Here Be Dragons
The Financial Times confidently predicts that the Ring of Steel, a dense network of surveillance that covers the approaches to the key central district of London, will provide the necessary evidence to convict the bomb attackers.
The would-be car bombers who left their vehicles in London's West End in the early hours of yesterday morning would have provided huge volumes of photographic and video evidence as to their identities.
"Central London is one of the most intensively watched areas in the world," said Beverli Rhodes, head of security for Capita Symonds, an infrastructure consultancy that manages the capital's so-called ring of steel.
The ring of steel monitors 52 entrances to central London, taking photographs of vehicle number plates, the vehicles themselves as well as separate images of drivers. The locations of the monitoring points are not publicly disclosed.
For those unfamiliar with the Ring of Steel, Wikipedia has further details.
The ring of steel is the popular name for the security and surveillance cordon surrounding the City of London, installed to deter the IRA and other threats. Roads entering the city are narrowed and have small chicanes to force drivers to slow down and be recorded by CCTV cameras. These roads typically have a concrete median with a sentry box where police can stand guard and monitor traffic. Some roads have been closed to traffic entirely. Despite the term "ring of steel", the roadblocks and chicanes are actually created with concrete blocks, sometimes plastic coated, that are wedged together. ... The boundary is also marked by statues of dragons that vary in size and colour, but all carry the City's coat of arms.
But impressive as it is, the "Ring of Steel" is simply the innermost layer of a much wider network of blanket surveillance. Britain is arguably the most surveilled society in Europe. Here's the baseline for Europe.
The legislative body of the European Union passed the Data Retention Directive on 2005-12-15. It requires telecommunication operators to implement mass surveillance of the general public through retention of metadata on telecommunications and to keep the collected data at the disposal of various governmental bodies for substantially long times. Access to this information is not required to be limited to investigation of serious crimes, nor is a warrant required for access.
"Amongst the western democracies, the United Kingdom is perhaps the country subject to the most surveillance. A YouGov poll published on December 4, 2006, indicated that 79% of those interviewed agreed that Britain has become a 'surveillance society’." Apart from the huge and comprehensive databases that track individuals and children, the UK is studded with video and audio surveillance systems.
In 2004 it was estimated that the United Kingdom was monitored by over four million CCTV cameras, some with a facial recognition capacity, with practically all town centres under surveillance. Serious concerns have been raised that the facial biometric information which will be stored on a central database through the ID Card scheme could be linked to facial recognition systems and state-owned CCTV cameras to identify individuals anywhere in the UK, or even to compile a database of wanted citizens' movements without their knowledge or consent. Currently, in the City of Westminster, microphones are being fitted next to CCTV cameras. Westminster council claims that they are simply part of an initiative against urban noise, and will not "be used to snoop", but comments from a council spokesman appear to imply that they have been deliberately designed to capture an audio stream alongside the video stream, rather than simply reporting noise levels.
The various sensors are linked to create a system which can track individuals moving through London.
In London, the Oyster card payment system can track the movement of individual people through the public transport system, although an anonymous option is available, while the London congestion charge uses computer imaging to track car number plates.
Encouraged by their success, the British authorities plan to expand the system to other parts of the realm.
Across the country efforts are underway to increasingly closely track all road vehicle movements, initially using a nationwide network of roadside cameras connected to automatic number plate recognition systems ("Project Laser"). In the longer term mandatory onboard vehicle telematics systems are also suggested, to facilitate road charging. The British Police hold records of 5.5 million fingerprints and over 3.4 million DNA samples on the National DNA Database. There is increasing use of roadside fingerprinting - using new police powers to check identity. Concerns have been raised over the unregulated use of biometrics in schools, affecting children as young as three.
In 2002 the UK government announced plans to extend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, so that at least 28 government departments would be given powers to browse citizens' web, email, telephone and fax records, without a warrant and without a subject's knowledge.
In the late 1930s, the British pioneered a network of radars and interceptors which became the world's first integrated air defense. It looks like the same concepts are slowly, but surely creeping into the other undefended spaces of the world. Newsmax reports on the beginnings of New York's own "Ring of Steel".
New York City police are installing 505 new surveillance cameras around the city and seeking to safeguard lower Manhattan with a "ring of steel" that could monitor hundreds of thousands of people and cars a day, authorities revealed on Monday. ... The city is paying for the cameras using $9.1 million in homeland security funds, according to the New York Daily News.
Compared to London's massive defenses, the New York system are relatively underdeveloped but there is no question that if Americans go in for it in a big way, they have the technological and financial capacity to leave the British surveillance coverage in the dust.
Hooray, right? For once the New York Times is completely on target when it compares these defenses to the medieval castles and walled towns. The new urban fortress, or "Ring of Steel" if you prefer, may be a sign of declining rather than rising security, just as the emergence of stone walled towns following the fall of Rome really indicated a world where pockets of law and order struggled to keep afloat above a sea of banditry and lawlessness. Already gated communities are the rage in the Third World. In Baghdad there are neighborhood watches to keep track of outsiders. Perhaps we are witnessing the next step in that development. The digitally gated city.
One of the supreme ironies of recent history is that the policies and attitudes which declared all borders open, passports unnecessary, wars obsolete, all cultures equivalent and "soft power" the only kind that could be countenanced may have led directly to rise of fearful police states: states unwilling to venture out to challenge their enemies in the surrounding forest and content to remain huddled within the illusory security of their battlements. Watchful of everything within their own narrow courts and ignorant of the world without. Defeated, first of all, in their minds.