... in surveillance

Berlin before the internet (part 2)

11 Nov 2014 | 165 words | 90s berlin history internet surveillance

From a Guardian piece about digital exiles in Berlin: Another reference to post fall-of-the-wall berlin as that strange place where the internet did not exist yet:

But then, it is the blink of an eye. It’s 25 years since the wall came down. And, in a strange historical collision, 25 years since the world wide web was invented. When I first came to Berlin, the internet didn’t exist and I was still some years away from sending my first email. In a historical time frame, the evolution of digital technology, its capabilities, the never-going-back cultural cataclysm that it’s precipitated, has all happened while most of us, a single generation, were working out what to have for dinner, or who to marry, or how to earn a living; a microscopic sliver of time that has changed not just the world at our fingertips but, we’ve discovered since Snowden, the secret world beyond our fingertips. What is known about us. Who we are. What our records say.

Big brother in Havana

26 Nov 2008 | 319 words | cuba technology surveillance urbanism

Spend the last two weeks on vacation (and totally off-line) in Cuba and have begun uploading pictures to flickr. will try to give a bit of context to some of the pictures here in the next couple of days…

The fact that cuba is one of the last remaining ‘communist’ one party states becomes immediately obvious once you arrive there: The most visible trace of this is an abundance of propaganda murals, hoardings and references to revolutionary heros (including pre-revolutionary, bourgeois independence fighters like José Martí). The next thing you notice is the almost complete absence of modern communication tools from public life. almost no-one (except taxi drivers and fire fighters) uses mobile phones in public and internet is available only through a handful of state licensed communication centers (this situation makes for an excellent vacation).

Predictably though it appears that the cuban authorities do have access to the newest technologies when it comes to controlling the population. Some urban neighborhoods seem to be completely covered with CCTV cameras. While strolling through Centro Havana (a predominately residential neighborhood) on our last day, we noticed 360 degree field of vision CCTV cameras on every 2nd intersection. Given that Havana Centro has a grid layout this means that the entire neighborhood is covered by these remote controlled cameras and makes it clear that somebody is methodologically watching the neighborhood. The fact that this somebody bothered to figure out exactly how many cameras are necessary to have a view of the entire area makes this arrangement much more chilling that the chaotic abundance of CCTV cameras in many places of the UK which seems to lack the methodological zeal exhibited by the Cuban Big Brother.

Also these cameras – being the most shiny things in public view – make a nice visual contrast to the decaying environment of Havana Centro:

CCTV camera on a street corner in Havana Centro.

more here …

I want one of these. now!

11 Mar 2008 | 103 words | art security surveillance

CCTV Birdbox – designed by Céine Shenton ‘Big bird is watching you’ is a birdbox that looks like a CCTV camera. It works just like a dummy camera, but on closer inspection, it offers a great refuge for birds in need of a new home. Inside the box is a little camera that films the activities in the nest, so that avid nature watchers can watch the flighty comings and goings.

The CCTV Birdbox it is a competition entry, vote for it here

update [25 May 08]: not as nice as the brid house ones but also quite lovable: CCTV cameras as mirrors.

Back in Europe

So i am back in Europe for four days and today the whole concept of Europe (and its sick permutations) has been omnipresent wherever i went. In the afternoon i went to the dutch pre WSIS event ‘fill the gap 3’ organized by a couple of Dutch development NGOs in an apparent attempt to get some kind of public backing for their presence at the upcoming summit in Tunis. The whole event was dominated by a discussion around ICT, human rights and related to that the fact that the summit will take place in a country with a rather poor human rights record. Consequently one of the questions posed to the members of the final panel was something to the extend of if Europeans can demand compliance with human rights from developing countries at a time when human rights are curtailed in the same European countries.

To illustrate this the moderator pointed at the data-retention directive, that the EU council wants to get adopted in order to more effectively combat terrorism. Now is respect the work edri and its members are doing to fight this (and i am both donor to bits of freedom and a signatory of the petition against this stupid piece of legislation) but this is hardly the most drastic human rights violation (if at all) that Europe is capable of. It is something that mainly effects european citizens who at least on paper can influence this through democratic processes (and lets not forget that most people are stupid or paranoid (or both) enough to find this a perfectly fine instrument in the ‘global war on terror’).

Real human rights violation look a lot different if you ask me. How about looking up people who have done nothing wrong that coming to europe in fire unsafe cells and the threaten to shoot them when the express the desire to help their co-detainees who are burning to death in their looked cells, as reported in yesterdays volkskrant:

“We wanted to save others, but we were not permitted to do so. They pulled out guns and pointed them at us” said Afghan Momen Nouri, who had been released from cell 8 in wing K. “I heard ‘Help, Help’! A policeman replied : ‘I shoot you’.” “Then we were sitting in wing J and six or seven policemen arrived, who pointed guns at us, handcuffed us and locked us up in a cage”, said Algerian Mohammed Tahir from cell 2 in wing K. “The fire came nearer and nearer, and we heard screaming and yelling.” […] A fireman who arrived at the shift change around six o’clock, couldn’t believe his eyes. “There was a fascist atmosphere. Heavily armed men surrounded the poor bastards. It looked like Guantanamo Bay.”

Or even more cowardly getting so-called safe third countries so far that their security forces are willing to shoot people who are desperately trying to enter europe in the back. apparently this is more or less a prerequisite to receive European development help or to become a member of the European union (as seen in a less publicized incident involving turkish forces).

And then i am not even talking about yesterdays washington post report that claims that eastern European countries allow the CIA to run sekr!t torture prisons for ‘terrorists’ on their soil.

Data retention might be a troublesome and stupid thing (and during the discussion someone made the very valid point that once the necessary software is written it will probably find its best customers in authoritarian regimes outside of the Europe) but it hardly is the most drastic human rights violation going on in Europe right now.

But back to the beginning of the post. The other thing that made me think of europe was the premiere of the theater piece Europe an alien by andcompany&co in the gasthuis in Amsterdam. the piece itself is quite interesting (although the first half could be a bit more dense or faster or both if you ask me) and the sound-design is really amazing (it is still running on friday and saturday night) but more importantly it made me remember a text the ‘temporary association everyone is an expert’ published as a call to the noborder camp in Strasbourg back in 2002: ‘Let’s talk about Europe

I still think that this is one of the best texts that we have ever published and given the situation described above it has lost none of its importance.

My mobile phone provider thinks i am an tsunami victim...

15 Feb 2005 | 645 words | data surveillance mobile networks india

… and has a pretty poor sense of geography.

Got my monthly bill from my mobile phone provider (orange Netherlands which an almost completely different entity than the orange operating in Bombay. They just use the same brand identity and parts of the companies are held by the same holding: hutchinson whampoa limited).now getting a monthly phone bill is nothing special, but getting one which informs you have been a tsunami victim an that they therefore credited you with €42.05 for ‘possible extra phone expenses related to the tsunami’ is somewhat strange. especially if you have not been affected by the tsunami as you where safe on a jet airways flight from Bombay to Delhi when the whole thing hit the coasts of India and Sri lanka. now it is no secret that mobile phone providers record the location data a mobile phone generates, but at least under dutch law this data cannot be used by them for anything else except invoicing purposes (and they have to retain it for law enforcement purposes for half an eternity or so). and as far as i can tell remember i did not generate any data at all during the time the tsunami hit. i switched of my phone on the 7th of december in delhi, replaced the sim card by and airtel india branded one and switched back to my orange sim on the 11th of january at the airport in delhi to make a couple of calls before flying back to amsterdam. so as far as they can tell i have been delhi all the time which thanks to its inland location and altitude is probably even less tsunami affected than amsterdam. of course they could also have a look at my call record and would discover that i did not make any calls during that time either….

For sure i am not comfortable with my phone company using this (non) data to become some kind benevolent paternalistic entity that does a little monetary intervention here and then when things get a bit more bumpy that the average european can be expected to be able to cope with. and if i should ever want something like this i will buy a travel insurance policy. i can imagine how these public relation geniuses at orange have seen this golden opportunity to build up a personal relationship with their customers. given all the suffering that this catastrophe has caused to all these poor western tourists (which is the real reason why we Europeans have donated so much to the relief funds), they went strait to their data-minig department and told them to get them a list with all their customers that have been in the hit by the tsunami. so the data miners go a and get themselves a CNN info graphic that shows the tsunami affected countries run a couple of queries based on this information and come up with a list of tsunami victims among their customer that goes back to the marketing department and there the amount of money available for this stunt is divided by the amount of victims and the billing department is instructed to credit each victim with the resulting amount. and now they are probably all excited how they come up with a way of effectively allocating ressources where they are most needed… credit where credit is due!

When i called their customer center today to complain about using my location data for something which they are not entitled the call center agent simply failed to understand my problem. he could not see how i could complain as i benefited from this measure of theirs and told me that i was ungrateful. and when asked about why i was getting the credit when i was in delhi the whole time he told me ‘well that is in the region isn’t it?’

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: