Sharp looks

At every step and turn, we are controlled. New surveillance cameras scan our faces or look for "remarkable" gestures.

When it comes to monitoring their citizens, governments that find no cost is too high. It has become almost "normal" that human beings are controlled by eavesdropping systems such as Echelon, which is the US system that monitors hundreds of thousands of telephone conversations, faxes and e-mails. Video surveillance devices that are able to filter out and recognize individual faces in the midst of crowds have been in use -- without drawing much attention -- since 1998. And that's not all: in these times of terrorist threats, there is a boom in the sales of control equipment. In the USA, there's a system that's been in use for a while that picks out suspects on the bases of gestures and "ostentatious movements."


Such efforts to create greater security are certainly not welcomed by sections of the population. In Switzerland, Biel's chief of police Juerg Scherrer came under a bombardment of criticism when he suggested the installation of surveillance cameras. Young Socialists collected approximately 1,400 signatures against the project.

Whether a running-amok can be prevented is, of course, questionable

Bruno Baeriswyl is in Zurich, working with the regional commissioner for data protection on available technologies, and will offer recommendations to the municipalities at the end of the year. Despite the crazy running-amok that recently occurred in the Parliament of the Zuger Canton, Baeriswyl wonders whether video systems are at all suitable to prevent such attacks. "It is undisputed that we must take new paths," adds Kosmas Tsiraktsopulos, spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Commisioner for Data Protection, "but we must not abandon all the principles of our democratic society." "The problem of terrorism must be solved another way," says [Bill Brown of] the New York Surveillance Camera Players, an artistic citizens' initiative that has fun by organizing demonstrations and holding up signs that say "We know you are watching" to the surveillance cameras. After 11 September [2001], these activists aren't the only ones who believe that the money spent every year on the secret services (30 billion dollars) and on counter-terrorism (11 billion dollars) isn't doing much good. In the final analysis, none of the electronic lenses prevented the attack [on the World Trade Center]. Meanwhile, regular criminals, drug-dealers and sexual criminals have elbow-room: they've learned to move out of the sight of the surveillance cameras.

[Written by Klaus Cook and published on 21 October 2001 by Die Sonntagszeitung. Translated from the German by Bill Brown.]

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