This post is about RFID chips, video surveillance, and bluetooth wireless technology. Sometimes it is hard to tell sometimes where politics begins and economics leaves off and this post has aspects of both. Surveillance technology and chips of all kinds are big business. How that technology is used can be hugely political. But there is certainly no question that a huge trend is underway in regards to increasing use of such devices, and one of the as aspects of this blog is to look at trends. So here we are.

Bloomberg is reporting George Orwell Was Right: Spy Cameras See Britons’ Every Move.

It’s Saturday night in Middlesbrough, England, and drunken university students are celebrating the start of the school year, known as Freshers’ Week. One picks up a traffic cone and runs down the street. Suddenly, a disembodied voice booms out from above: “You in the black jacket! Yes, you! Put it back!” The confused student obeys as his friends look bewildered.

“People are shocked when they hear the cameras talk, but when they see everyone else looking at them, they feel a twinge of conscience and comply,” said Mike Clark, a spokesman for Middlesbrough Council who recounted the incident. The city has placed speakers in its cameras, allowing operators to chastise miscreants who drop coffee cups, ride bicycles too fast or fight outside bars.

Almost 70 years after George Orwell created the all-seeing dictator Big Brother in the novel “1984,” Britons are being watched as never before. About 4.2 million spy cameras film each citizen 300 times a day, and police have built the world’s largest DNA database. Prime Minister Tony Blair said all Britons should carry biometric identification cards to help fight the war on terror. …..

In Canada we see there are Eyes on Toronto Streets.

As Toronto gets its first police surveillance cameras, are we ready for our close-up?

The camera, at the corner of Gould, is one of three that have been installed on Yonge Street, in a police experiment that has drawn praise from some (including the Yonge Street business association), and condemnation from others, who see them as the first step toward a state where citizens are watched and controlled by Big Brother. …..

The market for surveillance cameras has boomed, according to Mr. Nilsson and other experts, with global sales estimated at up to $15-billion annually — and demand is growing by 10 to 15 per cent every year. Mr. Nilsson’s company has worked with a number of police forces (not including Toronto) on the installation of surveillance systems with capabilities that were once the realm of science fiction. For example, the Dallas police force has surveillance cameras that send a live video feed through a cellular uplink. Other cities have cameras that respond to motion or sound — Chicago now has cameras with software that detects the sound of gunfire, and automatically trains the camera on its source. …..

“Privacy is sacred to our democracy, and this erodes it,” says Varda Burstyn, a cultural critic and public policy consultant who is now working on a documentary about George Orwell. “Three cameras isn’t a big deal. But the process is.”

Critics of technology-based security systems believe the drawbacks far outweigh any benefits. The data collected could easily be misused, they say, and serious criminals can effortlessly evade electronic oversight.

“Cameras don’t catch the big fish, only the small ones,” Ms. Burstyn says. In her view, Western society has gradually slid toward the dystopian future predicted by Orwell through its increasing emphasis on technology and control. “There are always more cameras and more prisons,” she says. “This is not the path we should be going down. What we should be focusing on is prevention and rehabilitation.

“Once you start down this road, it’s hard to stop. You go from a dozen cameras to a hundred, from a hundred to a thousand, and from a thousand to a million.” ….

Obviously there is big bucks for some firms in promoting this technology, but is it making anyone more secure? If it is, at what risk?

Please consider NSA Surveillance Data Led FBI To Dead Ends Or Innocent Americans.

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.
Virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans’ international communications and conducting computer searches of foreign-related phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans’ privacy.

As the bureau was running down those leads, its director, Robert S. Mueller III, raised concerns about the legal rationale for the eavesdropping program, which did not seek court warrants, one government official said. Mueller asked senior administration officials about “whether the program had a proper legal foundation,” but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, the official said.

President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program, which focused on the international communications of some Americans and others in the United States, as a “vital tool” against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved “thousands of lives.”

The results of the program look very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret eavesdropping program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.

“We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism – case closed,” said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. “After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.”
……

Is this spying doing anyone any good? Does it make us safer or less safe? In the UK they are gathering information on chips about anyone of driving age. That means some 16 year old girls have their picture, eye color, age, height and birth all plugged into a chip that essentially any criminal can read. Of course prominent politicians and actors, etc, can file for an exemption for “security reasons”.

So just how safe is this technology? What about RFID chips used in stores, passports, and even medical RFIDs implanted in the human body? Does this make it more or less likely for someone to steal your ID?

Some of the answers to those questions can be found in Suspect Nation.

I ask everyone to click on that last link and play the video in its entirety. It is fairly long (about 46 minutes) but well worth a play.

Perhaps it will scare some half to death, perhaps it will cause a lot of opinions to change, and perhaps it will cause some to look for ways to invest in the sector, or perhaps all three.

Mike Shedlock / Mish/