Policing On the Global Scale

On the relationship between Current Military Operations, Crowd Control Techniques, the Technologies of Surveillance and Control and Their Increasing Intrusion into our Daily Lives




    Over the past few decades immense changes have taken place throughout the world. They have affected every sphere of existence: the social, the economic, the political, the technological, the environmental, the cultural and the sphere of daily life. A complex intertwining of social processes has spread a network of control over the globe that serves the interests of the rulers of this world while having devastating effects upon those they rule.

    There has been an uprooting of vast numbers of the exploited, driven by dispossession, ethnic conflicts, political upheaval, poverty and ecological disaster to wander in search of survival. In turn, this increases the precariousness of workers who are really nothing more than replaceable cogs in the machinery of production. Precariousness is, in fact, the primary experience of the vast majority of people in this world, inevitably leading to restlessness, a sense of desperation and often irrational expressions of rage. So the spread of the network of control corresponds with the spread of an increasingly uncontrollable situation.

    The concept of “globalization” as it has been developed in academic, media and activist circles has done far more to mystify than to clarify these developments. For the most part, the anti-globalization movement has placed its emphasis on protesting the excesses of multi-national corporations and international economic organizations while portraying the state as a mere errand-runner for these institutions that merely needs to be reclaimed by “the people”. Even the radical anti-capitalist wing of this movement tends to belittle the power of the state. In fact, the state and capital form a two-headed monster. In their present forms neither one can exist without the other, because their interest in maintaining wealth and power are thoroughly intertwined. So the globalization of capital is also the globalization of the state, and therefore of the systems of domination, repression and control that comprise the state.

    The global nature and strength of state power is quite clearly manifested in the transformations in military and police activity that has occurred over the past few decades. Military and policing operations become increasingly similar both in purpose and methodology. Technologies of control are being developed that can be used with equal ease by the police and the military. Militarized police activity is spreading across the globe, from Somalia to the Middle East to the streets of Genoa, and also into the spaces and moments of our daily lives.

    This spread of militarized police activity, in fact, forms the essential threads of the global network of state control that is the necessary counterpart to the global network of commodity exchange. This network is embodied in the various technological and institutional systems through which information, orders, goods and personnel flow. Like all networks, it is decentralized*, its nodes spread throughout the social terrain. This network form is what allows social control to spread across the globe. But like any net it is full of holes, and though it may appear strong as a whole, its actual threads are quite vulnerable.

    The purpose of this pamphlet is to briefly examine policing on the global scale. I will talk about the transformation of military activity, the nature of policing, the methods and technologies of crowd control and social control, the policing of daily life and the integral relationship of policing with legal and prison systems. My aim is to show that all of these systems are thoroughly inter-related and beyond reform, that they constitute the essential practice of state power and that only the destruction of the entire network will be able to ameliorate the harms it causes.


The “Revolution in Military Affairs”


    With the fall of the Soviet Union, the nature of the military activity of the powerful states has decisively changed. War, as it has generally been conceived – the contention between nation-states over power, territory and resources and old-style wars of conquest – no longer serve the great powers since they already have practical control over the globe. Therefore, military experts say that there has been a “revolution in military affairs”. The nature of this “revolution” reflects the situation of largely unified world order of domination: the great powers have no place left to conquer; they simply have a world of subjects to keep under control.

    Over the past two decades, the military activities of the United States, the United Nations and NATO have been so-called “operations other than war”. This term refers to a wide variety of military missions including operations against “non-state actors” (a term that includes any non-state group that makes an organized use of arms in its activities including drug cartels, terrorist groups, insurgent movements and so on), containment of civil unrest or of the effects of ecological, social or economic disasters, “humanitarian” interventions in ethnic conflicts and civil wars, the capture of specific individuals who are deemed “criminal” by any of the great powers (e.g., Noriega of Panama). In short, the enforcement and maintenance of social control.

    Such a task is inevitably endless, particularly since the global order came into existence only at a huge expense to the environment and the daily lives of the vast majority of people. Millions upon millions of people have been thrown off the land on which they had lived by the expansion of capital into the last corners of the earth, either through direct expropriation or indirect poisoning of the land from which they once drew their life. They are forced into immigration or a miserable and often illegal existence in the shantytowns on the edges of many big cities. This, in turn, increases the precariousness of all the exploited, and the fear and anger this creates are bound to produce some level of violence. It is therefore no surprise that during the 1990’s, the United States was involved in 34 “operations other than war” – in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Haiti, Liberia, the former Yugoslavia, etc. – and several of these operations are still continuing. In case anyone is unclear about the levels of violence that may occur in “operations other than war”, Operation Desert Storm was included in the list of 34 such operations mentioned above. Ironically, in describing this “operation other than war”, the compiler of the list refers to the “air war” and the “ground war”.

    The need of the rulers of this world to police their subjects on a global scale required this “revolution in military affairs”, because the old rules of war that worked in governing wars of conquest or wars between approximately equal powers do not work for policing a dominated but restless world. The protocols of war are too slow for emergency situations, and in the present world the normal state is one of emergency. The concept of “operations other than war” eradicates the need for such protocols as declarations of war. It creates a framework for military operations that is intended to deal with the reality of ongoing disaster. At the same time, it quite openly reveals the reality of the world order in which we live. The aims of these operations are often expressed in humanitarian or otherwise moral terms, but the very idea that the great powers and the international organizations can intervene in these emergencies at will openly implies that they are really in charge everywhere.

    Although the concept of “operations other than war” has made declarations of war and similar protocols unnecessary for military interventions by the most powerful states, it brings its own implicit rules. Since these operations are basically police operations, they require the appropriate protocols. Perhaps the most significant of these is that of the use of “minimum force”. In a police action, the military forces are theoretically not dealing with an enemy nation, but with an emergency situation or the alleged “criminal” activity of specific people (e.g., Milosevic or Saddam Hussein), so civilian casualties should be kept to a minimum.* And this requires the development and use of methods and technologies capable of operating in this manner.


Psychological operations (psy-ops)


    I am not interested in presenting a long list of all the methods and technologies used in military “operations other than war”. Rather I want to present some general trends that help to further clarify the police nature of the military operations of the major powers and that may furthermore help to show the connections between these operations and the activity of the civil police forces within a particular nation-state.

    The main function of the police is to maintain the “social peace”. But what this really means is the maintenance of the current social order. This clarification is necessary, because the methods and techniques of policing are certainly not non-violent. Social peace has always only meant the suppression of any disorder that threatens the existing social structure. But an excess of force will tend to provoke a response from the exploited that could threaten the social order. So it is in the best interest of those who are policing to seek to develop some level of compliance and even sympathy among those they are policing.

    Thus, propaganda war and psychological operations (psy-ops) play a significant role in “operations other than war”. The term “psy-ops” understandably raises fears of secret subconscious manipulations and technological interference with brain-wave activity. Such techniques are being researched. But, in current practice, psy-ops are generally much more straightforward. The Marine Corps’ use of acid rock music to try to blast Noriega (who apparently hated it) out of his palace in Panama would have almost been humorous, if it weren’t such a blatant expression of US arrogance. And then there were the food packets dropped on Afghanistan, before the US/UN military forces went in, intended to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghani people. Although both of these are rather crude examples, they indicate two different uses for psy-op methods: to undermine the morale of an enemy and to win the support of a population. A less crude example of psy-ops is the radio station, created by the US government to broadcast into predominantly Islamic nations. It functions in the same way as Radio Free Europe of the cold war era. It broadcasts Western pop music and cultural propaganda intended to make the Western way of life attractive to the youth of these countries.

    But the propaganda war also has a role to play in dealing with the home populations of the powerful states that are involved in carrying out police actions. Even in the United States, most people have some awareness that the world can no longer be looked upon in simplistic nationalistic terms. Military activity rarely takes the form of wars between approximately equal nations. Rather, it is generally the intervention of powerful states and international state institutions (like the UN and NATO) in the affairs of lesser nations. So propaganda justifying such intervention in ways that will appeal to as large a portion of the population as possible is necessary. Of course, fear is the greatest motivator to lead people to accept the state’s use of violence, and in the current world situation, fear is a constant underlying feeling. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the so-called “communist” threat, the US government had trouble finding a convincing external threat to justify its military budget. The “war on drugs” was utterly unconvincing from a military perspective, and the few, small-time acts of terrorism that occurred in the US in the 1990’s didn’t evoke a strong popular response. But the attacks of September 11, 2001 gave the American state (and other states around the world) the opportunity to portray terrorism as a major international threat and to paint a picture of huge, shadowy international terrorist organizations. This provided the propaganda machine with an external threat that also had the advantage of lacking a clear definition. This means that it will not disappear with the collapse of a regime, but will last as long as the propaganda exists to exploit this conception. The shadowy nature of the terrorist threat also fits in better with military activity as policing. The enemy is not another nation, but a group of fanatical and dangerous criminals.

   This picture of a moral struggle is made even more convincing when the authorities can portray their activity as a kind of aid to those whose lands they invade. It is in this light that we can understand George Bush’s sudden interest in (Afghani) women’s rights after September 11, 2001, as well as his current moral indignation about Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Kurds in the late 1980’s (an event that the elder Bush tried to cover up since its perpetrator was our ally at the time). These propaganda campaigns also function as psychological operations.

    In short, while psy-ops are still frequently used to undermine the morale of an enemy, in the realm of propaganda, they mainly attempt to give those carrying out a military policing operation the appearance of acting in a humane manner. Necessarily, this begins with disguising the sources of every disaster and atrocity (whether by describing ecological catastrophes as a “natural disasters” or by demonizing small-time petty dictators like Milosevic or Saddam Hussein to hide the machinations of the major powers), so that the world’s rulers can step in with their experts and their military force to cover up their tracks.

    But for psychological operations of this sort to work, the actual military operations must be carried out in such a way that they appear to express the humanitarian and legal framework that is said to be their basis. This necessity stems in part from what has been called “the CNN effect”. This refers to the constant presence of media personnel and cameras wherever military operations are taking place. Neither atrocities nor mistakes are easily hidden. We hear almost immediately of incidents such as the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade or of a wedding party in Afghanistan. So military operations have to be carried out with public image in mind.

    The development and increasing sophistication of psychological operations goes hand in hand with significant technological developments without which the task of policing the world would prove quite difficult. In the past couple of decades, advances in sensor technologies, the development of precision weapons systems (such as the “smart bomb”), developments in information technologies that allow the rapid processing of huge masses of information and advances in “non-lethal disabling technologies” have created an ensemble of techniques that together make way for a new way of making war (or as the military experts would put it, “that make ‘operations other than war’ possible”). I want to emphasize two aspects of this: the information network that provides the basis for fusing these elements and “non-lethal disabling technologies”.


The information network


    Psychological operations, the propaganda war, precision weapons systems and the capacity to deploy weaponry and personnel in the most effective manner require access to information and the capacity to process it quickly. Thus, communications systems and cybernetic networks are an absolutely essential aspect of present-day military operations and the weapons systems that they use. These systems provide the capacity to store seemingly infinite amounts of information, and to access what is needed in a given situation instantaneously. In fact, this cybernetic/communications network provides the necessary technological basis for the network of social control mentioned in the introduction. It doesn’t only provide the means necessary for guiding so-called “smart” weapons to their targets. It also provides a means for correlating a plethora of useful information about human behavior, cultural preferences and tendencies, emotional responses to various stimuli and so on which (as we will see shortly) can be of great use in carrying out “operations other than war”.

    Furthermore, through this network, the military is quite literally linked with civil police systems and numerous other institutions that rule our loves. All of these institutions can access and share much of the same information increasing the capacity for efficient global social control. Through this technological system, the rulers of the world have potential access to vast quantities of information. At the same time, it is a fragile network each part of which is so thoroughly dependent on every other part that the tiniest glitch can throw everything into disarray. Furthermore, it still requires human intervention to actually put the information to use – a factor that is significant not only in terms of the well-known problem of “human error”, but also in terms of the simple impossibility of noting every bit of information in a way that is practically useful. And finally there is always that which falls through the cracks, that which is not accounted for. So this system is utterly necessary for the full development of the “revolution in military affairs”, but it also places it on ground that is as tenuous as any net – full of holes and as weak as the thinnest thread.


Non-lethal disabling weapons


    Because military operations now predominantly function as a means of global policing, the armed forces of the great states frequently find themselves in situations where they have to deal with large masses of non-combatants. Due to the situations in which they are intervening, these non-combatants are frequently desperate, angry or otherwise agitated. The traditional weapons of war are not adequate for this situation, and so new weapons intended to control, constrain or otherwise disable without killing are being developed. These are known as “non-lethal disabling weapons”.

    The development of such weapons for military and policing purposes goes back several decades, but it was after the massacre of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas that Janet Reno called for a joint project involving the CIA and the Pentagon to research the development of non-lethal weapons. Such agencies as the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) are involved in this research. It is significant that this research involves collaboration between military and police institutions.

    Non-lethal weapons are useful for a number of situations: combat in urban settings where armed forces will have to deal with large non-combatant populations and the need to penetrate into hard to reach spaces, crowd control, the suppression of riots and so on. They serve a variety of purposes: disabling vehicles and equipment, temporarily disabling human beings, preventing access to spaces to name a few.

    The research into non-lethal weapons has emphasized certain specific traits, two of which are particularly revealing. The researchers strive to develop weapons that are “rheostatic” and have the trait of “duality” or “reversibility”.

   A rheostat is a device for varying the resistance of an electric circuit used for such things as dimming and brightening electric lights. Thus, lights with a knob that allows you to dim or brighten them depending on your needs are rheostatic.  Rheostatic weapons would thus be weapons in which the levels of harm caused could be varied depending on the situation. The ideal rheostatic weapon could have effects ranging from mild stunning to killing, thus making the weapon useful in a wide variety of situations. For example, a weapon involving electro-magnetic pulses (EMPs) would be ideal if the intensity of the pulse could be varied depending on the specific needs.

    “Duality” or “reversibility” refers to the capacity of a weapon to be useful for both military and police situations. The idea is that the weapons can be transformed from lethal to non-lethal and back as needs require and also can be transformed into weapons of torture.* A gun that could shoot rubber, plastic and lead bullets, depending on the circumstances would be an ideal example of “duality”.

    What makes these traits significant is that they underline the fading of the distinction between military and police activity. In fact most of the research being done in this area involves collaboration between the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.

    A wide variety of technologies are being explored in this research. Super-glues, anti-adherents, super-caustics and similar chemicals can be used to impede movement across surfaces. Nets and foams can be used to stop people’s motion and to deny access to areas. Tasers, isotropic radiators and similar technologies can temporarily stun or otherwise disable people making them incapable of acting. EMPs, infrasound, calmatives, technologies involving visual stimulation and illusions, acoustic technologies and malodorants can induce temporary sickness or disabling psychological effects. So the variety of techniques being developed is vast.

    Among the most disturbing are those that, by playing directly on the brain-waves (EMPs, infrasound and certain visual and acoustic technologies), by creating chemical changes in the body (calmatives) or by playing on underlying cultural values (malodorants), actually enter into the bodies or minds of the victims, physically and psychologically disabling them. Most of these techniques are still very much in the experimental/developmental stage and are not yet in actual use, but the exploration into these techniques indicate how far those in power are willing to go to enforce their control.

    I would like to say a little bit more about calmatives and malodorants. The term “calmatives” is simply military jargon for drugs – generally depressants such as opiates and benzodiazepines and anti-depressants such as Prozac and Zoloft, though a number of other drugs are also being explored – that can calm a situation of unrest by bringing people under control. While some of the drugs tested would actually sedate the people they are used against, other would simply disable them through inducing states that would make movement very unpleasant or painful. Because these are being considered mainly for use in crowd control situations, much of the research is about finding methods to administer the drug to a crowd of people at once as a means for quelling unrest or for controlling unruly crowds. The similarity between the methodology of psychiatry and that of the military and the police becomes quite evident. This research is occurring under the aegis of the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine Applied Research Laboratory, also known as the Marine Corps Research University.

    The exploration into malodorants has many bizarre implications. The research focuses on the study of the significance of various odors to specific cultural and ethnic groups with the aim of developing culturally-specific non-lethal weapons for use in dealing with ethnic conflicts. The project involves the creation of a database of information about the significance of different odors to different ethnic groups and the creation of artificial methods for creating odors repugnant to specific groups that can be released in specific military situations. A company in Texas called Ecological Technologies Corporation (that was started by a retired military officer) has already patented a version of the odor of human feces for use as a military technology.

    Non-lethal disabling weapons can certainly appear to be more “humanitarian”, but it is just an appearance. Several of the technologies are based on the blatant manipulation of physical and psychological states, as if the human being were just a machine to be adjusted or switched off at the whims of those in power. A number of the technologies are quite capable of causing permanent harm and even death. The environmental effects of a number of the chemicals involved can be quite devastating. And I have already mentioned the potential some of these techniques have for use in torture. But at the moment of their use in military or crowd control situations, they do not leave piles of corpses, so on news reports military and policing activity can appear less devastating.


The war against crime and unrest – the police at home


    At the same time as military operations take on the function of policing the world, police operations have taken on the language and methods of military operations. We hear of the war on drugs, the war on (unauthorized) violence, the war on gangs and on and on. There are now several cities in this country that put police through some level of military tactical training. It is recognized that police are in fact soldiers in an ongoing low-level war. Worsening social conditions inevitably create unrest. Violence increases; people seek alternative sources of security often in groups such as gangs and in illegal activities for making money; crowd situations of all kinds tend to get unruly, with spontaneous expressions rage often combined with a celebratory destructive exuberance. The social order is placed at risk.

    Two important factors that move policing into more openly military directions are the increasingly organized forms of much urban crime (in the form of gang activity) and the increasing number of situations calling for crowd control. Gang warfare can, in fact, seem like small-scale civil wars, and police intervention is aimed as much at restoring order as at capturing criminals. There is however a significant difference in the situations. Those involved in a civil war are not viewed essentially as criminals. International military intervention must follow specific international guidelines. The police have no need to follow such guidelines in dealing with gangs or alleged gang-members.

    But it is in the area of crowd control that the militarization of the police becomes most evident. The police use battle strategies for containing crowds. They are heavily armored and often carry shields. The gear of riot cops often thoroughly hides any resemblance to a human individual, giving them the appearance of a fighting machine. In addition they make use of a number of non-lethal technologies including a few (such as pepper gas) that are forbidden by international law for use in war. Just as most “operations other than war” are attempts to restore order and control the subjects of the world order, the activity of police in crowd control situations is to restore and/or maintain order among the subjects of a particular state.

    We are living in a society that is in a perpetual state of emergency. The maintenance of the social peace is a perpetual battle, an ongoing social war. In this situation, policing does not focus on stopping crime, but on maintaining order.


Rule through fear


    The precariousness of life imposed by a system that is formed through the dispossession and exploitation of the vast majority of people provokes a great deal of rage and fear. We are threatened constantly with harm that appears faceless. Environmental devastation, economic precariousness, new diseases, technological breakdown and cultural annihilation are the reality of a social order over which we seem to have no control. And many respond to this situation through desperate acts.

    The aim of the police is to maintain social control, to uphold the present order of things. It, therefore, serves their purpose to largely suppress the rage provoked by this society, redirecting what cannot be suppressed away from the rulers of this world. Fear, on the other hand, provides a malleable tool for keeping people in line. The faceless nature of all that threatens us keeps our fears unfocussed. Police agencies and the media play on this by raising the specters of crime, gangs, drugs and now terrorism. This distracts us from the great horrors being perpetrated by the rulers of this world, the real sources of our precariousness. It is not the ruling order that threatens our existence, but the masses of petty evil-doers from whom that order offers to protect us.

    So through the manipulation of our fears, the state convinces us to accept all sorts of police intrusions into our lives. A look at events since the attack on the world trade center and the Pentagon help to clarify this. What actually happened on September 11, 2001 was that several individuals managed to get onto four airliners with box-cutters, take over the planes and fly three of them into major buildings and kill thousands of people. It was a horrible event. And it provided a very distinct focus for the fears that fill our lives. In the wake of these events, the US government took advantage of the situation to pass the 340+- page USAPATRIOT act, a massive law that drastically increases police powers in the areas of investigation, searches, surveillance (e.g., wire-tapping), interrogation and so on. But possibly one of the most significant effects of the September 11 attacks has been the increasing intrusive policing in public places. The step-up in airport security has simply been a notable intensification of a process already in effect, but now people are being put through searches in train stations, bus stations and other public spaces as well. The attacks gave the government a chance to impose a heavily intensified police presence when people would accept it, and thus an opportunity to normalize these sorts of intrusions.

    By focusing our fears on an abstract other – crime, gangs, drugs, terrorism, … – the authorities can present themselves as our protectors. There is far too much out there for us to cope with, but their experts and arms will provide for our defense as long as we are willing to accept being monitored, policed, put under surveillance ourselves… for our own protection.


Dual-purpose technology


    When I talked about non-lethal technologies above, I mentioned that one of the traits that developers strived for was duality – the capacity of the technologies to be used by both the military and police agencies. And in fact this is very much the case. Police agencies have been setting up international databanks for quite some time. The International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol, and a number of intelligence agencies provide an organizational basis for this sort of activity, but cybernetic networks and communications systems provide the technological basis. Police agencies make use of all the tools in these networks including satellite communications and tracking systems.

    In addition, some of the new military technologies for surveillance can be used for police functions. So-called “unmanned (or uninhabited) aerial vehicles” (UAVs) have been used by the US for espionage in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been talk of using UAVs to “monitor US coastlines for security threats as well as illegal drug traffic” and possibly to assist the INS in monitoring the Mexican and Canadian borders.

    The various technologies for crowd control are also dual purpose. Since I already talked about non-lethal weapons, the only thing that I will mention in this regard here is that a number of such techniques that are forbidden for use in war or international military operations can be used by police in riot situations and (in the case of pepper spray) where there is a need to control an uncooperative detainee.


Surveillance technologies


    The most blatant and significant intrusions of policing into our lives are the technologies of surveillance. According to an announcement for a conference on advanced surveillance technologies sponsored by Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, “The rapid evolution of technology is leading to the creation of a seamless web of surveillance across much of the world. Powerful technologies originally developed for the military are being adopted by law enforcement…” These technologies serve a variety of purposes. There are electronic communications surveillance technologies, tracking devices, wiretaps and other means for spying on specific individuals, identification systems and means for surveillance of specific areas.

    Electronic communications surveillance technologies are technologies like the Carnivore or the Magic Lantern capable of observing and tracking certain types of computer activity. They can be used to monitor e-mail communications and internet use. Due to the very nature of computer technology, the possibility of surveillance in this area exists at all times without the user of the computer being aware of this. One’s computer itself also acts as a recording device of all the activity done on that computer. But the decision to monitor a specific computers, e-mail addresses, etc. would be based on other information.

    Tracking devices are mainly electronic devices placed on an individual (or vehicle) to monitor their movements. The most common use in the form of ankle bracelets placed on individuals under house arrest, on prison work release programs or sentenced to some other form of “restricted liberty”. However, such devices can also be planted on vehicles or individuals without their knowledge. In edition, technologies exist that allow police to monitor phone cell use to track someone’s movements and to narrow down their location.

    Then there are wiretaps, phone taps and other listening devices as well as tiny micro-spy cameras which can be planted in somebody’s house or known hang-outs to allow police to spy on them or listen to their conversations.

    All of the systems described above are for monitoring specific individuals or groups. Because the information that these technologies can gather would be useless without police agents – living, breathing human beings capable of acting on the information – they are used for specific investigations, after some information has been gathered by more conventional means that indicates that further investigation is worth the effort. These systems are dependent on the technological web of cybernetics and communications technology. The factor that allows this technology to work as a global system – that it is a decentralized network of interdependent nodes spread across the globe – is also its weakness. It does not so much create a functional electronic panopticon as the virtual simulation of a panopticon. While it is true that these systems can store apparently infinite amounts of information, the usefulness of this information to the police depends on their capacity to process it in a useful manner.

    The identification systems I am talking about are those that can identify and individual without their knowledge. Biometric systems such as face-cams and retina scans can be placed in an unobtrusive manner like normal surveillance cameras. Technologies of this sort are being considered for use in airports, government buildings and other places considered security risks.

    But the most widespread surveillance devices are closed circuit surveillance cameras, intended to “watch” specific spaces. We see these everywhere: in shopping centers, banks, government buildings, on street corners, on the top of buildings, in public transit and so on. The actual functioning of these cameras varies drastically. Some are carefully monitored. Others are only watched sporadically. Some simply keep recording over the same film repeatedly and so erase their history every few hours. In others, the film is changed regularly and monitors go through them at their leisure. And a large number of the surveillance cameras used in shops are actually dummy cameras.

    Surveillance technology functions mainly to create the impression that everything is being watched. Although the technology can gather and store the information, there are simply not enough police to process the information usefully. But if we remember that the function of the police is not to prevent crime, but to maintain social order, the appearance that everything is being watched can be useful in itself.


Participatory policing


    Police have always solicited participation from civilians, but in recent years this has been taken to new levels in several areas. We are all familiar with the various “WeTip” and Neighborhood Watch programs that call people to report “any suspicious behavior” to the police. And after September 11, the Citizen Corps was set up under the aegis of the Department of Justice’s Operation TIPS, the Terrorist Information and Prevention System, to provide widespread civilian assistance to the FBI in tracking “terrorists”. Television shows like America’s Most Wanted also encourage snitching. In fact, it becomes very clear that the technological “eyes” and “ears” of the cops are far from sufficient. They need to solicit human eyes and ears as well.

    But there are other ways in which people end up policing themselves and those whom they love. Perhaps one of the most insidious programs along these lines is that which encourages parents to have their children fingerprinted and the fingerprints put on file with police agencies and the FBI. The claim is that this will somehow keep the child safe. In fact, a minimal amount of reasoning will show that this claim has no basis. If a child is kidnapped, the police are not going to find the child through his or her fingerprints. They would not know where to look for fingerprints until there was a reported sighting of the child, and then they would not waste there time gathering fingerprints. In fact, this program is nothing more than a way for the FBI and other policing agencies to gather more information to use in monitoring people. The same goes for the gathering of children’s (or one’s own) DNA for the Missing and Unidentified Person System database which is available to the police and the FBI. These systems serve the interests only of those who want total control of our lives.

    Another way of plugging oneself into the technical systems of surveillance is a microchip implant called the “Veri-Chip” and is associated with Digital Angel systems. The chip can hold personal medical and other information and can be implanted under one’s skin. The chip is manufactured by a Florida company called Applied Digital Solutions (ADS). It was approved for marketing for human use by the FDA on April 4, 2002. The company markets it to the public as a way of having necessary information on them at all times for their own safety. The chip can be scanned from several feet away. In addition the chip may be connected with the Global Positioning System (GPS) Satellite through Digital Angel Safety, Location and Condition systems. This would permit monitoring of the location of anyone with the chip 24-hours a day. ADS emphasizes that this is a voluntary purchase that individuals make for their own well-being. But the company’s CEO is not blind to other uses. He told the Time Beach Post that the Veri-Chip would make a great alternative to green cards for tracking “foreigners”. He has also recommended its use in children, the elderly and prisoners.

    All of these programs play on fear. Those that promote snitching guarantee increasing distrust between people in their daily life, and thus less capacity for us to communicate among ourselves. Programs for self-registration with police agencies or for equipping oneself with a monitoring system promote increasing dependence upon the increasingly inhuman systems that dominate our lives


Why do we all live in prison, and why do we thank the jailers?


    A place that is constantly policed, a place where we are constantly under surveillance or at least appear to be so, a place where we distrust everyone else because we cannot tell the potential attacker from the potential snitch – what is such a place if not a prison? Yet increasingly this describes the world we live in, the world in which policing has expanded to the global scale and into our daily lives at every turn. If we are ever to eradicate this reality, to free ourselves from this prison, we will need to understand what policing is, what its foundations are.

    Policing in fact rests upon the idea that there are crimes and that everyone is potentially a criminal. This latter assumption is what justifies the ever-increasing intrusion of police surveillance into our delay lives. If it were not assumed that we are potential criminals, why should there be cameras on us everywhere? If it were not assumed that we are potential terrorists, why should we be searched at airports and bus stations? And I have seen people thank the thugs who searched them!

    But criminality is defined by law, so policing rests on the existence of law. In theory, law is an objective criterion through which to judge the actions of the citizens of a state. It supposedly creates an equality of all the citizens “before the law. But Anatole France expressed the real meaning of this equality by pointing out that all it meant was that before the law beggars and kings were equally forbidden to steal bread and sleep under bridges. The equality the law provides is the equality of ciphers, non-entities without desires or passions of their own.

    But the lie that the law is objective doesn’t stand if we recognize that the real purpose of the law is to regulate society. A society that was actually fulfilling the needs and desires of all those who comprised it would have no need of regulation; the free associations between individuals would provide all the organization they needed. But the society we live in is an imposition upon the vast majority of those who make it up. Thus clearly, this society is based on the most blatant inequality of access to the means for creating one’s existence on one’s own terms. The few who rule obviously gain from this inequality which they call property and power. The rest of us suffer from it, forced to make unpleasant choices about how to get by. The law is the lie that transforms this inequality into an abstract equality that serves the masters, that adds to their power and wealth. Equality before the law serves the rulers, precisely because its aim is to preserve the order in which they rule. Equality before the law, in fact, disguises social inequality behind that which maintains it.

    But the word of the law could not maintain social order. It requires the physical force provided by the systems of enforcement and punishment, by the police, the courts and the prisons. The law is a very thin veneer for hiding the reality that existence as we experience it is based on our dispossession and exploitation. Reality constantly breaks through this veneer, requiring the law to turn to force and fear – to the police.

    To the rulers of this world, we are all indeed criminals (at least potentially), because we are all potentially capable of seeing through the veil of the law and choosing to ignore it, thus, beginning the process of taking back our lives. The law, in fact, makes us equal be criminalizing us all. And so it is logical that policing and imprisonment would become universal, developing hand in had with the global supermarket.

    The question is how will we respond? Will we thank our jailers for their protection, helping them along in the process? Will we seek to police the police, to make more laws and systems of monitoring behavior in order to monitor the behavior of the police? Or will we note the fact that this global network of surveillance, this global police network, is based on fragile technological systems, that it is full of holes and weak threads? And with this knowledge will we grasp our lives as our own and find the ways to destroy this network, tear down this global prison and be done with police forever?



A few of Those Responsible


Ecological Technologies Corporation (Texas)


National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center - Rocky Mountain


Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University


General Dynamic Corporation


The University of Hawaii, Manoa


LAKAI Holdings


Scientific Applications and Research Associates, Inc.


Electronic Concepts and Engineering, Inc.


Envirofoam Technologies, Inc.


Pfizer, Inc.


Eli Lilly and Company


Indiana University Medical Center


Applied Digital Solutions (ADS)


Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute


Sarnoff Corporation




There are too many companies and institutions involved in the research and development of surveillance technology to list them. And, of course, every police and military agency, and the institutions of the states they serve are fully responsible for these developments.

* It would be a mistake to think of the United States as the center of this network. Though the US is certainly the most powerful single military, political and economic force in the world, the strength of this network lies in the fact that it is trans-national.

* Of course, “collateral damage” is in fact quite frequent. War by any name is always devastating to those in the territory under attack.

* Pepper spray, for example, has been used by police in the United States to torture environmental activists in a number of incidents.