Top-down surveillance for grassroots initiatives!
by Brian Holmes, Ph.D., Third-Level Democracy Consultant
Surveillance is Freedom
Swarming the Heavens
Surveillance is Freedom
Just look at the precision of the computerized city plans, the high-resolution detail of the surging crowds, the instantaneous breadth of perspective and control afforded by the drone's eye view. And imagine the exhilarating sense of mission on the morning of the big demo, when you
get to be the mobile operator of a 1.8 meter-long AeroVironment Pointer
- "a production-ready electric UAV designed for reconnaissance, surveillance and remote monitoring". Purchased right off the Internet just like the Interior Ministry procurement services do, this elegant, ultra-light, glider-like drone can be hand-launched like an ancient Greek hurling a javelin into the azurean blue. Of course the classical philosophers had never heard of airborne transmitter-equipped video cameras the size of a penny, let alone thermal imaging systems for infrared night-view. But the fundamental issues remain the same: democracy, citizenship and freedom. With one or several UAVs controlled by real-time synthetic vision, feeding video captures and GIS map-readouts to a portable, radio-linked computer, civil society at last obtains the information advantage enjoyed by the secret services, the army or the police. Top-down surveillance for grassroots initiatives! Wireless Internet connections allow for distributed access to locational data on officer concentrations, suspicious van movements or impending water-cannon deployment; while cell-phone trees plus SMS texting do the rest, transforming an easily immobilized and frustrated crowd into a fast-moving, polymorphous swarm of intelligent agents, with at least a running chance to exercise their right to free speech.
Sometimes it's hard to believe that we ever did without these machines. But of course, those were the days before government became a mirror of enterprise, and before the private security companies began training public officials in how to keep the peace. Now in advanced countries like the USA, obstructing traffic on the sidewalk is illegal! Under such conditions, pragmatic idealists use every tool that progress makes available. And technology moves fast today. Path-breaking projects like MIT's "Government Information Awareness"
already seem almost passť. Why know the dirt on your elected fascist representatives, if you can't avoid a squad of precision-guided officers on your way to a public demonstration? And who will watch the watchdogs, as the Roman writer Juvenal used to say?
Underadvised citizens might be disturbed by seeming parallels between legitimate counter-reconnaissance work and the aerial tactics of groups like Al-Qaeda ("The Base"). Of course we could note that civilian reconnaissance planes have an impressive safety record, and are rarely known to explode. Yet recent third-level democracy studies give some credence to citizens' spontaneous intuition, though at a higher of order of abstraction, as they say. Because the little-known fact is that military surveillance technologies have not only been spun off into the private security industry, but also into the commercial arena. Glued into the familiar Universal Product Code on the goods you buy, there is now a radio frequency identification tag (RFID) which serves among other things to record your purchasing habits and your movements through the store. Combined with credit- and loyalty-card statistics garnered at the checkout desk, plus a host of personal details purchased on the open info-markets (loans and insurance figures, medical records, employment history, travel and viewing preferences), in-store surveillance helps to flesh out your databody, to track your most intimate desires, so that a full-fledged consumer world can be tailored to fit. And why not conceal those RFID tags inside the products, so further user-profiles can be gleaned in every situation?
Accelerated progress in the micromanagement of individual "stimufaction" (stimulation/satisfaction as a near-perfect coincidence) means that reality is no longer an obstacle to the advertising teams, and an entire civilizational spectacle based on exploited immigrant labor and imported Middle-Eastern oil can be promoted as the only imaginable future. With or without further American improvements in electronic voting machines
, electoral outcomes on the Old Continent are guaranteed: nothing will be done to change the imperialist economy, even when extremely unequal exchange gives rise to proliferating terror. The imposition of biometric technologies (retinal scans, digital fingerprints, vocal recognition, human odor signatures), first required at international borders, then at cash machines, public buildings, workplace turnstiles, and finally at your own apartment door, swerves to cement the feeling of no escape - so why not enjoy the simulacrum? Under such conditions, the turn to hi-tech interactive civil disobedience becomes the only possible continuation of democracy. Albeit by radically different means.
Swarming the Heavens
The security system faces a few small problems nonetheless. For one, conventional censorship and media manipulation from above are clearly obsolete - as proved by the recent Spanish sequence, where voters refused, not only their country's participation in the Iraq war, but above all their leader's attempt to grossly misrepresent reality by directly muzzling the watchdogs of a once-free press. But Western intelligence hardly awaited smart-mob demonstrations on the eve of the Spanish elections to conclude that hypermobile swarming was the wave of the future. Thus the struggle for UAV dominance already intensifies, even before it has really begun. Third-level democracy consultants quiver before the prospect of massive launches, by both civilians and police, of Miniature Aerial Vehicles (MAVs), such as the infamous AeroVironment Black Widow
. Weighing only 50 grams, but camera-equipped and fully interactive, the Widow weaves an intelligent net of evasive surveillance when launched in a swarm, whether by officers or demonstrators. In combination with clouds of RFID "motes," reduced to microscopic size and dispersed into the clothing or hair of the rival teams, widow-like MAVs knit an electronic fabric of surveillant struggle beyond the wildest dreams of the late 1990s - even if that period was obsessed with the subject.
The obvious question - where will it all end? - becomes increasingly difficult to ask, in a market-driven environment where each new conflict acquires an aura of obsolescence before even properly beginning. But if we accept the third-level analysts' central tenet - namely, that the productive machinery of the former Cold War has involuted to a highly profitable Virtual Civil Repression (VCR), pressed forward under the urgently real pretext of terror - then there may be some wisdom to be scavenged from the dustbin of East-West history. It is well known that both sides in the Cold War conflict achieved matching levels of Mutually Assured Destruction, rendering the further extension of their atomic arsenals reciprocally insane (MAD). Less well known is the degree to which double-spies, moles, worms and other intelligence paradoxes gradually rendered the comprehensibility of everyday affairs almost nil, resulting in the collapse of the Cold War paradigm. Is it too much to suppose that the opposing logics of networked reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance - or "swarm versus swarm," to update an older expression - should soon or perhaps already have rendered contemporary urban conflicts entirely senseless? How much simulated posturing is required, before the contemporary surveillance game reaches the critical threshold of Mutually Assured Deception? Is there any preemptive chance to perceive the world situation, before embarking on a new and even more intensive round of planetary shadow-boxing which can only profit the military-entertainment complex - that is to say, a few well-placed politician-generals, and a considerably larger number of rapacious corporations?