Blind Man with a Pistol


Police on my Back

If you are a British citizen, you should be furious. The severe and brazen violence exercised by the London Metropolitan police upon its citizens during and after the G20 protests is the direct result of unbridled and rampant expansion of executive and coercive powers of the British state. The cream of the crop such expansion has sown is the alarming murder of Ian Tomlinson, a non-protestor who was batonned while walking away from police with his hands in his pockets. If you are a person of colour in Britian, this observation probably comes as no surprise. But the difference now is that the thugs responsible have been caught on tape. Indeed, one of the most disturbing revelations to come out of the profuse video evidence is that when  a police officer backhanded Nicola Fisher at a vigil for Tomlinson’s death, she remonstrated “Do you realise there are three film crews filming you?”  The police officer, who had his badge number obscured so as to evade identification, responded by swinging a baton at her knees.

There is no end to the outrage these incidents should effect. The 2005 murder by police of Charles De Menezes and the recent inquest revealed police tactics: lie, obfuscate and impede justice until the evidence is so indisputable that backpedalling becomes unavoidable. The six officers responsible remain on the force. It appears that this strategy has become standard policy. Police announced the ‘death’ more than three hours after it occured, with an additional insidious claim that protestors impeded health care workers from accessing Tomlinson. Although the IPCC knew that Tomlinson had had contact with the police, they did not inform Tomlinson’s family. An inquiry was not launched until the Guardian published a video showing Tomlinson walking away from officers with his hands in his pockets, severely beaten to the ground in an unprovoked attack by London’s finest. An initial pathologist report, also delayed, conducted by Dr Freddy Patel who, it was later revealed, was twice reprimanded for dubious ethical behaviour, concluded Tomlinson died of a ‘heart-attack’. A second postmortem discovered Tomlinson died instead of internal bleeding. There should only be one question echoing through Scotland Yard and the British public right now:  How is this not murder?

Britain is a world leader in CCTV cameras, keeping a policing and surveillant eye on its public. It has baselessly and dangerously expanded the maximum time police can detain a terror suspect, first to 28 days in 2005 (after Tony Blair requested a 90-day period), then briefly to 42 days in 2008 before it was defeated after public and opposition party outcry. The next longest detention period by a Western democracy is Australia with 12. The list goes on: national ID cards, DNA databases and municipal politicians who have access to police surveillance to spy on innocent civilians and local political rivals. The unrelenting result of these coercive policies is a police force that has come to conceive of its executive power as inviolate, boundless and absolute.

Big Brother is not only the most popular show on British television, it is the archetype by which the state models its public policy. Now that Britain has seen the fruits of these oppressive labours, it is time to take them back. Of course, the task is much more difficult now that a culture of surveillance and coercion is firmly established, but the British public has seen its closed-circuit image and it does not like what it sees. It is important now more than ever to honour the deaths of De Menezes and Tomlinson by reclaiming our right to public autonomy and show these thugs the door.

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Cyberspace Cops

Back in March, I referred to case of alleged academic dishonesty between Chris Avenir, facebook, and Ryerson Univeristy as a question of policing, surveillance and coercion. Ryerson University, I argued, was attempting to colonize cyberspace in their interests, while the students’ conception of what one should expect online was very different. Well, now it seems, this case has surfaced outside of academia. And the stakes seem a bit higher:

Via Google News I hear of a new Facebook Application: GMP Updates. The application, also known as “The Greater Manchester Police Updates,” gives you a feed of crime updates and links to a form for reporting crimes, according to the article. It’s the first time I’ve seen a law enforcement based Facebook application…

Law enforcement use of applications will significantly expand the reach of what law enforcement can see, and also provide a more surreptitious viewing ability. It’s been noted that some 90% of popular applications have access to more information than they need, but this seems like a significant first — giving law enforcement more access than it needs. Why the expansion? Because application providers get access to just about all of your Facebook information, as described in the “Platform Application Terms of Use“…

That’s not all that is happening. When you add an application, by default it can see what you can see on Facebook. So you’re also sharing your friends’ information with law enforcement. Your friends may opt-out of this sharing, but until they do you’ll be the eyes and ears of law enforcement by adding a law enforcement-based Facebook app.

This maneuver by the Manchester Police, while framed as a great way to “crack crime,” should render blatantly obvious that the Internet is not public space. It is land up for grabs, and the Manchester Police are making their play for it. The kind of logic that absolves Ryerson and the GMP of their aggressive power play is the same kind that George W. Bush and his cronies enact to justify their wire-tap scheme, roundly condemned as an assault on civil liberties. Why, when it comes to cyberspace, should we think any differently?

Hat-tip to April Reign.