If you ask a politician assigned to security matters today
what he or she thinks about the surveillance techniques
used to prevent crime,
there's a good chance that you'd be told about the benefits
of close-circuit camera systems.
You'd hear convincing arguments
about the additional safety in their vicinity
because they act as a crime deterrent.
Or you might hear about the virtue
of being able to track terrorists
by filing information about airline passengers
or by enforcing the use of biometric passports.
Maybe you'd find out how Trusted Computing
protects you from malicious software and viruses.
Or how scanning e-mails and eavesdropping on phone calls
helps the police find potential criminals of all kinds.
It would probably all sound great
because the idea is that you should start thinking
of these techniques as being the cream of the crop.
But let's face the not quite so obvious
but nonetheless omnipresent downside of all this.
While public cameras may actually help the police to find criminals,
modern CCTV systems like the ones used in London
are even today able to lock onto any person
the operators wish to track
using automatic facial identification.
Thus enabling the police to create
a detailed database of say
all of your movements.
The keeping of records about airline passengers flying to the US
and in addition the obligation for everyone
to submit biometric passports
are supposed to help fight terrorism.
But this also allows the secret services
to gather explicit information
about the nationality of every traveller.
Explicit information such as
your fingerprints, the colour of your eyes
and a high-resolution picture of your face.
Information you would usually expect
to be taken from suspected criminals.
Trusted Computing promises to enhance security on your PC
by only allowing certain trustworthy software
to run on your machine.
What you're not told is that the person who decides
which software you can trust
and are therefore allowed to install on your PC
will certainly not be you.
On the one hand scanning e-mails
and wiretapping phone calls for ominous keywords
could convict a few small-time criminals
but on the other it allows all sorts of people
involved in this monitoring process
to retrieve all sorts of private information.
Information you just might not want to share
with the staff of your local police station.
These symptoms can all be taken as evidence
of the slow but steady conversion
of our western societies into police states.
Our western societies claim to be liberal democracies
but our leaders try to enforce
more and more repressive laws
and instrumentalize the public fear of terror
to justify them.