Monday, 21 September 2009

Keith Laidler: ‘A Day in the Life of a Database Citizen’

From Laidler, Surveillance Unlimited:


10.40 AM:
John Brown is returning by plane from a business trip to Germany. He booked at the last minute with a colleague, but the pair asked not to sit together, as they both prefer window seats.

This seemingly innocent request flags them up on Project Semaphore, part of the UK government's e-borders programme which screens and records everyone entering and leaving the United Kingdom. It will soon include all 40,000,000 domestic plane and ferry journeys, providing a comprehensive passenger movement audit trail that can be checked against other databases.

11.10 AM:
On landing, John heads for passport control, passing Mobile Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) cameras whose job is to remotely search beneath passenger clothing for hidden weapons or drugs.

The queues remind him of the doubts he's been entertaining about a planned family holiday to Florida's Disneyland. Since 9/11 and the 'war on terror', visiting the States requires a lot more than a simple passport. Under the US-VISIT programme, launched in 2004, every visitor must be fingerprinted by a US Customs and Border protection officer, who also takes a digital photograph of the traveller's face. John doesn't like the idea of a foreign country in possession of his family's biometric data, and wonders if they wouldn't have just as much fun at Disneyland Paris. Unfortunately, EU regulations will soon demand identical biometrics on passports and ID cards.

John is right to be concerned. According to a recent compre­hensive report, US authorities use biometric identifiers to confirm the identity of passengers so that their details can be checked against over a dozen mega-databases including those of the FBI and Interpol. What he does not realise is that his own trip to Germany has already been logged in various European data bases, including the giant Schengen Information System (SIS).

12.00 NOON:
As he leaves the airport, John hardly notices the numerous CCTV cameras that record every aspect of his passage through the building; indeed, some cameras are so carefully blended with the airport decor that they are impossible to make out. A number of these machines use automatic face recognition to check for identity on passport and driving licence photo data­bases. Once the Identity Card scheme goes 'live', such intrusive surveillance will be rolled out countrywide, and all public anonymity will vanish. Even citizens who eschew all domestic and international travel will be instantly identifiable to the gaze of the CCTV operator.

12.11 PM:
On the way to his car, John phones his wife Irene to say he arrived OK, and mentions jokingly that 'there was no Al Qaeda attack on our plane'. This conversation is immediately picked up by an Echelon satellite through the keywords 'AI Qaeda' and 'attack'. All telecommunications traffic in Europe and the rest of the world - phone, mobile, fax and email - is listened in to by the Echelon system, which is run by the US National Security Agency. Three major optical networks, each carrying 100,000 calls, have been routed by BT into the US base at Menwith Hill near Harrogate. John's conversation is recorded and transcribed for analysis by human operatives. As a pre­caution, a trace is put on his mobile.

12.21 PM:
After speaking with his wife, John leaves his phone switched on, which enables the watchers to triangulate his position from nearby mobile phone masts as he drives into his central London office. But even with the phone off, the mobile can be remotely activated to send in its position-data every five minutes or so. Every mobile, on or off, can be made to function as a tracking device.

12.45 PM:
London confuses John and he resorts to satellite navigation, or 'sat nav', to find the best route to the office, not knowing that the GPS system, which is run and owned by the American mili­tary, can use the equipment to track his movements. Sometimes John parks his car outside central London and uses his Oyster card to travel in on the tube. Each time he does this, his every move is watched by Transport for London's extensive CCTV system, and his Oyster card automatically logs his identity and movements, giving the authorities a detailed travel trail over several weeks, should this prove necessary.

2.15 PM:
John was needed at the office only for an hour or so, and is soon back in the car heading for home. The petrol gauge is showing empty, so he pulls into a service station where a fore­court camera, linked to the police-operated ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system, reads his number plate and compares it to a database of 'targeted' number plates of vehi­cles wanted in connection with criminal or terrorist activity. John's office also lies within the Congestion Charging Zone and, despite the charge being levied only between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm, his car registration plate, like that of every other car entering the zone, is logged day and night by another ANPR camera. The cameras used are similar to those that are sited every 400 yards on all major motorways in the UK, all reporting directly to a police command centre.

3.15 PM:
During their earlier phone conversation, John's wife had asked if he would pick up their sixteen-year-old son Mark from school. As he gets into the car, Mark tells his father he's just been finger­printed 'to speed up the lunch queue', so joining at least 1 million children in the UK who have now had this biometric taken, often without parental consent.

John is annoyed that no opportunity was given to opt out of the scheme; a biometric cannot be changed, and if a hacker breaks the school computer Mark's ability to obtain a driving licence, credit facilities or a passport will be compromised for life. He's also worried about the possibility of 'planted' finger­prints leading to wrongful arrest. Just six months earlier, John himself had come face to face with the injustice of the UK's new biometric regulations - he was wrongly identified by CCTV footage as a shoplifter and had both his fingerprints and DNA sampled. Despite proving his innocence, neither biometric has been removed from the police database, and both will remain there even after he is dead.

4.00 PM:
On the way home John and Mark decide to stop off at a shop­ping mall to buy some wine and soft drinks to celebrate John's return. The car is tagged by CCTV as it enters the car park, and the registration number read and logged. Other cameras watch his movements throughout the city centre; citizens in London can have their image captured 300 times in a single day. John's gait and movements around the city centre are auto­matically analysed for 'suspicious behaviour' by algorithms in the CCTV software.

4.15 PM:
John uses a credit card, automatically establishing a further link in the transaction trail that records his every purchase, date and location in real time throughout the year. And he also uses a reward card, whose purchasing details are sold to marketing companies. John has been buying Anusol for haemorrhoids, and the reward card information is used to put him on a haemorrhoids database (they do exist, along with others for equally embarrassing ailments such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction!). Very soon now, John will be receiving unsolicited promotional brochures through the post detailing a revolutionary new piles treatment he might wish to buy. Every economically active individual in the UK appears on around 700 databases.

5.00 PM:
Back in the car, and Mark is already texting friends on his new mobile phone. John bought the device on the understanding that they would also use it to employ a company specialising in tracking mobile phones. With this service, he'll always know where Mark is. Thanks to the alert that his 'AI Qaeda' message initiated, all phones linked with John have been included in the watch on him, so Mark's texts are also being subjected to detailed scrutiny.

7.15 PM:
After dinner, safe in the comfort of his own home, John spends the evening surfing the internet, where numerous 'cookies' inform the search engine of every website he has visited, how many pages were read and for how long. The information generated will be sold to marketing companies and, combined with his store and credit card purchase details, means that John's doormat will soon be covered with an even bigger pile of unwanted junk mail. Outside the house, drone mini-helicopters with CCTV watch from above, while infra-red enabled cameras turn the dark night into day. As John and his family sleeps, newly deployed Visibuilding technology will soon allow police to scan through the walls of his home, and those of all his neighbours, to locate each person in any room of the house, and observe their most intimate behaviour.

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