In George Orwell’s 1984, “Big Brother... was... Watching You”. It was virtually impossible not to be under video surveillance. If you did something wrong or politically incorrect, the authorities would use the telescreen to shout orders at you. 1984 was a portrait of a repressive State modelled on Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Here are two ways in which George Orwell’s ideas for how telecommunication could be used for social control are only now being put into practice. They seek to control illegal or anti-social activity.
Texas Border Watch was a pilot project set up in 2006 to mobilize the citizens of Texas to keep a watch on illegal immigration across the Mexico-Texas border. During a month-long trial, more than 200,000 viewers subscribed to the Texas Border Watch website and more than 25 million hits were recorded.
This test involved putting video surveillance cameras in different locations along the 1,240-mile border, and using the internet to transmit the images.
During the month, over 13,000 emails were sent back – some alerting law enforcement officials to suspicious activity, others recommending improvements to the website or offering other comments. The website was then closed, whilst plans are being made to create a permanent Texas Border Watch web site.
Street offenders in Middlesbrough are being told off by seven talking TV cameras which have been placed in strategic locations in the town centre. The aim is to reduce anti-social behaviour and street crime.
For example, if an operative now sees someone dropping litter, they can tell them to pick it up. Or if they see an incident starting to get out of hand, they can give advice to try to calm things down. A similar "talking" system was piloted in Wiltshire in 2003.
The system is managed from a command centre in the town's main bus station and linked to Cleveland Police headquarters. A further three talking cameras are now being installed.
Big Brother Awards
Each year, the national members and affiliated organizations of Privacy International present the Big Brother Awards to the government and private sector organisations which have done the most to threaten personal privacy in their countries. Since 1998, over forty ceremonies have been held in sixteen countries and have given out hundreds of awards to some of the most powerful government agencies, individuals and corporations in those countries.
Check out Privacy International and their Big Brother Awards at: www.privacyinternational.org
Neighbourhood watch… with a webcam
You can use a webcam to keep watch on your house when you are away. This is what you do:
1. Install a webcam so that it is pointing at your house.
2. Put the video stream on your website.
3. Whenever you are away from home, find a cybercafe or internet access point. Log on, go to your website, watch to see if your house is OK.
Or find a partner who lives 12 time zones away, and agree to keep watch over his house at night, whilst he keeps watch over yours.
The world’s most boring TV show!
Is this the most boring TV programme ever? It’s a webcam where you can a cheese maturing. Mostly, it just sits on the shelf. But from time to time, someone will come and turn it or put a new label on it. If you log on, you will see a traditional hand-made cheddar cheese as it ages. In the first 100 days around 800,000 people logged on to CheddarVision to experience all this excitement. When the cheese reaches maturity, it will be auctioned off for charity.
From the US edition of “365 Ways to Change the World”
Humane Borders… saving lives of migrants crossing from Mexico to the USA
The news out of the Arizona desert could not have been more horrifying. Twelve people, migrants mostly from Veracruz, Mexico, had crossed the craggy desert into what they thought would be a promised land of new jobs and opportunity. But instead of the hoped-for new life in the United States, they met a terrible death in the desert, lost and abandoned by the "coyotes" who were supposed to guide them and finally succumbing to thirst and 115-degree temperatures.
Eleven others were rescued by the Border Patrol from the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and immediately hospitalized. Many of the survivors will never fully recover from their ordeal. Rescuers say many of the victims were discovered naked after discarding or losing their clothing, their bodies desiccated by the heat until they resembled mummies. The migrants were found scattered about 30 to 40 miles from the Mexican border and at least as many miles from their apparent target, Interstate 8 in Arizona. – reported in Salt of the Earth, an on-line resource for social justice, June 2001
Every year millions of people attempt to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. They are all looking for a better life.
There are hundreds of border crossing deaths every year, and these are just the bodies that are found.
Many are caught by the border patrol and sent back to Mexico. In one year alone, over 1.6 million people were apprehended attempting to cross the border illegally, and this was just the Southwestern section. But many do get through, and join the army of illegal migrants now settled in the USA.
There are currently 9,150 border patrol agents working along the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border who are there to try to put a halt to this flow of humans. By contrast, there are approximately 334 agents working along the 4,000-mile US-Canada border. No matter how much military presence is stationed along the southern crossing, Mexicans will continue to cross the border with the hope of a better life.
Humane Borders was founded in 2000 by Rev Robin Hoover to provide humanitarian relief to border-crossers. It has set up and maintains water tanks along the border. Dehydration is a major cause of death. It distributes health kits at migrant shelters. Their work has saved thousands of lives.
Action: You can help save lives. If you live anywhere near the Mexico-USA border, you can volunteer your time. Wherever you live, you can put together health kits and send them to Humane Borders who will distribute them to migrants.
Each kit should contain the following:
1 x hand towel
1 x wash cloth
1 x comb
1 x metal nail file or clippers
1 x bath-size bar of soap in original wrapper
1 x toothbrush in original wrapper
1 x tube toothpaste
6 x adhesive bandages
Place all the items in a one-gallon size zip-lock bag, and ship them to Humane Borders,740 East Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85719
How to cross from Mexico to the USA
“The Guide for the Mexican Migrant” was published by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations in 2005. Read the English translation at: www.borderhealth.org/files/res_282.pdf