Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Velvet Cell

New police proposal: microphones to be added to CCTV cameras

"The parallel to eavesdropping on people's conversations is putting CCTV cameras inside their houses. I take it that at least most of us would object very strongly to the latter, even if in half a dozen houses round the realm some crazed fanatics were making bombs in their living rooms."

More 'threats to our liberty' to be countered by threats to our liberty.

One cannot ‘walk privately’ in a public place. By stepping outside one’s own home, one tacitly accepts that one will be seen by others. But one can walk down the road publicly whilst engaging in private conversation. Grayling is right: The parallel to eavesdropping on people's conversations is putting CCTV cameras inside their houses. To do so is to demolish the distinction between public and private.

Mike WM says in the Comment Is Free response to Grayling’s article:

Just run some speech recognition software on what each person is saying, cross-reference with the biometric data on file thanks to the ID card project to easily discover who each person is, and the information that can be gathered on each person in this fair country is amazing. Or, rather more accurately, terrifying. The pieces are nearly all in place. Are people going to see the jigsaw before they manage to finish it?

What is to be done? Most of the media is complicit in the notion that our privacy and liberty can always legitimately be curtailed in favour of our safety. But a man in solitary confinement is perfectly safe, provided he cannot find a way to hang himself. Without freedom and privacy, we may as well do so.

How much of your freedom are you prepared to compromise for the nebulous cause of 'safety'?

As ‘Knightly’ puts it:

I am afraid to say it is too late.

You are all doomed to be spied on, have your information sold to supermarkets and detective agencies working for your husbands and wives. Barely literate data entry clerks educated in sink comprehensives and paid the minim wage will confuse entries about you and rapists and murderers with similar names. You will be lynched by an angry mob when this information is disclosed under some spurious right to know legislation. Your credit ratings and criminal convictions will be available to council librarians who have tea with your mother. Your lives will become even more of a misery, than it already is, and to top it all you will be stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 and be fined for speeding due to an error in the number plate recognition software. Harriet Harman will tell you surveillance is needed to protect the rights of women, and use the information to increase cost of motoring. All the criminals will remain out side the system and untraceable, you on the other hand will be dragged through the bankruptcy courts for a parking ticket that was never issued correctly in the first place.

Leave now, it is your only hope.

But please don’t leave. Get involved. It isn’t too late.


The woman who lives directly above me is a student. She is fat and always wears jogging pants. She is in most days, and most days she puts on a CD. Most days she plays the same song on constant rotation. Some nights when she gets in from the pub, and some mornings when she gets out of bed, she celebrates life by playing the song once more. High and mid frequencies are cut off by floors and ceilings, so all I hear is the same maddening, moronic bass line and retarded drum fills. When I am at my most vulnerable or short tempered, when I am hung over or sleeping fitfully, the woman upstairs is sure to be in her element.

The malevolent power of music has long been known to the authorities. The FBI used it in the Waco Siege. Interrogators at Guantanomo tried to break the will of captured terrorists' by playing the music of Christine Aguilera.

It is one thing to complain about loud music. It is another to demand that someone expand their record collection or face serious consequences. Knuckles whiten, the jaw tightens. What will it be? The mixtape or the baseball bat?


Alexander said...

'Knightly' is hilarious. That quote paints the picture of a trembling lunatic snarling fearfully into the ear of the reader, hunched in his trenchcoat so as to conceal his identity. At once the alarmist and the alarmed, a man fearful of the world beyond the confines of his own safety zone to the point of deranged paranoia, he is the left's answer to foaming Daily Mail columnists.

The often used photo of the multiple CCTV Cameras to illustrate a 'big brother' state in the making is a fairly transparent piece of propaganda (I hate this word, I use it here nonetheless). It comes from Hyde Park; in its original context, it makes perfect sense. Public parks are hotbeds for rape, assault, murder, theft and occasionally accidental death. At night there will be few witnesses to crimes and the perpetrators will get away with the things they do. When faced with that kind of situation, keeping a watchful eye on every nook and cranny in the area is perfectly reasonable. Security cameras, in that context, are going to protect people. Stacked on display as they are, they may even serve to deter would-be rapists and knife enthusiasts from their activities. Their purpose is visibly positive. Out of context, they are used to portray a nanny state that enroaches on our personal liberties. Should people be scared of this? Maybe. Are security devices in alarmingly dangerous places symptomatic of it? Probably not.

Again, this is not to say that the problems you're talking about aren't real, but if we are to take anything we can twist into an example of the problem as hard-hitting evidence, then why bother with photographs? Why not just draw this stuff? You exemplified this problem perfectly by referring to the following image as a photograph of "a foreigner, yesterday":

You're damn right that ID Cards need to be shot down and you're right again to assert that we should take steps to preserve our civil liberties. I don't disagree with this at all, I support it, especially having grown up in the same society as you, where we have been lucky enough to have those liberties and learn their value.

BUT the nature of your post and that of Knightly's rant are symptomatic of the paranoia and problems that lead us into these situations in the first place. We are now used to feeling in danger. We live in a society that has been attacked, on a civilian level, by terrorists, and has suffered, on a civilian level, from police officers misappropriating their attempts to prevent terrorism. Again, you said it yourself - it's a climate of fear. And when people fear something virtually faceless, virtually nameless, when it's just a case of feeling afraid because everyone else does, the perceived threat is dependant on what you actually believe in. Those who fear the government will attribute their fear to them. Those who fear foreigners will direct their defences in that direction. Misanthropes will be basically the same as ever. In the end, whatever is causing us to worry ourselves away may have already won, if we are in fact turning against one another and abandoning trust in the unfamiliar as we appear to be.

I guess my point is that if you, me and the government all stop shitting ourselves and learn to listen to each other for five minutes, we might climb out of this mess.

Susannah said...

I've always relied on basic British incompetence to shield us from the eventuality of an omniscient police state. After all, Big Brother has to recruit from the same pool as BT, the DVLA and insurance call centers. If they can't coordinate information as basic as whether I'm legally allowed to drive in this country, how are they going to cross-reference data in a dozen media from a thousand sources into a seamless, damning dossier?

On the other hand, it does open up the possibility of Brazil-like consequences. If I'm ever liquidated by MI5, I bet it'll be the result of a clerical error in some cube farm in Swansea.

PS. I have found the Shaggs' History of the World to be a trump card in any duel of stereos.

Beth Ward said...

I read this post twenty minutes before going to a lecture that was essentially on the Hesiodic model of decline in Orwell.
I managed to go off onto a pointless, and probably incoherent, tangent about civil liberties and how ironic the lecture was. I stopped short of insisting everyone in the room register with NO2ID.
However I agree with Alex to an extent, about this being a tad alarmist. I agree in principle and totally abhor the concept of ID cards, but I feel the threat posed by excessive surveillance, although a real one, is being blown out of proportion. Not quite scaremongering but still a bit much.
Something that came up in the lecture was, from briefly surveying it all I can tell is that it's the site of a woman who has become a little too drawn in to the parallels between 1984 and today's society. However she has quite helpfully compiled quite a few links which illustrate the extent of 'Big Brother' in 2007.

As for the second part of the entry, try tear gas.

Nick Talbot said...

Of course Knightly's post is alarmist. It's a nightmare scenario. But it serves a point for me; that unless we make a principled argument for stopping surveillance at a certain level, firmly demarcating the division between the public and the private, we could slip towards a nightmare scenario.

It is already true that temping agency staff have access to confidential data. I had a temping job that allowed me to access the health records of hundreds of past patients in a psychiatric ward. I haven't taken a Hippocratic oath. There is nothing to stop me spreading this information.

Legislation is inherited and used by successive governments. We don't trust this government's integrity or competence. We have no reason to trust any future government.

Knightly is telling everyone it is too late and we should all leave the country. I explicitly told everyone not to do this. It isn't too late, don't leave, help spread a principled argument for privacy.

The photo of the CCTV cameras: add a few microphones to it, and convince yourself that the information gathered will only ever be used to catch criminals, and will never be used for political gain or any other nefarious purposes.

As for Orwell, why would he have bothered writing 1984 if he didn't think such a society was possible? Just to make a good yarn?

Alexander said...

But that's just it, Nick - the point you are arguing is perfectly agreeable. We definitely should draw a line with surveillance. We should take steps to preserve our privacy, and we should place as much importance on it as we do our safety because they are in many respects part of one and the same thing.

I just don't see how a snivelling screed by a paranoid anonymous serves to provide a reasoned argument in favour of this point. His words are borderline psychopathic.

Nick, most nightmare scenarios (at least, the ones where supernatural events are relatively absent) can be reached in a few logical steps. The one with the race war, the one with the nuclear war, the one where the pound collapses... we're all afraid of these things and it's easy to see how they could happen in a matter of short years or less. You can even draw lines from much proposed legislation to these nightmarish outcomes and more. Every slope is potentially slippery and should be trodden with care. We should definitely be drawing lines, making sure things that could turn into threats don't go too far, but the faint possibility of something happening doesn't legimise the words of fearful doomsayers.

To sum up: it's not what you said, it's how you said it.

Anonymous said...

When my neighbours used to party until 4am and I had to get up at 5am for work I used to play the come to daddy ep very loud and bassy at this time. So in short, revenge on this woman is the way forward


Rob said...

I sympathise Nick regarding your neigh-bore. I have lived in the same rental property for 5 years and recently had a new batch of neighbors move in upstairs. The letting agent's only driving force is cash and so once again we have 4 people occupying a 1 bedroom flat. Between the 2.30am sex sessions on a mattress that must have cost all of 30p and their fondness for hi-volume R&B of the worst kind I find myself wondering whether R Kelly has moved to Holloway? The prior 4 students/actors/sound musicians literally brought the ceiling in my bathroom down - I'd explained that there was water gushing in from their flat and their response was to leave calling the letting agent for the next 4 days. Between that and the same one chord guitar line being fed through a sampler constantly I was glad when they were forced to leave because they couldn't meet the rent.

In both of these situations I have explained that living a semi-communal existence requires consideration on all of our parts. The thing that people fail to see is that consideration usually goes unnoticed - It's the decision not to crank up your amp, to check your wristwatch on occasion, to think of others as you select the album from the shelves. The current neighbors response when I pointed out that I didn't want my life sound tracked by R&B was to complain that I'd knocked their door too loud. Anyway... fantastic new album, thank you. It's Sunday a.m. and I'm quietly listening to the new Castanets album. Life, sometimes, is sweet.

Nick Talbot said...

Alex- yeah, fair enough.

I'm no doom-monger. You're right, we don't need hysteria, and like the War On Drugs, the argument can't be won by reason alone. Unfortunately, us liberals have to dirty our hands with propaganda too. Hopefully more skilfully than, say, Michael Moore does.

Anton Maiof said...

the sadist downstairs started doing DIY at 8:30am the other day. So I went down barely dressed and said "Sir, This Won't Do" He has since been turning up in the afternoon. As was clearly discussed earlier today I believe it is my Gunnar Hansen looks that intimidates him into changing his work habits. If at any point you would like me to walk upstairs with a mask of human skin, rusty chainsaw and a CDR of popular but tolerable songs please let me know.

Nick Talbot said...

Anton, please appear in Hamburg immediately. We are 'sleeping' in a squat. Despicable Barley party below. I've given the whole band tranx. Leatherface would sort this out. Summon Leatherface.

Still, MBV have reformed. Sometimes it's the big things in life that matter most. London marquee July 08. I have a ticket.

Annina said...

Salve Nick,

I'm sitting in my german velvet-orange cell, trying to grasp at some words which definitely will not sound like the "Queen's English". Hope you don't mind.

I'd like to thank you for the gorgeous eve at the "Building 9" at Cologne.

To comment on your anxiety regarding governmental surveillance, I'd like to focus more on the consequences which screen search might have, or already has, for the ordinary "stranger" who has emigrated due to financial reasons for example.

Innocent people are being harassed, stigmatized and suspected of attempt planning just because they have no european roots, while at the same time they are being accused of not integrating themselves properly into a paranoid society that is in great parts hostile minded towards them and forces them to justify themselves for having left their countries of origin.

The worst of it is, that this phenomenon has extended. It already affects people who come to foreign countries as a tourist who wants to broaden his mind by travelling!

I have experienced this when I was on holidays in Italy shortly after 9/11. The local people were absolutely hysteric. It was forbidden to leave your luggage in the luggage lockers at the train station of any bigger city.
An italian waiter was shouting at me, while having a meal in a restaurant:"You are on holidays and enjoy eating, while a thousand people have died a few days ago! Eat, eat, keep on eating taking your time, while in N.Y. people are mourning for their family members!"

Sorry, but I had bought the flight ticket to Italy before....and not eating has a bad impact on my health....Okay, okay, I know, from a christ's point of view this is not very altruistic.

But the nastier experience I had at Ravenna, when I was visiting Dante Alighieris grave. (a pilgrimage that every good italianist should do once in her/his life...). A Libyan tourist who wore the traditional white nightie and a long beard came up to me, embraced me and kissed me on the cheeks without any warning, nor reason. The other (european) tourists and visitors who had seen this were upset. They shook their heads as if they wanted to say:"How can you ally yourself with a (potential) terrorist?"

I was shocked by their reaction, when I should have been more angry about the fact, that somebody touches and kisses me without having given him my permission to do so.

But when this Libyan tourist gave me his Libyan e-mail address, which was written on a piece of paper with arabic letters, I catched myself at having the same paranoid thoughts as the tourist who shook their heads. I thought: What if the chambermaid of my hotel finds this peace of paper with a Libyan e-mail address in my room? Will she suspect me of being a terrorist? And I drowned the paper in the toilet. Crazy, isn't it? To speak with Anne Clark: The society created paranoia.

Actually in Germany they are thinking about surveying people who converted to the islam. Because they found out that one of the assassins which were planning an attempt in Germany, I think, was a Christ who had converted. Very clever. As if there had never been terrorism of Christs in Germany or in other european countries....

I do not think that we should underestimate the danger of terrorism in Europe, but I agree with you that people are more likely to die in a car accident in Southern Italy than getting blown by an islamic terrorist while visiting Dante Alighieris grave at Ravenna.

I have lost my sister and my dad due to a car accident in Southern Italy. For my mother it was the second child, who died. After having lost her first child due to premature birth, she was phobic that if she would get another child, also that one could die. So she ate a lot during her next pregnancy in order to fatten her unborn baby and prevent it from dying in case of premature birth. This baby was me. And I'm still alive. My mother got other four children. And 15 years ago my sister died in that car accident. And she could not prevent it.

What I like to say is, there's no rule in life how to prevent certain things from happening. No control measures can work that perfect so that they could prevent any attempt.

Some cruel things happen coincidentially and we have to face them, wether it is a car accident or just a roofing tile which hits somebody.

I'm glad that you finally decided to found Gravenhurst, so that many people can share your lovely songs.

Pierre-Louis said...

That's more or less the same idea explored by ISIS with their 2nd last album, "Panopticon". BTW, do you like such music Nick ? I answer you this question because a friend of mine who saw you last Monday in Marseille (France) told me that you have some "heavier" parts while playing live... And i do think that all kinds of music are somehow linked.
Anyway, thanks again for your music, but not for not touring closer from me ;-)

Nick Talbot said...

There's some pretty heavy bits on the records too... ;-)

I highly recommend buying them.