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Ron Patton | January 18, 2019
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On many shows, I have decried the pervasive surveillance apparatus that has been implemented all over the world. It is now a reality the surveillance state has now evolved into a society that accepts and even demands surveillance.

No longer can we speak of it in future tense because our everyday lives are subjected to surveillance encounters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Massive surveillance systems now underpin modern existence.

Big Brother watches us on a daily basis; we wind up on camera surveillance hundreds of times a day. But there are other things that are used to watch and monitor us on a daily basis like supermarket loyalty cards, coded access cards to get in the office, and cell phones.

It is that these systems represent a basic, complex infrastructure which assumes that gathering and processing personal data is vital to contemporary living.

Surveillance is two-sided; it is convenient, and, benefits us in many ways. Yet at the same time, risks and dangers are always present in large-scale systems and of course, power does corrupt or at least skews the vision of those who wield it.

Many people believe that certain types of surveillance technologies are intrusive like the use of biometrics such as fingerprints or iris scans. There is this push in 2019 for a chipped society as the European Union readies for the shipping of children, and other countries like Sweden have people demanding to be chipped for convenience.

There are intrusive cameras being readied for Smart Cities powered by 5G and even facial recognition software that is being used on social media.

If you have been on social media recently, you’ve likely seen this so-called “10-year challenge”. It really isn’t a challenge – it is just that a growing trend of people posting photos of themselves from 10 years ago and then comparing themselves to current photos.

Now there is a conspiracy theory that is going around that began with a sarcastic view of how Facebook has found another way to train their algorithms to recognize people both when they were younger and older.

Kate O’Neil who has a background integrated experience strategy and human-centric digital transformation and more than 20 years of experience and entrepreneurship leading innovations across technology, marketing, and operations, for companies of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500s wrote an article for Wired magazine about the challenge.

She claims that if you wanted to train facial recognition algorithms on age-related characteristics and age progression, you would want a lot of people’s photos and you would want to know that they were all taken a fixed number of years apart – 10 years, in this case.

There’s certainly the counter-argument that you could mine Facebook data as it stands, making the “challenge” unnecessary, but photos are sometimes put up out of order and often feature images of items that are much more than users: word images, cartoons, patterns, and others. The EXIF data on these photos is also unreliable, as people have uploaded and scanned photographs from different eras at different times.

And so it would help if there was a clean, simple and rigorously labeled set of “then and now” photographs, much like we are seeing with the “10-year challenge.”

O’Neill makes a cogent and objective point: thanks to this meme challenge, there’s an extremely large data set of carefully picked photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now.

Some people argue that there is too much useless data for this challenge to be useful. But the article makes the argument that people, and arguably a company using this data for nefarious purposes would know you’re supposed to place more trust in the validity of data earlier on in a trend. This just means that someone would have to be more likely to mine the data that started coming out at the beginning of the challenge.

And, by now, algorithms are smart enough to separate human faces from the joke memes that people are putting up, like photos of their cats and dogs.

Facebook denies having any involvement in launching the meme. They claim the 10-year challenge just popped up on its own; that it was self-generating.

I think that it would be interesting to ask who started it; in fact, it would be interesting to ask who starts all of these weird challenges and for what reason.

We are moving into a time when the extraordinary advances that have been made in the fields of nanotechnology, neurology, psychology, computer science, telecommunications, and artificial intelligence, will be used for more intrusive kind of surveillance.

Urban officials dream of a future of “Smart Cities” that use new technologies to gather comprehensive data and algorithms allegedly to achieve increased efficiency, sustainability, and safety.

The adoption of such technologies can also lead to an unacceptable increase in government surveillance.

Since the idea of “surveillance cities” is no longer a hypothetical, we should all be ready to do what it takes to create responsible safeguards and prevent the unnecessary risks and harms this technology can create.

As 21st-century thought should be looking forward into the future, we as a people should demand that elected officials and the public should be provided notice of the potential deployment of these technologies.

We should be more aware of the potential privacy and civil liberties risks they present, and the real impact of their use.

Whereas these surveillance technologies are often used in secret after they are acquired, only a law that mandates transparency can produce such outcomes.

Cities should prioritize openness and transparency about a project before any Smart City project is implemented in order to limit any potential adverse effects on the public and their human rights.

It is becoming more of a trend that communities become over-targeted by surveillance.

If you want to know if your community is over-targeted for surveillance you may want to check or ask if your community or county leadership is implementing data-intensive technologies under the pretext of improving the functioning of your area. This could include injecting ‘smart’ tech into delivering services, public safety, environmental monitoring, and traffic control, among other possible applications.

There is actually an area near my home that is loaded with surveillance cameras on every corner and robotic photo cop speeding enforcement.

It is like Big Brother is always watching and if by chance I make a mistake, it will take my photo which can be used and matched in a database that can determine how I looked 10 years ago and how I look now. The photo would have information that is connected to it which would include any and all addresses, bank accounts, job information, political views, whatever they can use against me if I decide to not participate in their police state.

A report published by Privacy International featured case studies from Rio de Janeiro and Davao city, highlighting how these Smart City projects aren’t really improving public safety nor improving crime rates, but exacerbating inequalities and repressing public manifestations.

As a result of these projects, cities are transforming into monitored spaces, where an individual’s autonomy is steadily shrinking. The right to privacy in a connected city is also affected since people are no longer expected to control how their data is collected, processed, and shared, but instead, are exposed to both government and corporate surveillance from the moment they leave their homes. In other words, smart cities are just a fancy marketing term for turning urban centers into high-tech Panopticons.

The “Smart City” is also marketed as a so-called “Safe City” which of course is a further shift towards mass policing and surveillance. This raises even more questions and concerns about its impact on human rights such as privacy, freedom of movement, and non-discrimination while exploiting people’s fears and concerns.

Beware of those who tell you that these are nothing more than paranoid projections.

Technocrats distort policy evaluations of pervasive surveillance and control in urban environments. Moreover, their normative tools of evaluation, focusing on consumer and citizen “consent” to surveillance, are confusing and misleading enough to get average citizens to embrace even the most disturbing technologies of control.

Local governments and even Federal governments always drag out clichéd arguments about safety and generate parental fears about the safety and well being of the children.

They will tell you that full spectrum control is necessary and that technology platforms are at the ready to provide immediate service that will bring order and safety for you and your family.

In the State of Oregon, proposals are ready to be made into law regarding universal home visits to parents who have newborn babies.


Senate Bill 526, introduced this month in the Oregon Legislative Assembly orders the Oregon Health Authority to “study home visiting by licensed health care providers.” Lawmakers went so far as to declare that SB 526 is an “emergency” measure — one that requires a resolution by the end of the year. The intro to the bill, the language of which has not yet been crafted, reads:

The Oregon Health Authority shall study home visiting by licensed health care providers in this state. The authority shall submit findings and recommendations for legislation to an interim committee of the Legislative Assembly related to health care not later than December 31, 2019.

Moreover, the 18 sponsors of the bill claim that its passage is “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety,” and therefore “an emergency is declared to exist.”

The big question is what is the “Emergency” that warrants the visit from social workers and medical personnel to various homes in the state of Oregon?

Apparently, the state of Oregon is concerned that some parents are raising their children without the watchful eye of Big Brother monitoring their every move.

This is another form of surveillance that sends a creepy vibe reminiscent of the feared Social workers that paid a visit to British families to inspect the health of growing children and their living conditions.

Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, made a statement to a Pacific Northwest local paper explained that when the program is complete, every new parent — this includes adoptions — would receive a series of two or three visits by someone like a nurse or other health care practitioner. The visits could include basic health screenings for babies; hooking parents up with primary care physicians; linking them to other services, and coordinating the myriad childhood immunizations that babies need.

So they will not only pay you a visit to see how the baby is doing I am sure they will be there to enforce vaccinations which may be what the so-called emergency is about.

Oregon is not alone in the push for “universal” home visits. Washington Governor Jay Inslee tweeted earlier this month, “My budget would also offer universal home visits. This gives every new parent the opportunity to get a visit from a nurse during the first few weeks back home with their newborn to share important information and build confidence.”

While it’s not clear whether either of these programs would be mandatory, the use of the term “universal” suggests that they would. It’s frightening to think about what would happen to parents who refuse such visits.

Paula Bolyard of PJ media reports that the basic premise behind these attempted power grabs is that parents cannot be trusted with the care of their own children — that an agent of the state is the only one qualified to ensure that children are being properly cared for.

Without such surveillance, proponents argue, children are at risk for abuse and neglect, something they believe government agents can prevent, despite volumes of evidence to the contrary. In Oregon, in fact, children in the foster care system are abused at twice the national rate.

One wonders how a state that can’t handle the children currently in its care could possibly manage to put under surveillance an additional 40,000 children per year, let alone pay for such a program.

Government agents monitoring the homes of law-abiding parents who have not been accused of a crime without a warrant is an unconscionable violation not only of parental rights and individual liberty but also a trampling of the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.


It is simply just another trend in policing tactics created with feigned concern for the citizen.

Transforming the urban space into a technologically, secured environment reinforces and normalizes the view that anything but subdued acceptance of the status quo is unwelcomed, and thus must be contained and stopped.

Such trends in policing tactics and the technologies that accompany them are not necessarily caused by smart cities, however, they are certainly occurring in places not even touched by ‘smart’ initiatives, rather, the trend for Big Brother looking out for little brother opens the door for new ways to intensify and entrench various forms of policing. When urban infrastructures are rigged with networks of surveillance, sensors, Face recognition and algorithms, the ability for governments to require home inspections for vague or made up emergencies certainly send a chilling message that your rights and freedoms will again suffer in the Smart Cities that are being proposed for the United Nation’s Agenda 2030 goals.

The shift in branding “smart cities” as “safe cities” is a worrying development. Not because both concepts are too different in practice, given that often the difference lies only in the name.

The problem lies in how this discursive shift normalizes how governments tend to focus on deploying new technologies for surveillance and policing under vague conceptions of safety and security, with human rights only as an afterthought, all without making anybody but a handful of people any safer.

Written by Ron Patton

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