Monday, September 13, 2004

Faust's Soul

Mayor Richard M. Daley unveiled plans for a surveillance network for the city of Chicago---Mayor Outlines Elaborate Camera Network for City:
From a hi-tech command center, the City of Chicago plans to monitor a vast security network. Thousands of surveillance cameras will be linked -- and authorities will be alerted to crimes and terrorist acts. The mayor unveiled the plans for this new security network at a news conference this morning.

Some people are concerned about "Big Brother" invading their privacy but Mayor Daley says the cameras will be located in public areas.

The technology that is now so much a part of crime-fighting and anti-terrorism has gone -- as one police spokesman says -- from Stone Age to Star Wars in less than a decade. This step in the evolution will link more than 2,000 public surveillance cameras in Chicago into a unified system.

There are well over 2,000 cameras that the city and its sister agencies -- like the school system -- monitor everyday. The city is adding another 250 cameras to potential high risk areas, most of them downtown. For instance, if there is a crime on a CTA platform-- most of which are or will be equipped with surveillance cameras, a call to 911 will activate a video link-up.

"When the system determines there's a camera in the vicinity of the 911 call, it will automatically beam back an image to the call-taker of the origin of where it occurred," said Ron Huberman, Emergency Mgt. and Com. Dir.

The 911 dispatcher will have -- in many cases -- the ability to remotely control cameras at the scene of a crime miles away. The system is also equipped with software that can alert the 911 Center to changes in traffic flow, or the presence of people where they're not supposed to be.
In reading about vast, robust and expensive surveillance networks like Chicago’s, its worth pondering how winning the war against terrorism will threaten the freedoms we so cherish. ‘Winning’ seems to mean reclaiming parity with historical forces by creating a system---the Anti Fog---which acts as a sieve to ferret out potential disruption. The Anti Fog will be a synthesis of networks composed of people and surveillance systems that report to authorities for safeguarding the status quo. That’s a verbose way of saying ‘spy network,’ in the employ of the powers-that-be---corporate, government, American, Chinese, etc.

‘Status quo’ is defined as the state in which anything is already; to preserve extant property and systems. Terrorists threaten many things. At their most basic level, they threaten what already exists. Anti-terror is therefore a force to preserve the status quo. Status quo preservation risks hegemonic results, however. The powers-that-be are on the verge of acquiring the most pervasive anti-disruption system in history. It might serve to keep the peace; it can also keep power in the hands of institutions that would otherwise evolve from the pressure of change---governments and corporations alike.

The economy’s next boom will focus technological genius towards the task of protecting property, people and perhaps even ideas from disruption. In the networking sector, this has long since begun. Go to any MIS department of a sizeable organization and what will be found is a veritable war room, replete with daily battles and skirmishes, long term strategies, and force allocations on a scaling budget. The onslaught of spam, viruses and cyber attacks is the best window to the future that can be found today. Internet attackers are unidentified, numerous, endlessly replicate, and constantly metamorphize. The goal of the attackers is to simply bring down the system, and disrupt its status quo. They are generally unaligned and have individual causes. Organizations spend billions of dollars combating mosquitoes that never seem to end; some carry malaria, many just act as sand in the gears. At the end of the day, the soldiers of MIS ‘win’ if the status quo of their employer’s infrastructure is intact and running. The daily battles are kept as transparent as possible to reduce disruption.

Disturbingly, if an MIS director of a major American institution were to compare security strategies with a government official in Beijing tracking Chinese dissent on the Internet, they would have much practical knowledge in common. What is worrying is that Anti Fog isn’t just an American endeavor---its job number one for any institution, government or private, on Earth. All institutions are fighting the same war against disruption, and are developing the tools necessary to preserve status quo. We live in an era where those tools will be incredibly potent and effective.

The war on terror operates on the same rules as the MIS war. To fight terror, one must adopt the goals of the MIS warriors. It is nearly inevitable that the most innovative technologies and resources of all institutions---ranging from governments that are democracies to totalitarian to corporations---will be put towards building Anti Fog. A robust Anti Fog system will not only curtail some of our civil liberties, but a redefine them. What we could lose in the bargain is ingenuity, change, progress and legitimate dissent. The status quo naturally resists evolutionary pressures that effect change, and in turn growth.

We should ask ourselves these questions with respect to winning this great war:

Will the fight for freedom devolve into a fight for safety? Does the ordered world have only a choice between destruction or a Faustian bargain to preserve what we are at the expense of what we could be?