Patrice Riemens on Sat, 25 Aug 2007 16:44:50 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Naomi Klein in Montebello: CCTV surveillance as infotainment ...

original to:,,2155352,00.html

Democracy's new dawn is on CCTV: the security state as infotainment

So keen are America's leaders to hear dissent they're videotaping the
dissenters. Welcome to a world of total surveillance

Naomi Klein
Friday August 24, 2007
The Guardian

As protesters gathered recently outside the Security and Prosperity
Partnership summit in Montebello, Quebec, to confront George Bush,
Felipe Calderón, the Mexican president, and Stephen Harper, the
Canadian prime minister, Associated Press reported this surreal
detail: "Leaders were not able to see the protesters in person, but
they could watch the protesters on TV monitors inside the hotel ...
Cameramen hired to ensure that demonstrators would be able to pass
along their messages to the three leaders sat idly in a tent full of
audio and video equipment ... A sign on the outside of the tent said,
'Our cameras are here today providing your right to be seen and heard.
Please let us help you get your message out. Thank You.'"

Yes, it's true: like contestants on a reality TV show, protesters at
the SPP meeting were invited to vent into video cameras, their rants
to be beamed to "protest-trons" inside the summit enclave. It was
security state as infotainment - Big Brother meets, well, Big Brother.
The spokesperson for Prime Minister Harper explained that although
protesters were herded into empty fields, the video link meant that
their right to political speech was protected. "Under the law, they
need to be seen and heard, and they will be."

It is an argument with sweeping implications. If videotaping activists
meets the legal requirement that dissenting citizens have the right
to be seen and heard, what else might fit the bill? How about all
the other security cameras that patrolled the summit - the ones
filming demonstrators as they got on and off buses and peacefully
walked down the street? What about the mobile phone calls that were
intercepted, the meetings that were infiltrated, the emails that were
read? According to the new rules set out in Montebello, all these
actions may soon be recast not as infringements on civil liberties but
the opposite: proof of our leaders' commitment to direct, unmediated
consultation. Elections are a crude tool for taking the public
temperature - these methods allow constant, exact monitoring of our
beliefs. Think of surveillance as the new participatory democracy; of
wiretapping as the political equivalent of MTV's Total Request Live.

Protesters in Montebello complained that while they were locked out,
chief executives from about 30 of the largest corporations in North
America - from Wal-Mart to Chevron - were part of the official summit.
But perhaps they had it backwards: the CEOs had only an hour and 15
minutes of face time with the leaders. The activists were being "seen
and heard" around the clock. So instead of shouting about police-state
tactics, maybe they should have said: "Thank you for listening." (And
reading, and watching, and photographing, and data-mining.)

The Montebello "seen and heard" rule also casts the target of the
protests in a new light. The SPP is described in the leaders' final
statement as an "ambitious" plan to "keep our borders closed to
terrorism yet open to trade". In other words, a merger of the North
American Free Trade Agreement and the homeland security complex -
Nafta with spy planes. The model dates back to September 11, when Paul
Cellucci, the US ambassador to Canada, pronounced that in the new era,
"security will trump trade". But there was an out clause: the trade
on which the economies of Canada and Mexico depend could continue
uninterrupted, as long as the governments of those countries were
willing to welcome the tentacles of the US war on terror. Canadian and
Mexican business leaders leaped to surrender, aggressively pushing
their governments to give in to US demands for "integrated" security
in order to keep the goods and the tourists flowing.

Almost six years later, the business leaders at Montebello - under
the banner of the North American Competitiveness Council, an official
wing of the SPP - were still holding up "thickening borders" as the
bogeyman. The fix? According to the SPP website, "technological
solutions, improved information-sharing, and, potentially, the use
of biometric identifiers". >From experience we know what this means:
continent-wide no-fly lists, integrated databases, as well as the
$2.5bn contract to Boeing to build a "virtual fence" on the northern
and southern borders of the United States, equipped with unmanned

In short, under the SPP vision of the continent, "thick" borders
will soon be replaced with a nearly invisible web of continental
surveillance - almost all of it run for profit. Two members of the SPP
advisory group - Lockheed Martin and General Electric - have already
received multibillion-dollar contracts from the US government to build
this web. In the Bush era, security doesn't trump big business; it may
be the biggest business of all.

In the run-up to the SPP summit, a spate of surveillance scandals
helped paint a fuller picture. First, Congress not only failed to
curtail the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping but
opened the door to snooping into bank records, phone call patterns and
even physical searches - all without any onus to prove the subject is
a threat.

Next, the Boston Globe reported on plans to link thousands of CCTV
cameras on streets, subways, apartment buildings and businesses
into networks capable of tracking suspects in real time. And on
August 15 confirmation came that the National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency - the arm of the American military that runs spy planes and
satellites over enemy territory - would be fully integrated into the
infrastructure of domestic intelligence gathering and local policing,
becoming the "eyes" to the National Security Agency's "ears".

Add a few more hi-tech tools - biometric IDs, facial-recognition
software, networked databases of "suspects", GPS bundled into ever
more electronic devices - and you have something like the world of
total surveillance most recently portrayed in The Bourne Ultimatum.

Which brings us back to the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Who
needs clumsy old border checks when the authorities are making sure we
are seen and heard at all times - in high definition, online and off,
on land and from the sky? Security is the new prosperity. Surveillance
is the new democracy.

· Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism, is published next month; a version of this article appears
in the Nation

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