I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

47 Responses to “Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state”

  1. Jim Saul says:

    Nice to see more calling out the blatant lies told to Congress about data gathering by the NSA.

    As always, the most shocking aspect isn’t the ubiquitous surveillance of people, it’s the simultaneous trend of increasing secrecy in both government and corporate activities. Imagine if these tools were turned around and focused on BP, Exxon, Eli Lilly, Monsanto, KBR, Halliburton, Craft International, Blackwater, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, etc.

  2. GlenBlank says:

    [Off-topic,  I have to say that I find the 'video container' style that uses an animated GIF (the ever-so-cutely named "snowcrash.gif") to simulate old-fashioned analog-TV "snow" (overlaid on the digital still from the digital video it links to), thus producing constant crawling motion in my peripheral vision while I'm trying to frickin' READ the page, is one of the most pointlessly annoying, user-hostile cutesy web-page gimmicks I've ever seen.

     Really, folks - this is  "Hey! The logo's on fire!!!", with the annoyance factor dialed up to 11.]

    • rattypilgrim says:

       I agree. It’s distracting and kind of disturbing for some reason I can’t put my finger on. Sort of like fluorescent lighting.

    • John Vance says:

      I guess I’ll chime in from the other side and say I really enjoy the new effect. It makes it much easier to determine at-a-glance what content is video and what is merely still images.

      • rattypilgrim says:

         The big white arrow on the image says “this is a video” already.

        • John Vance says:

          But something moving grabs my attention more than a static arrow.

          • rattypilgrim says:

             What if the arrow was yellow which is supposed to be the most eye catching color or what if the arrow displayed some form of motion and the image was static?

          • John Vance says:

            That could be better. I suppose the best option would be to give folks the choice. I wonder if there’s a browser plug-in out there that lets you have sort of your own CSS sheets for the pages you visit. That could potentially do the trick.

          • austinhamman says:

            @disqus_K6HgLdHBnr:disqus  yes it’s called greasemonkey and some JS knowledge.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          The big white arrow on the image says “this is a video” already.

          o rly?

          • rattypilgrim says:

             Should I have said “start button”? What?

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            What happens when you click the arrow on my embed?

          • rattypilgrim says:

             Nothing happened but your imbed wasn’t intended to begin a video like the one that was being discussed. Am I missing something?

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            That the play button tells you nothing whatsoever because you don’t know if it’s live or a still image.

          • rattypilgrim says:

             I always assume if it leads a story it’s live.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            I, on the other had, click an arrow in the middle of a jpg at least once per week.

          • rattypilgrim says:

             Voila! Antinous is your name. The internet is your game. I’m just a humble web surfer (no snark intended) and my experience is considerably limited compared to yours. Hence my unfamiliarity with unresponsive play buttons.

          • RayDuray says:

             You’re a moderator? You spell like a four year old.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            i no u r but what am i?

          • RayDuray says:

             Re: “i no u r but what am i?”

            Umm, what are you? The term asshole is one I just can’t seem to get out of my mind.

            Oh, and arrogant, pointless asshole just popped into my mind.

            Stick to being polite and learn what a moderator is, would you please? And while you are at it, would you mind acting like an adult instead of acting like a petulant four year old? Thanks. The board will appreciate your advance to civility.

      • Cary Allen says:

         There’s nothing more annoying than staring at a still image for minutes on end, pondering whether it is just a still image, or if it is a still image from a video, that can be played by clicking on it. This innovation really solves the problem!

        • John Vance says:

          I really had no idea that people felt passionate enough about this issue to be assholes about it. Good grief.

    • Cynical says:

       Yeh, I’m with you on the “infuriating” vote. That said, you can adblock snowcrash.gif by itself and it’ll go back to “thank-god-I-don’t-have-an-analog-display-device-anymore” digital clarity.

      • GlenBlank says:

        Good suggestion.  But in the end, I ended up just adding a line of CSS to my user stylesheet:

        .video-snow {display:none !important;}

        Works like a charm; no plug-in needed. :-)

        So as long as no other web-page uses a CSS class called “video-snow” for some necessary element, I guess I’m good. :-)

    • benher says:

      Ditto.
      The absurdly large arrow is sufficient to convince me that a click will induce motion…
      The snow just aggravates my  Skeuomophilamization – induced PTSD…

  3. hypnosifl says:

    I don’t think having a lot of cameras around is automatically a bad thing–the Boston bombers might never have been caught if not for them–but christ, that story with the French guy five minutes in was ridiculous, there really need to be laws in place saying they can’t get a warrant to search you (or your home) or put you on a terror watchlist solely because some algorithm flagged the way you were walking as suspicious.

  4. Namban says:

    Thank you for solidfying for certain, in documentary form, my reason for never returning to the UK again in my lifetime.

    This shit needs to end. We have fundamentally subverted our liberty for the illusion of security around the world. I hope I see an end to this trend before I die an old man.

  5. LennStar says:

    The Andrej Holm “case” is blatently rediculous.
    He was arrested for working in the field of gentryfication as an academic. He was suspect because he used “leftist” vocabulary (wonder! leftist talking about such a topic and using academic words!), because he had access to books on the topic (at the local university library for example) and – last but not least – for being intelligent. (Which makes of course sense in an Orwellian state. Intelligent is dangerous.)

    During observation (which he didn’t know) he was conspicious because he forgot to bring his mobile phone to a talk with his friends in a cafe (because it was harder to wiretap him). It was also conspicious behavior to walk back to his house shortly after leaving (because he forgot something).

    All what the police had was things like this – after 2 years observation – which just proofed how good a criminal he was.
    And for that he got an evening show-off in Tagesschau. A helicopter flow in “the leader of a terror cell”. Pictures like that not seen since the RAF some 20 years ago.

    Oh, and during the trials he got another SWAT-searching of his rooms because his mother asked “Whats with the content of the black  bag?” answer: “It’s here”.
    The content was the paperwork from the trials whith which he just came back from before the judge.  

  6. skyhawk1 says:

    Coming to the U.S. sooner than you think. 

  7. incipientmadness says:

     The UK should have known this was coming. They were clearly warned about this back in 1982.

  8. crummett says:

    Professor Orwell? Seriously?

  9. Ivor Williams says:

    Makes me glad I’m leaving London for good in two months.

    Dammit, now THEY know that too now.

    But now I know, they know.

  10. pseudoacacia says:

    Just wait ’til they can search through people’s phone pics in real time. All that conspicuous CCTV will no longer be needed.

  11. BradBell says:

    They need something like this in Greece!

    (Context: Greece is folding in on itself. The most extreme casualty of the banking crisis; dealt a losing hand in EU immigration policy; it struggles with economic collapse, lost generations and the rise of fascism. Perfect timing – total surveillance!)

    I am actually quite shocked. I had no idea the police could legally do anything they want. If they extend these powers they’ll soon be blowing our brains out silently from a distance. People’s heads will just explode and a cleanup crew will arrive instantly. Then all the data about you will disappear from computers everywhere, which will make forgetting you ever existed relatively convenient for everyone. Happy Birthday!

  12. Ygret says:

    Tie this together with the fascinating and disturbing pieces here and on TomDispatch I’ve been reading recently on “elite panic” and what we have is a perfect storm of authoritarian disaster just waiting for the perfect storm and there will be a lot of dead people in a city square somewhere soon, all at the hands of police stormtroopers who are “keeping us safe”.  

    In the west we now live in states where the government sees the people as public enemy number one.  They believe we are planning massive insurrections and will strike at the first sign of a weakening of state control, such as a natural disaster.  This is so royally fucked up.  First, the only people planning to profit from disaster are the megacorporations who just so happen to completely control the police state, so the danger “we” are being protected from is mythical while the real danger comes from those who control the “protectors”.  At the same time, the state is totally failing in protecting the people with its traditional roles:  it has allowed the rule of law to deteriorate such that the elites are allowed, nay encouraged, to steal from us in small and large ways on a near-constant basis causing more and more destitution and desperation, while the government denies services that will at least partially ameliorate these thefts, all in the name of a systemic impoverishment innocuously called “austerity”.  The regular people have been paying the price for the elites’ thieving and graft until 50 million in the USA are on food stamps (that republican moral midgets want to gut) and youth unemployment is upwards of 50%+ in Spain and even higher in Greece.  People are starving and dying in western nations that only 5 years ago were cosmopolitan and thriving, all because the “elites” (god I hate that word) thought the most important thing that governments needed to do after banksters caused the world economy to collapse was to SAVE THE BANKS.  After saving the banks the elites looked at national debt levels (that were “high” due to the crisis and its aftermath) and screamed that “entitlements” and “the welfare state” could no longer be afforded as they had caused this crisis and were now even further weakening the state.  SOVEREIGN DEBT CRISIS OMB!!! Never mind they had created the “crisis” by moving the private debt of banks onto government balance sheets, thereby saving their own elite asses from bankruptcy, and never mind that debt-to-gdp ratios they use to determine how close to sovereign bankruptcy “we” are (which is neoliberal third-world impoverishment tactic number 1) are meaningless in a fiat currency world.  If hunger, unemployment, and mental and physical impoverishment were not necessary during the first great depression they are certainly unnecessary now, in a time of incredible abundance.  All this austerity and societal breakdown are optional, and the option is being taken by those who are in control.  They are moral monsters who hide their inhumanity and evil behind a veil of technocratic competence, and sensible, very serious mannerism.

    Step back a moment and what stands out is a massive case of projection on the part of our vicious and sociopathic elites:  THEY are the ones who panic in a crisis and grab all they can for themselves. They are the ones who are ready to destroy governments and nations in order to get what they see as belonging to them.  They are the ones who will massacre and destroy at the drop of  hat, and they have instilled that mentality into THEIR trained stormtroopers whose main function now is not to protect and serve the people but to protect and serve property.  They have created the conditions for a perfect storm.  Locking down entire cities to catch one teenage “terrorist” while corporations kill many thousands with impunity and nary a mention.

    All this austerity, distrust and fear is totally unnecessary yet it is the last thing our authoritarian masters will give up.  Who believes there are terrorists under every rock and behind every bush?  After 12 years of insane government overreach the people are starting to see that terrorism, while scary, is least likely to hurt us.  Our government, its masters and their stormtroopers… they are the scary ones.  Don’t ask if our countries are turning into authoritarian, fascist police states.  They already have.

    I will finish with some words from a recent speech by Pope Francis.  Far be it for me to look to the Catholic church for succor, but it seems the new pope is actually a man of the people after all:

    “Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

    • RayDuray says:

      This is the most brilliant, thoughtful and adult thing I’ve read on this website in the five years I’ve been following Boing Boing. At least as far as I can recall. You are obviously not one of the editors or moderators here. You’re real. Amazing. I’m [stealing] redistributing this. Hope you don’t mind.

      http://www.occupybendor.org/news.php?1911

      • Ygret says:

        Absolutely not, please feel free to take anything you want from it :).  I’m just so damned angry at what passes for thought amongst our “leadership” and intelligentsia.  I listen to “progressive” news and its so complacent, so peaceful and “reasonable” sounding, in the face of a massive depression and police-state lockdown of civil society.  At what point will people stop being so damned reasonable?

  13. tfd2 says:

    so, what’s the best way to avoid notice from all the CCTVs?  going to london in a few months – can’t decide if i want to act suspicious to see what happens, or avoid notice altogether.  

    • Namban says:

      You could wear a ballcap with extremely high discharge IR leds in the brim, people wouldn’t see it, but it would block out normal CCTV cameras from seeing your face, creating a localized whiteout around your head for overloading their IR sensors.

      That only works on low level CCTV cameras. From what I understand, many have compensators for such IR filtering, and you’re screwed if it’s a pure thermal (high spectrum IR) camera.

      In short, there is no way to avoid being filmed, unless you can invent an invisibility cloak.

      That’s kinda the point. You can’t avoid it man. And if you did do the ballcap thing, it would instantly track you MORE as an odd event/item of interest. You can only hope to blend in by being so normal you don’t arouse suspicion, or, go buy a life-like mask, and take it off indoors.

      But then there’s always retina scanning at a distance, and ultimately, advanced gait tracking, that can identify people just by the way they walk- something very hard to fake.

      The ultimate point is anything you try to do to evade being filmed, would ultimately make you an instant standout for increased filming. You can’t win.

      That is precisely why I will absolutely, NEVER go to the UK again, unless this shit goes away. I have nothing to hide at all, but that’s not the point. You shouldn’t be watched this way, it is indecent, unjust, intrusive, overweildy, and WRONG.

      Until people start refusing en masse to go outside in britain, or to visit it, due to this, it will only get worse.

    • BradBell says:

      Photograph CCTV cameras. When stopped, proudly tell them London is the Surveillance Capital of the World! Play the role of an earnest and bumbling foreign tourist. Try to befriend anyone who stops you (mostly security guards, who you should confuse with the police.) Keep saying “Surveillance Capital of the World” as if it’s a great achievement.

      Oh. Right. I forgot this was going to be taken out of context and used against me.  
      CONTEXT !!! This is satire. It is not advice or incitation!!! CONTEXT 
      –END

  14. kizi friv says:

    I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea.

  15. Genre Slur says:

    *Watches documentary, begins humming*
    “BRAZILLLLLLL,where hearts were entertaining twoooo…”

  16. BradBell says:

    Next, imagine what happens when you take the system of surveillance described above, and link it to a Hellfire missile. It’s called a signature strike. It’s cheaper and faster than the UK process of total surveillance followed by a trial, or extraordinary rendition. In Pakistan, we simply kill all the false positives and let Allah sort them out.

    Reference:
    https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/339516332192194560

  17. Chirpy says:

    The irony of finding this on FB, and the hilarity of an ITunes update during.

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