asked to put weapons on them but I’m not inter­ested in get­ting involved in that.”

How­ever, Wired has repor­ted that “non-leth­al” weapons could be installed, to facil­it­ate crowd con­trol.

There is also the oth­er side of the secur­ity coin to con­sider, of course.  If these drones are imple­men­ted in the skies of Bri­tain, how soon before some enter­pris­ing young “Al Qaeda” cadre cot­tons on to the idea that this could be an effect­ive way to launch an attack?  So much for all our won­der­fully effect­ive air­port secur­ity meas­ures.

UK_Police_DronePlus, these little air­borne pests will prove to be a real haz­ard for oth­er air­craft, as has already been noted.

Des­pite all this, no wide­spread indig­na­tion has been voiced by the UK pop­u­la­tion.  When will the tip­ping point be reached about this incip­i­ent Orwellian night­mare?

But hope may be at hand.  A some­what frivol­ous art­icle appeared today, stat­ing that small spy drones will become the new paparazzi: Ver­sion 2.0, no doubt.

Per­haps, finally, we shall now see some mean­ing­ful oppos­i­tion to this encroach­ing Big Broth­er state. 

Once Bono, Sting, Saint Bob and the assembled celeb corps get on their high horses about their enshrined, fun­da­ment­al right to pri­vacy, it might finally become fash­ion­able to dis­cuss the very basic prin­ciples under­pin­ning our civil­isa­tion.….

.…you remem­ber, those fuddy-duddy ideas like the right to life, not to be tor­tured, not to be unlaw­fully imprisoned or kid­napped, free speech, fair tri­als, free con­science etc .…. oh, and pri­vacy of course!

Agent Names Lost

So the good times keep on rolling for the spook com­munity in the UK.  An officer of the Ser­i­ous Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA) appar­ently lost top secret inform­a­tion such as the names of under­cov­er agents while trav­el­ling in Ecuador.

LanderSOCA is a rel­at­ively new agency set up in 2004 to police organ­ised crime, par­tic­u­larly that revolving around the illeg­al drug trade.  The agency has the mis­for­tune to have as Chair­man Steph­en Lander, erstwhile boss of MI5; a man whose man­age­ment style was known as “Stalinesque”. 

Even before this latest blun­der, con­cerns had been raised by SOCA staff about inef­fect­ive and top-heavy man­age­ment (shades of MI5 in the 1990s)and recent ques­tions have been asked about wheth­er the agency was pro­du­cing mean­ing­ful res­ults, as the price of illi­cit drugs has plummeted on UK streets, indic­at­ing a glut of recent imports. 

This latest blun­der will hardly have reas­sured min­is­ters.  Reportedly, the hap­less SOCA officer lost a USB stick con­tain­ing the names of under­cov­er agents involved in the drug war in Ecuador, as well as inform­a­tion relat­ing to 5 years’ worth of invest­ig­a­tions.   The blun­der has reportedly jeop­ard­ised oper­a­tions that have cost in the region of £100 mil­lion.

Agent iden­tit­ies are, rightly, the most pro­tec­ted of secret inform­a­tion.  This is an unfor­giv­able gaff, and yet the officer is appar­ently only facing “dis­cip­lin­ary charges”. 

So, if you are a whis­tleblower expos­ing hein­ous spy crimes, you are put on tri­al and sent to pris­on, even if the tri­al judge acknow­ledges that no lives were ever put at risk through your dis­clos­ures.  How­ever, if you care­lessly leave top secret agent inform­a­tion lying around in hos­tile ter­rit­ory, you don’t even get the sack, let alone face pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

I would sug­gest that the next intel­li­gence whis­tleblower to emerge from the shad­ows should simply claim to have dropped a USB stick out­side the offices of a nation­al news­pa­per.  A rap over the knuckles will then be the worst that they face!