Sunday, December 30, 2007

Secure or surveilled?

Trade and human rights are once again at odds as US firms seek to provide surveillance equipment to China for the Beijing Olympics. Following the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, Congress banned the export of “crime control or detection instruments or equipment” to China. In providing surveillance equipment designed to keep athletes as well as spectators safe from terrorist attacks during the Olympics, US companies may be violating the spirit, if not the letter of the law. The Commerce Department doesn’t agree: equipment that serves only law enforcement purposes, such as devices that detect fingerprints at crime scenes, are banned, but video systems that have broader uses, such as alarms, movement control devices or counting systems, are allowed. Companies like Honeywell, IBM and United Technologies are supplying not just cameras, but systems capable of analyzing and cataloging people and behavior. Once the Olympics are over, these systems will almost certainly be converted to use in China’s recently embraced program to render more than 600 cities “safe” through video surveillance. Cameras may be trained not only on criminals, but dissidents. As Steve Vickers, a former Hong Kong criminal intelligence officer said,
I don’t know of an intelligence-gathering operation in the world that, when given a new toy, doesn’t use it.

1 comment:

Diane Marie Amann said...

Not just there -- see "The Surveillance State," 1/1/08 post on Andrew Sullivan's blog, at http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/01/the-surveillanc.html. Includes this quote from a new study:
"In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines and falling into the "black" category, denoting endemic surveillance.

"The worst ranking EU country is the United Kingdom, which again fell into the "black" category along with Russia and Singapore."