On surveillance

Most days over the last few months there has been, in The Hump web-stats, a single hit from Kyiv. There’s been occasional interest from other cities in Western Ukraine, as well as the odd hit from Donbas or the Crimea, but this “fan” was a regular. Until last week, that is, since the first Russian air-strikes, when he seems to have stopped. By this I conclude that I was being monitored by the SBU, whose HQ was one of those buildings taken down by the strikes.

It still looks as though I’m being surveilled from a nearby suburb of Kyiv, Irpin, a location that only started showing an interest a week or two ago, so that’s where I’d suggest you look if you wantto know the Security Service’s backup location.

Now, I guess it’s nice to know folks abroad are taking an interest in the blog, as many do across the globe, if there wasn’t a Ukrainian habit of putting people who disagree with them on their death-list (co-hosted, it appears from its header address, by the Pentagon). One would have thought that a small-scale blog would be of little interest to foreign powers, but the vindictiveness of the Kyiv regime is such that I can imagine, should they win the war, that subservient Western supporters will be only too willing to co-operate with them in sanctioning those guilty of wrongthink by blocking bank accounts or taking down websites. Or worse. Hey-ho.

Now it’s easy to get paranoid about web surveillance. In the past, when I was almost exclusively doing science-faith posts, I noticed sudden bursts of activity from across the Republic of China, and even, for a while, across France (thanks, DGSE). I never did find a reason for that. Until the present unpleasantness I used to assume that any hits from Russia were from scam-merchants (and ban the posters – sorry guys if you were interested in Genealogical Adam).

But the news of the EU’s new “smart border” initiative shows how surveillance is ramping up for us all, and not just for those posting scurrilous blogs for roubles.

The adjective “smart” automatically informs one that something either mischievous or stupid is afoot. Smart motorways, for example, kill you if you break down. In this case it’s mainly the first (though the delays it will cause, and its likely IT failures, will bring the second to bear), since from next May visitors to the EU, including us Brits, will be required to provide biometric information in the form of fingerprints and facial recognition photographs at customs.

This is touted, of course, on some nebulous grounds of efficiency or convenience, in the same devious way that digital IDs have been promoted as a “human right” when they are almost entirely a means for the powerful to control the proles. Control is, of course, the real name of the biometrics game – it is the EU’s electronic Secret Police, preserving democracy by eliminating it for no very coherent reason.

A comment on the linked Daily Sceptic thread shows what it means in practice, should you still be tempted to think “where’s the harm?”. A traveller between Thailand and Vietnam was similarly required to produce prints and submit to a mugshot. Asia seems to be ahead of the EU in smartness. As his wife was “processed”, he saw on the functionary’s monitor that four mugshots of his wife appeared, all taken by various CCTV cameras in the UK.

Think about that – local authorities or business premises, or both, where CCTV cameras are in operation, have already been selling their data to the extent that distant foreign governments and their customs departments currently have access to your facial recognition hits. Given that the UK has more CCTV cameras than any nation except China, this means that every time your face has registered as you went shopping, or parked your car, or attended a protest, or maybe, even asked a bobby with a body cam the time, then the hour, place and activity went on to a database. This database, if it is available at far-eastern airports, is certainly accessible by MI5, the police – and maybe even your local council, your bank, and Paypal (if you haven’t yet cancelled your account).

That’s not all: I’m told that in order to use Tesco’s self-checkout in some places, you now also have to have a mobile app that includes facial recognition. I know of no promise that your data will remain unsold to those managing these databases, so your central file might also contain an inventory of your purchases.

Now, smart(!) phones routinely include facial recognition software for all kinds of other convenient things like opening your front door without a key, being recognised by the software of your local pub or restaurant, and who knows what else. So if your personal data is sold on, as we already know the unsolicited public images on CCTV are, all those episodes of using the facial recognition software will be on your file (and why would the companies attributing identities to all these images not combine all the information on one database? Even if commercial companies each limit their activities, nothing is to stop government or some more shadowy corporation obtaining the various databases and combining them).

There’s plenty of digital storage in GCHQ or CIA computers, and since this data is gathered more or less automatically, the thought that “they wouldn’t bother with me” is false assurance. They aren’t bothered with you, until they have reason to be. And then accessing your life is as easy as Googling your old school friend, and much more informative. “Alexa – who are you passing this conversation on to?”

Just to add to the correlation, facial recognition firms already trawl the internet for images to identify. For years it’s been possible to find images of oneself on a Google search – in my undistinguished case, a surprising number of images turn up from here, other websites, publisher’s pages, sites where my articles have appeared, and even my church website. If I did Facebook or Twitter, those stored shots would no doubt appear as well. But private persons could avoid being thus identified simply by not uploading mugshots to the web.

But now all it takes is one anonymous picture from a shopping mall camera, correlated to the under-secured biometrics from an EU airport or a Tesco checkout, and you’re all over the world, fingerprints and all. And as Kanye West has just found, if your bank then plugs into your database and finds you have been somewhere they deem unseemly, or that you’ve voiced an opinion against the woke mainstream, you could find yourself without any money even before the digital currency is launched.

It’s far too late to prevent this dystopia arriving, as it’s already here, but for any readers who still thought the fears were exaggerated, this information might help you, at least, not to make life easier for the weasels than is necessary.

Fully compliant accountant Rupert C Doppelganger enjoying a hookah at his local cafe in Istanbul, and definitely NOT anywhere like England.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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