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6 Race & Class 51(3)
another meaning as the ability to gather, hold and analyse data exponentially reached a new critical mass. No longer limited by capacity, mega-computers could now hold megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes and zettabytes of data. Databases could store masses of detailed and accessible personal information linked to digital images, fingerprints and DNA. Moreover, databases could ‘talk to each other’, enabling data-mining – later to be enshrined in the EU as ‘interoperability’ and the ‘principle of availability’.13 But it’s not only people’s pasts, personal profiles, physical attributes and domiciles that are detailed. The use of CCTV cameras has mushroomed alongside the emerging satellite location and tracking of goods, vehicles and people. Now nanotechnology, potentially incorporated in even the most minor of commercial purchases, promises even more precise tracking. Jeremy Bentham’s nineteenth-century panopticon – a prison designed so that all inmates could be continuously watched while the watcher remained unseen – may become an alarming twenty-first century reality.
All of these technological changes were nearing commercial viability at the turn of the twenty-first century – all the transnationals needed was a ‘green light’ to extend the new technologies entering everyday life in society at large to big state projects with mega-bucks and guaranteed markets: 11 September provided that green light. At a stroke, gone were notions of privacy and rights; if it was technologically possible, why should it not be introduced (as former UK prime minister Tony Blair argued)? So, in the autumn of 2001, the governments of the US and the EU looked to the agencies, both internal (police and security) and external (intelligence-gathering, targeting, apprehending or neutralising) for answers to this perceived new threat. Some of the responses were directly related to tackling terrorism but many others were not. However, many of the measures ostensibly concerned with terrorism extended well beyond the initial remit, and others had little or nothing to do with tackling it.14 Nonetheless, law enforcement agencies turned to the multinationals to develop technologies to meet their ‘needs’, duly reporting back to governments on the costs and changes to the law required.
It was perhaps inevitable – given the attack on the Twin Towers – that the first lucrative market to open up for exploiting the new surveillance market was air travel. If those coming into the US and the EU could be checked and controlled, terrorists could be stopped from entering. But who were the terrorists, apart from the obvious suspects? In the perceived ‘clash of civilisations’ that underpinned and legitimated the war on terror, all migrants from the Third World were potential ‘terrorists’ and, if not ‘terrorists’, then organised gangsters or simply potential criminals. All the arguments for ‘Fortress Europe’, constructed since 1988, were back on the agenda. (One megalomaniac proposal, though, was a step too far, even for the EU. In 1997 the Austrian Council Presidency’s draft Action Plan to combat illegal immigration included the notion that everyone in the world should be fingerprinted!)
The EU-funded European Biometrics Portal in its Biometrics in Europe: trend report 2007 could not have put the new direction better: Tony Bunyan: Just over the horizon 7
The development of Biometrics is an outcome of globalisation, which is not only technological, but also political and economic: the world is now a global place for commerce, migrations, trusted exchanges of all kind of information and values. This creates new opportunities as well as new risks, crises, frauds, illegal traffics or even terrorism.
The pathology What all this means is that the EU and its member states are, today, set on a path which will, in just a few years time, turn this into the most surveilled, monitored region in the world.15
It is not just about placing everyone under surveillance to catch and deter criminals (major and petty), it is also about sanctioning those whose behaviour is deemed to be unacceptable (‘anti-social’).16 Whereas the justification for such exceptional measures is usually the need to fight terrorism and organised crime, the scope of many proposals is extended to either a long list of ‘serious crimes’ or, more frequently, to crime in general – that is, any crime, however minor. So what is to stop the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) or the security and intelligence agencies (SECINT) from profiling the personal life of a lawyer who is defending a well-publicised terrorist or villain? Or checking on the research, emails, sources, habits and life-style of a journalist delving into a sensitive area? And using this intelligence to pre-empt a planned court defence or news story?
Here, it is important to make the distinction between the surveillance society and the policing state, though they may well overlap and there is great potential synergy between the two. The examples I have outlined above pertain more to the policing state, and its use of the armoury of information that technological development and an authoritarian political will have made available and accessible. By and large, the surveillance society most aptly applies to our everyday lives, work, shopping, eating out, banking, travelling; our interaction through commercial transactions with major, financial, commercial and corporate interests many times each week. Collectively these bodies gather masses of often unchecked, personal data which is stored and exchanged to determine whether to employ us, give us a loan or a credit rating.17 Such data is passed around the EU and outside.18 But, and this is where the synergy comes in, it is also made available to the state to make its profiling of an individual more complete. For example, before being fingerprinted to get a new passport (plus an obligatory ID card), people in the UK have to attend an ‘enrolment centre’ where they are first questioned to prove ‘they are who they are’ – this is based on up to 200 questions including data gathered from multinationals’ databases, such as banks and credit card companies.
The ‘policing state’, on the other hand, refers to the powers exercised by state officials, particularly coercive powers to detain and question, under a plethora of new laws and administrative measures. For example, in the UK, fingerprints and