Every year, representatives from the G20 (top 20 economic countries) get together to discuss issues pertaining to international finance. Every year, people from all political and sociological beliefs get together to protest (most of them peacefully) for their particular cause. Last year, at Toronto’s G20 summit in June 2010, it all went horribly wrong; and for the first time that I can remember, a developed and democratic western country revealed just how easily civil and human rights can be swept away, and police be used to control innocent civilians.
The video below, entitled Under Occupation, provides real and shocking accounts of the events that transpired that week. Watch it.
After re-watching V for Vendetta which, on a side-note, is an excellent movie, I was struck by how topical the story was with regards to events of the past few months, from Wikileaks’ Cablegate to the ongoing Egyptian Revolution. This inspired me to throw together the image above.
Although the message is probably painfully clear to the Egyptian people, it is important that we, in the so-called ‘developed’ world, not forget that the unchallenged erosion of civil liberties, and other freedoms that we take for granted, could rapidly make this message ring true for us as well.
In November 2009, Phil Mocek (@pmocek) was arrested by Albuquerque Police at Albuquerque Airport for not providing a piece of identification, and recording the TSA process on camera (video below). In the US, one’s right to fly is guaranteed by Federal Laws and the Constitution, and as long as you do not break any other laws, local or state police cannot legally prevent you from flying.
Mocek was charged with things like criminal trespass, refusing to obey an officer, concealing his identity, and disorderly conduct. On 21 January 2011, he was acquitted on all charges by a jury without the defense having to call any witnesses or provide any evidence. The prosecution’s case simply did not stand up.
In a previous court case against another man who refused to show ID, the TSA admitted that there is actually no law that requires travelers to present ID in order to be able to fly. In the US, it is also perfectly legal to record video in public areas of the airport, despite what signs, staff or police may claim.
This case is reminiscent of John Tyner, who was thrown out of San Diego Airport for refusing the new TSA (grope) patdown. Note that you may want to familiarise yourself with the relevant laws regarding ID and recording in your own country.
Full details are available here. Well done to Phil for protecting his rights, and in the process, all of ours as well. Speaking of TSA security measures, I thought this recent Dilbert comic was particularly fitting.
In what can only be described as a small win for freedom and privacy activists fighting an uphill battle in the UK, the government has decided to scale back some of their anti-terrorism laws, which have been one of the most stringent in the western world. Since 9/11, the UK government has had the right to hold terror suspects for up to 28 days before charging or releasing them. The only problem being that the definition of ‘terror suspect’ becoming increasingly wide over the past few years. Following the changes, announced by British Home Secretary Theresa May, the police can now only hold terror suspects for 14 days. The U.S. authorities only have 7, and the French 6 days.
The British police are also no longer allowed to perform random (read: profiled) searches of the public, and can’t prevent people from taking pictures of landmarks on the suspicion of being potential terrorists. The changes also include a proposed reform of the house-arrest style (and Big Brother sounding) Control Orders, which originally imposed a curfew of up to 16 hours with an anklet, limited contact with other people, and banned an individual from using the Internet or traveling abroad. The new renamed plan will enforce an 8-10 hour curfew with anklet, prevent Internet access from a mobile phone, and enforce limited (and presumably monitored) access to websites from a home computer. Suspects could still be banned from meeting with specific individuals, and visiting certain buildings or streets.
Despite the changes, human rights groups are seeing this as a betrayal from the new government that took office in May 2010 after having pledged to restore civil liberties in the UK. There are also a number of other overpowered laws, such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), that are repeatedly abused to monitor and police normal citizens.
The recent explosion of Wikileaks and Cablegate has yet again brought the unique power of information to the forefront of the world’s attention. What makes this different from the usual ‘knowledge is power’ debate, is that it highlights the sensitive balance between those wishing to reveal information to the world, and those who, for whatever reason, want to prevent that from happening. Historically it was the role of investigative journalists to look into the activities of companies and governments, however due to the high costs of long-term investigative stories, political affiliations, the chance of government gag orders, and the threat of lawsuits, these have been in decline. It is not only massive government-focused leaks that have been gagged in the past, smaller journalists and even individuals have been prevented from legally reporting or capturing an event. Read more
The backlash against the use of body scanner technology, that I reported on recently, rages on. Following an investigation into the use of body scanners, Gizmodo found that US Marshals saved 35,000 scans, and have leaked some of the images they were able to obtain. The image below is one of those images.
The resolution of these images, taken with a Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner, is extremely low compared to the more advanced (and potentially harmful) ‘naked’ x-ray backscatter technology. The point being highlighted by Gizmodo is not the privacy-invading nature of body scanners, but instead they reveal how images are being stored on the machines despite the TSA assuring everyone that body scanners “cannot store, print, transmit or save the image, and the image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer.” Clearly isn’t entirely true (surprised?).
I think it points out the particular flaw with blindly allowing governments to implement these and other kinds of surveillance, tracking, and monitoring mechanisms. It’s fine when you trust the government to abide by a set of acceptable rules, and most people say they have nothing to hide (which I agree with in most cases). The issue is that the way those monitoring mechanisms, and personal (borderline private) information about you, are used can be changed at any time, regardless of what the ‘rules’ are meant to be (and laws can be changed – consider post 9/11). If, for whatever reason, a government somewhere down the line decides they want to exert more control over its citizens, the internet, etc, they will just have to turn to the plethora of technologies that are currently in the process of being implemented.
As travelers we’re being treated with more and more suspicion, and people are now starting to put their foot down. Too little too late? Just recently, John Tyner was thrown out of an airport for opting-out of a body scan, and then refusing to the new TSA ‘groin-touching’ pat-down.
The difficult question is how do we allow governments to implement essential and appropriate security mechanisms, in such a way that does not impede the freedom and civil liberties of individuals? In my opinion, non-invasive passive scanning and detection methods would be one way to go, such as more chemical/explosive detection technology. Ultimately if someone wants to get something on board, it is much easier to get it through security in your carry-on than on your person. Obfuscating dangerous items such as non-obvious blades or even explosives into already complex elements such as laptops would probably pass security checks if done properly. And don’t forget that there are many plastic or ceramic-based tools and weapons that can be just as dangerous as knives. At this point I should probably point out that I’m particularly resentful of the pitiful little knives they give us on flights nowadays.
The security of the internet is a similar story. Mechanisms that give governments exclusive control, such as the proposed Internet kill-switch and blacklist, are not the answer, and somewhere down the line will probably be used for more harm than good.
Note: The image of the lady above is not an actual body scan, and is simply there for illustrative purposes to (aesthetically) demonstrate where we’re headed. ;)
Two Miami photojournalists, Carlos Miller and Charles Ledford, attempted to enter the Metrorail system to take pictures of stations and trains, but were instead banned for life from the transit system. Despite getting confirmation from the Head of Security of Miami-Dade Metro that photographing the transit for non-commercial purposes was allowed, the rent-a-cops on the ground that guard each station insisted that photography was banned due to “terrorism reasons”. In the end the police were called as the pair refused to stop recording video outside the station (a public area).
Apart from the obvious futility of banning photography in what is essentially a publicly-accessible environment (from a security perspective), what irks me most is law enforcement’s ignorance of the actual laws regarding photography both in that transit system and in public areas. We all know that anyone taking pictures of a transit system for the purposes of “terrorism” (or any other illegal act) would most likely do so regardless of restrictions, and would most probably do so in an inconspicuous way. In some ways this reminds me of the a message issued by the UK government a couple years ago, encouraging the public to report anyone taking pictures of CCTV installations, as this could be deemed ‘suspicious activity’.
The video below, filmed by Carlos Miller, shows the pair’s attempts at entering the transit system.