Monday, June 22, 2009

Watching the watchers a perilous occupation?

The Guardian has a front page story about the inappropriate behaviour of some police officers at a climate change demonstration.
"Two female protesters who challenged police officers for not displaying their badge numbers were bundled to the ground, arrested and held in prison for four days, according to an official complaint lodged today.

The incident was caught on camera, and footage shows officers standing on the women's feet and applying pressure to their necks immediately after the women attempted to photograph a fellow officer who had refused to give his badge number.

The images are likely to fuel concern over the policing of protests, which is already subject to a review by the national police inspectorate and two parliamentary inquiries after the G20 demonstrations and the death of Ian Tomlinson."

This is yet another illustration of the kind of uncessary tension and conflict that can be stoked up through government obsession with mass surveillance - using new technology to watch everyone in the hope that it will magically point at the bad guys. Police resources are used up both in doing unnecessary mass surveillance and in dealing with the fall out from it. Protest groups are an emergent property of the mass surveillance and peaceful protestors come into direct conflict with the police, even through something as innocuous as politely asking for an officer's number. Everybody loses. The police lose because, at best, they come out of it looking like unreasonable thugs. The protestors lose because they get detained and locked away from their families for days. But of course every cloud has a silver lining. The criminal gangs, which I'm sure a lot of these police officers would like to be spending their time and effort combatting, have more time and space to get on with their nefarious activities whilst police attention and resources are distracted elsewhere tackling dangerous Guardian readers and their subsequent official complaints.

Mass surveillance 101 - lesson 1: Watching everybody in the hope that the computer/camera will magically point at the bad guys results not in the bad guys getting caught but in the [nominally] good guys fighting amongst themselves.

No comments: