the Red Zone
March 14, 1997

 welcome to the Red Zone Over the past few months I have watched with considerable alarm the erection of several surveillance cameras along the length of one of Perth's two freeways. The cameras are placed strategically at curves, so as to maximise viewing angles. They are mounted on high steel poles. The poles can flex in the middle, allowing access to the camera (I assume they have a lock to prevent unauthorised tampering). The cameras can be disconnected from the pole, and I have noticed that some poles are sometimes without a camera - they move them around.

Note: five years ago, this page seemed a little outrageous, even to its author. Silly me.

After a tip from a friend, I called Main Roads, our transit authority, and they informed me that the cameras - "six or seven" of them - were part of the construction of an "Intelligent Transport System". They also told me that other sites were planned, that the cameras operated continuously, and that there were "six or seven" monitors back in the Main Roads office.

Hear it for yourself. Oh and of course I obtained consent before making that recording... just returning the favour!!!

The representative I spoke to confirmed that the cameras could record, but did not confirm that they were recording. This representative also confirmed there was a map, but I do not have it.

Far be it for me to accuse the transit people of snooping on the citizenry, but frankly, those blank lenses staring down 24 hours a day are quite intimidating. One would not want to be picking one's nose at the wrong moment. However, my major concern is the future application of these cameras. Once the network is built, there is nothing stopping it being used for other purposes.

My perspective might be tainted by the fact that there is a security camera right outside my front door, in fact if I take two steps straight ahead, I walk into it. These cameras are on a different network - they are connected to the police. I can't go out without them knowing. Now, I can't drive down the freeway without them knowing either. Ah, but they are different networks - for now.

How long will it be before the police realise they can use the transit cameras to catch drivers who are speeding, or driving in the emergency lane, or weaving? How long will it be before the cameras are used to "tap" a person's movements? After all, every car already has a unique ID number stamped to the front and the back of the vehicle - a license plate - which must be unobstructed at all times, and lit at night, and is made of special high-contrast reflective material just perfect for being scanned by a machine. With the aid of automated tracking techniques, freeze frame and zoom, whoever is watching can follow you around, from a desk.

As the network expands onto arterial roads - all for the purpose of traffic monitoring, of course - unless one takes alleys, they will be able to tell who is where, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are security cameras in all the trains, and perhaps in the buses. They are also at the public transport interchanges, and in the shopping malls.. and now they are on the roads. Surely it is a matter of time before it is deemed in the public interest to interconnect these camera networks, so as to facilitate the rapid detection and apprehension of criminals.

The problem is that the definition of "criminal" is a very discretionary thing. Police are empowered to ignore crimes they feel unworthy of prosecution. Police are also empowered to harass innocent individuals. Police are well known for endemic corruption. If police have the power to track people whereever they go, police are empowered with new ways to harass and corrupt.

For example, they could set up road blocks specifically to trap "suspicious" individuals, or they could negligently guide their drunk mates around road blocks.

I could go on - about the police helicopter flying around during Australia Day celebrations (January 26, 1997) shining their searchlight in everyone's faces. This is a crowd of about 500,000 who gathered to watch the evening fireworks. It's like they think they have a right to do that. Intimidate the peasants and keep them clean! I was brightly illuminated three times.. and all because I dared to sit on the grass and watch the fireworks.

One can but think what they will do if they ever think I've actually done something.

Paranoia? Another tenant in my building was the subject of a drug squad surveillance operation. This meant that I couldn't even go out into the alley without being watched. I definitely couldn't leave the curtain open. They probably watched me make love to my girlfriend - and filmed it, and shared it with their colleagues. No doubt it was added to the collection of Intimate Moments Caught Involuntarily By Pigs Pointing Their Cameras Into Innocent People's Lives Whilst Supposed To Be Catching Criminals (#4133). It was suggested that our apartment be used for a stakeout. We had to recall if we mentioned anything to our landlord, in case they wanted to call us as witnesses. If we co-operated, we risked the wrath of the dealers - if we didn't co-operate, we risked the wrath of the police. Catch 22: legalise drugs today!!!!!!!!

I don't believe in the law - I believe in people, and their ability to be responsible. The real criminals are police, who turn citizens on themselves. So what if people sell drugs - every person has a right to choose whether or not they purchase; this means possessing a right to purchase; this in turn means its unethical (hint: anti-competitive) to prevent people selling drugs. What people do in their own time, with their own money and to their own bodies is their business. I believe that drugs are illegal because corrupt officials get paid by dealers to protect them. I wouldn't be at all surprised if one dealer got busted because another dealer wanted the turf. Police are pawns.. citizens are victims. If drugs were legal, there would be less fighting.

When morals are made into laws, there naturally occurs disharmony with those who do not share that moral value, yet must remain law-abiding citizens.

I don't believe in police - the damage is already done by the time police are involved. The work needs to be done before a crime is committed. Ten times out of ten it comes back to better parenting. Einstein says, "peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved through understanding". H.G. Wells says "human history is increasingly becoming a race between education and catastrophe". Get the picture? When you have stupid people controlling the weapons, start sweating.

The whole thing is so twisted... the only winning move is not to play. Make drugs legal, get some quality control and some warning labels and legal redress for underserved consumers.. competition in the market.. and all the other benefits of legitimate, privately run business. For example, legalising of drugs might mean the development of synthesised THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), which could be used orally rather than smoked. This would mean a reduction in the amount of people suffering lung and throat cancer (caused by irritants encountered during the smoking process).

If there was a tax on drugs, I'm sure it would be different.

The most encouraging thing about drug legalisation is that the more people one talks to about it, the more people one discovers who agree. There is a delightful groundswell of support for legalising drugs in the community. Everyday people are waking up to the fact that they are the only ones being messed around here. Police get paid off, dealers get rich, and they share naughty surveillance videos. Meanwhile, drug users get ripped off and immuno-compromised, and everyone else gets robbed, hurt, spied upon or in some other way done over.

Unsure about the naughty video bit? Last year, employees of our casino (which has 100's of "security" cameras) were caught swapping tapes of upskirt shots, intimate moments, people having sex, and even a woman breast-feeding. Just yesterday a man I spoke to told me that there are surveillance cameras in the toilets at the airport. Kewl.

There does appear to be some in-principle support for drug legalisation. Euthenasia laws, and laws that decriminalise-and-regulate prostitution are examples of where suppression is being converted into tolerance. Of course, this is not the same as legalisation, which is the step after regulation. That is, many government-regulated industries are being deregulated, as the forces of competition have been found to be more beneficial to society than the forces of regulation. Decriminalising an act means regulating it. Eventually things that are decriminalised will also be deregulated; they will become legal. Decriminalisation processes are evidence of pro-choice thinking.

To become cynical once more, one might suggest that the distinction is being made between decriminalising and legalising so as to preserve revenue from the acts in question. That is, what was illegal earned the powers that be illegal income. That protection money will be lost when the act is decriminalised.. so they regulate it, in order to tax it, so as not to take a cut in take-home pay.

Some news for those skimming the cream: liberalisation is coming, and you are not sustainable.

To close on a philosophical note, I am bitterly disappointed at the low profile ordinary people adopt when intimidated by these bullies. Moreso, I am infuriated by the wanton hand-over of responsibility from the people to the police. After the fireworks, the radio announcer who did the music said "...and on your way home, don't forget to co-operate with the police". There was nothing about taking your rubbish with you, or driving carefully, or drinking heaps of water if you felt sick. Don't worry about being responsible and looking after each other, just leave it all to the police, you can trust them!

This is in the face of big police corruption scandals in four of the six states in Australia, all in the last 10 years. On March 11, 1997 the entire Special Branch of the New South Wales police force was disbanded due to corruption. Before they went, they managed to burn 750kg of files. What could they have been hiding?

This dependency-inducing approach is what keeps the police in jobs. They take away your power, teach you to rely on them, convert the power into money, and stick it in their wallets. If people learned to rely on themselves, and trust and respect each other, police would be obsolete. People don't trust and respect each other as much as they could precisely because the police say that there is no trust and respect. Police try and keep people apart, suppress innovation and hinder communication. It is this intervention which creates the very thing they claim to be against.

It is a self-sustaining system, and with the growth of these surveillance networks, and tacit approval from the public, it becomes more exploitative by the moment.

1984 was a while ago now.. can you tell?

As an aside: Orwell's 1984 was originally entitled 1948. The name was changed at the publisher's request, in order to maintain sales for longer. The book was written in 1947. This gives a hint as to how close Orwell thought we were.. and that was 50 years ago.

Incidentally, I don't think I'd have a big problem with security cameras, if they were clearly marked, possessed a 100%-effective "blinker" which could be activated and deactivated by any citizen without fear, and if the output of every camera was made available over the internet. These are principles of choice and pluralism, rather than of control and exploitation.

PS: the Red Zone? Red Zones are where survelliance is occuring. Blue Zones are where it's not. I'll illustrate when I get hold of the map. I'm off into a Red Zone to get some lunch.

PPS: don't worry, if you see a couple of bright flashes, at about the same time as a largish van is speeding past you in the street, you're not imagining things - that was a camera flash, immediately prior to your image being fed into the mobile face recognition system they have. Eventually they might figure out they can do it in a mini if they could just connect that darned digital video camera to their mobile phone. Hopefully we won't step blindly into the street in the meantime.

PPPS: update: this site is itself monitored, by entities unknown, for purposes unknown. They just Watch. They are Watchers. And We are Watched. I was a little intimidated, but then I read this;

"...Fortunately if one has a degree of intelligence and integrity one accumulates friendship, respect and ... the support and protection of other netizens ... it merely serves to demonstrate the wisdom ... of persistance of speaking ones truth despite attempts to irritate, threaten and falsely accuse." -- Heather -

So I have instead turned my attention to watching them back.