Tag Archives: Big Brother

Big Brother Watches You Sweat

Creative Commons by Unfocussed Mike

Last year, the local community gym, Britannia Centre in Vancouver, decided to go big brother on our sweaty asses. Suddenly, there were cameras cameras everywhere with these cute little signs saying something similar to “This area is monitored for your safety.” Maybe it was part of the whole Olympic movement, a way for Big Brother to surreptitiously move in and monitor everything and never leave, or maybe the gym was experiencing some great surge of violence or thievery.

However, as happens when one works out sometimes body parts need adjusting. Guys need to shift genitalia, women need to shift breasts in bras. One can turn away or go into the cooldown room and quickly make an adjustment without anyone seeing. Not so now. It’s recorded on cameras. But perhaps I was just being paranoid as I sweated away, so I wrote the name located on those cute little signs.

Dear ,

I have several questions about the spyeye cameras at the Britannia gym.

  • Was there an incident or incidents that caused the need for cameras? If so, what was it? Should I be on the lookout for suspicious and dangerous characters?
  • If someone were to attack me in the mat room, or elsewhere, would these cameras save me, as in, is someone actively watching them and will run to my aid, or will they just have evidence when they pick up my pieces?
  • Who is authorized to watch these videos from the camera?
  • Are they watched as they run or reviewed at a later time?
  • How often are they reviewed?
  • Where are they stored and how?
  • How long are the videos kept?
  • Are they a deterrent for public mischief or for personal harm?

I have never had or seen any altercations in the gym in all my years there. How should I feel more protected now?

Thank you,

Colleen Anderson

Having once worked for a hi-tech company I knew what some of the answers should be so I was curious to see if this person was a buffer to what was already set in stone or if they were willing to hear other sides. Here is the first response (I’ve only corrected the typos):

Hi Colleen,

Thanks for taking the time to communicate with me regarding your perspective on video cameras.  We have had cameras in the fitness centre since the late 1990′s.  Recently we upgraded the system.  The research is inconclusive as to the efficacy of cameras as a deterrent, that said we do need balance the needs of our community.

Staff requested the video cameras because of a number of instances where they felt unsafe with patrons who were aggressive and potentially dangerous, they were also dealing with increased number of complaints of theft inside and outside the fitness centre – bikes.  We have excellent staff who work hard to de-escalate conflict situations, this is just one tool that works alongside other strategies to assist in their work to create a comfortable space for all.  We have an obligation to support staff to the best of our abilities, this includes training, adequate staffing levels and communication tools.

They are just cameras and will not ‘save’ you.  The deterrent is in the collection of evidence for prosecution in the event of a crime – property or personal.  They are not used for surveillance, no one monitors or reviews recordings, images are relayed in real time to a monitor at the pool counter, but their role is not to monitor.

Footage is recorded and kept for 30 days unless there is a Britannia incident report or a police criminal report, in that case the Executive Director, who is the only person authorized to access the recordings, may request that recordings over a particular period be saved.  These recordings must be appropriate labeled, viewing logs set up and they may be saved for up to one year.  Only the Executive Director has the authority to release or view the recordings under specific conditions such as a written request from authorized law enforcement.  The recordings are labeled and stored in an area that is secured.

We follow the guidelines provided by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC.

It is great to know that you have never experienced any altercations in the gym, we most certainly hope to keep it that way.  If you have any other question please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

I should point out that the gym has a large space with all the weights and other machines. Off of that is a small room with windows overlooking the stairs up to the gym, that has mats and is for stretching/cool down. There is no way to exit that room without going through the gym. Yet they decided to put a camera in this room. Stealing a mat or a dumbbell would mean carrying those rather large and bulky objects through the rest of the gym. Someone would probably notice. However, next to the mat room is a balcony on which people can work out or walk outside for a breath of air. It’s not large but there are no cameras on it, only pointing inside. It’s much easier to take a mat or a medicine ball and toss it over the ledge to someone below. So I responded:

Dear ,

I do understand the need of some cameras at the gym, outside the building and perhaps at prime entries, but I think there is an overkill going on.

There is a camera in the cooldown room. There is no way in or out of this except through a door that enters into the gym proper. Anyone stealing anything would have to tuck it (mostly mats and medicine balls and weights) under their clothes to get it out through the gym. There isn’t even room in there for people to bring a pack. If in fact something went missing and the staff said, someone stole a weight, would these videos even be looked at for something like that? If I’m being mugged in that room I’m sure someone would hear it in the gym.

So if they won’t “save” me and their efficacy as a deterrent is nebulous, why are they in there? A camera at the gym doors, and maybe where people put their packs makes sense but I feel there is absolutely no good reason to have them in every corner or in the cooldown room. You also say they are not used for surveillance yet images are relayed to the counter which means in fact that people can monitor them or watch.

So anyone working there or standing at the counter can see what’s going on, at least in part. This is not a secure monitoring.

I still cannot see how this measure protects staff, clients or deters thefts and vandalism. Why not have one in the locker rooms then too to make sure people don’t break into lockers? I would support some cameras but not the one in the cooldown room and perhaps there are others but I use the gym and not the pool areas.

Thank you,

Hi Colleen,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on cameras in the fitness centre, the fitness centre has a number of blind spots which is why so many cameras, as you so eloquently stated – overkill, are required. Staff, in reference to security, requested that cameras, which have been in operation in the facility since the 1990′s be upgraded and increased as they often are working alone in the space. The fitness centre facility was originally built in 1976 and was actually a quarter of the existing space, over the years we have eliminated the pool lounge and spectator areas to make way for more fitness gear, consequently the space is extremely cut up. In order to maintain a consistent presence we required a number of cameras. You are completely correct in saying that the efficacy of cameras have not been proven OR disproven, however as an employer it is incumbent on us to address staff safety concerns. It is in poor form for Management to insinuate that we know better than the individuals involved and determine what makes them safe or feel safer.

We conducted a survey with staff and provided opportunities for patrons to comment on the use of cameras – you are the third person responding.

That said we depend on a number of tools to ensure good customer and staff experience in our facilities, this includes better conflict management training, site signage and lighting. If you are being mugged in the fitness centre – we have already failed our responsibility. The key for us is to prevent/deter any conflicts and create a positive environment.

You have not been specific about what you would like as an outcome.  I hope my comments have been helpful, if you have other concerns please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

I guess I wasn’t specific when I said it was overkill. Of course I need to send another letter pointing out that the cameras rarely deter the thieves because they probably know the images are rarely perused. The camera certainly didn’t make me feel better when I walked into the mat room one day to find this weirdo in his tighty whities laying on a map and humping it from what I could tell. By the time I could even find an attendant the pervert had wandered off. Had he been a different style of pervert and fondled me the cameras would have done nothing in stopping that. As I’d pointed out in my first letter, the cameras wouldn’t save me, they didn’t deter a pervert and should there have been pieces of me then the videos would be surveyed but only then. This person never addressed my comments about the non-secure monitor at the front desk after she told me that only the director could view them. So let’s see:

  1. no proof that it deters thieves
  2. will not keep people safe, will not endanger them
  3. no one can view but the executive director
  4. everyone at the counter can view the cameras in present time
  5. cameras are in spots where they do no good
  6. cameras aren’t in spots where things could actually be stolen
  7. Nebulous…the staff would be safer
  8. didn’t stop a pervert
  9. management doesn’t know what would make staff feel safer (her words)

In the end it seems a knee-jerk reaction in this world of everything under surveillance, and as she said I was only the third person to comment it tells me that we’re complacent to the infringement of our rights. The biggest pervert is the constant stare of those cameras and while management pretends they’re making their staff safer (as opposed to having to people on at a time) they are ignoring the fact that they’re infringing on their patrons’ privacy. When the tanks start rolling down the streets I imagine it will be much the same. Big Brother took a little longer to get here than 1984 but be assured he’s here.

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Google: Just Another Name For Big Brother

Were you suspicious at all when Google decided to film every street in your city? Did you even notice when it seems they captured more than just an image of the street, that there were some car license plates, discernible faces, and even pictures into people’s living rooms, not to mention a few burglaries? Or were you blasé and accepting of another way in which we’re being watched constantly and in Google slowly taking over the world in a myriad of digital ways? I sometimes wonder what would happen should Google turn out to be a political force.

There are people who called us paranoid when we worried about all these captured images. I wondered how well would it work for people planning espionage. I haven’t searched using Google Earth much but it’s been minimally helpful. The only time I looked outside of North America was to research for a story that takes place in Ireland, and it turns out there is only a satellite image of parts of Ireland, no street views. Well there is sort of a street view of Dublin, in parts, but with digital approximations of buildings for other areas. Who knows what other countries have but I hear the Germans are pretty suspicious of Google snooping and are limiting what they’ll be able to digitize.

And no wonder. With the heightened paranoia of terrorism and bombs many countries don’t want full images of their streets and sewer systems, communications areas, etc. outlined in such explicit detail. But that’s not all. The new millennium’s Big Brother is Google and it is everywhere. Yes, most of us use it as a medium for one thing or another, such as the search engine. Google tried to copy all books including those in copyright, infringing on all sorts of copyright laws and then hoping no one would notice. They claimed they were just moving all books into a way that people could access them easier and this makes sense for out of print books in the public domain. But those that still have estates or authors alive, and therefore existing copyrights, should be protected. Google then arrogantly set up a statement saying you could opt out but then you would have no recourse to complain if they copy one of your books, but if you opt in, you’re buying into the system. As opposed to them having to prove the copyright is now public domain, the onus fell on every author and publisher to prove they owned the copyright. This one is still being disputed and it was nice to see that at least some of the apathetic writers’ groups in Canada did band together to try to stop them.

But that’s not all, is it? Now it turns out that not only was Google capturing images of our streets and homes, it was also capturing passwords and documents if people were working on their computers and did not have their WIFI locked. Hmm, If I stole someone’s information, it would be just that. Theft, spying, invasion of privacy. Canada’s privacy commissioner has ordered Google to apologize and delete the information. That’s it? Does Google even have governments cowed that a slap on the wrist is all they get? How about a charge and massive fines? How about a watchdog checking what they have? How many years ago did the snoop the streets of our cities and we’re just finding this out now?

I said I’d be worried if Google was a political force but I’m already worried that it could be behind a political force, supplying stolen information to governments with less that honorable tendencies. I’d be naive to think they didn’t know they were doing this and stupid not to question why. And if any of you are smart, you’ll be asking these questions too and making sure Google is investigated and regulated before they do take over the world.

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George Orwell’s Doublespeak Continues

In George Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston Smith lives in “a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control, and the voiding of citizens’ rights.” (from Wikipedia) The Ministry of Truth perpetually rewrites information and history, bringing about a truth that is half if not whole fiction. They are the early spindoctors where they put the best spin for the government’s means on news and phrases. From Orwell we get the word “newspeak” and “doublethink” and although he did not use doublespeak it is often attributed to him. From whatever its origins it did come about around the same time as the novel came out and Orwell’s use of combining words caught on.

Doublespeak (or doubletalk), according to Wikipedia, means “to disguise or distort its (language’s) actual meaning, often resulting in a communication bypass.” It’s euphemistically used to make a phrase ambiguous. A T-shirt I once saw said “Eschew Obfuscation.” If you even know these words then it’s funny because eschew pretty much means avoid and obfuscation means confusion. The uncommon use of the words means that the simpler statement of avoid confusion would be better to most people. This is a great example of doublespeak.

Doublespeak thrives today and here are a few examples of how the language has been twisted to put a favorable spin on word, phrases or concepts that we would normally see as negative.

  • Downsizing–this used to be called “layoffs.” These days the corporation looks better if they’re just reorganizing their assets and “downsizing” than getting rid of people.
  • Improvised explosive device (IED)–this used to be “homemade bomb” but perhaps it put a negative slant on all those people in homes, not to mention that some of these homemade bombs are made in shacks and shops.
  • Ecodensity–I love this one. It’s now touted as the best thing for our overcrowded cities. That’s right, “ecodensity” means pack ‘em in like sardines, or “overcrowding.”
  • Collateral damage–Yeah. when all those Dessert Storm guys were inaccurately shooting their missiles at everything (and every military farcus since), they called what they weren’t aiming at “collateral damage.” We call it “dead people” or “victims.”
  • Racial profiling–it’s now the new way for the US and cohort countries to get away with “racism” when stopping undesirables at the border. I wonder if the KKK uses racial profiling to screen their members. It’s also known as bigotry.
  • Domestic engineer–this was an almost ludicrous one that didn’t last long and was supposed to replace housewife. These days, most people say homemakers.
  • Person of interest–police forces use this a lot right now. Really, it’s the same thing as saying a “suspect” or a “material witness.”
  • Sales advisor–no one wants to be a clerk anymore so they’ll advise you on what to buy. I don’t know about you but in most cases I get no advice, nor want it.

I wonder if anyone is ever fooled by these phrases. Probably some. Oh yeah, ecodensity. We put eco in the word and everyone loves it. When government and politicians use it, it’s time to be suspicious because it’s usually covering up something we wouldn’t like and they have to tell us about but don’t really want us to notice what was going on. Some governments use it all the time.

There are more phrases out there but these are the ones that jump to my mind at the moment. But if we’re still using so much doublespeak, then perhaps we have to look to that

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Big Brother IS Watching, You and You and Me

George Orwell, like a fair number of science fiction  writers (Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and others), visualized some aspect of a future world, perhaps an alternate world but created a story nonetheless that had some essence of things to come.

As Wikipedia says: The novel has become famous for its portrayal of pervasive government surveillance and control, and government’s increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication, many of its terms and concepts, such as “Big Brother“, “doublethink“, and “Newspeak” have entered the popular vernacular.

Indeed, the phrase “Big Brother is watching” is synonymous with too much government control, or the totalitarianism that Orwell feared. After 9/11 and the right-wing paranoia of the Bush administration we saw the rise of Homeland Security, where people’s rights were taken away. Some disappeared into Guantanamo without anyone knowing where they went, without any legal aid or advice. Others, while flying through the US, were shipped off to other countries for torture, regardless of what their citizenship was.  The phrase “Homeland Security” is reminiscent of the Fatherland (Hitler’s Third Reich) and the Motherland (Communist Russia). Though these last two are examples of extreme right wing and extreme left wing governments, they both encompass a totalitarianism and the circumventing of the rights of the individual, for the greater good, for the country.

It used to be that a camera trained on you and watching your every move was considered an invasion of privacy. Many years ago, before Homeland Security, my boyfriend had a friend in Calgary that worked for the local telecommunications company (at that time AGT–Alberta Government Telephones). He could not say what he did but it involved hidden cameras trained onto the streets outside the buildings. Every war commander knows that the way to break the enemy, to overcome them, is to either hinder or monitor their communications.  So every wise nation protects its communications and every ambitious or suspicious nation spies on its perceived enemies and communicates what it sees.

There are numerous instances of spy planes and spies. We accept that that is what countries do. There are cameras on you at the border or at your bank machine, to protect you. There are cameras on the roads now, webcams we call them, that show us the line-up at ferries, or freeways, or intersections, or borders. These are all informative pictures that we can use to plan around daily obstacles. But that is not their main purpose. They are surveillance methods to watch and control people, and to identify someone should there have been an accident, a murder, an escape.

There are those that argue that we need the greater security. We need protection from the evil terrorist/mugger/alien/your favorite bad guy. And yes, we do need some form of security, but there comes a time when government or police forces are also watching too much and our individual freedom is curtailed. I would say there is not one person who has not committed a small crime or infringement, whether it’s lying, cheating, jaywalking, running a yellow light, or drinking too much. Which means, that we’re all human and if allowed our little indiscretions, will most likely not make the bigger ones.

When I worked for Nokia, there were cameras everywhere. Corporate espionage is high. However, with all those cameras in the halls and the reception area, they were not allowed to train cameras on our workspaces, nor in the bathrooms. I’m not sure what the exact law it but watching someone 24/7 is not allowed. The head of security also told us that though they viewed all video footage they could not report on such things as two people having sex in the office. This video footage was only for such crimes as theft and breaking and entering.

Sarnia, Ontario is upset over a US surveillance balloon that watches over the river. The company claims it can be used for disaster planning, and other situations that arise. However, the mayor of Sarnia says that when the balloon (with camera inside that can see for 5 miles) first went up the company said it was for Homeland Security, but now they sing another song and say it’s not trained on Sarnia and it’s just research.

Google Earth has already heard concerns about their filming of much of the world, down to vans with cameras driving on the streets. And that many of these cameras take a picture of everything on the street, including you getting into your car, coming and going, and in some cases right into your windows to see what you’re up to. Sure, they claim it’s inadvertent but the pictures of us are showing up everywhere, even if we eliminate You Tube.

The 2010 Olympics will see a gigantic increase in security forces in and around Vancouver. They will be putting up many more cameras than are already up, by government and private businesses. After the Athens Olympics all extra cameras were supposed to come down. Instead the police turned them into citizen surveillance systems. Hello, Big Brother. BC’s privacy commissioner has promised that we won’t have the same situation.

Taken from A Report on Camera Surveillance in Canada: “Despite the growth in CCTV, there is not convincing  research evidence that it aids in deterring, responding to and investigating crime.” That’s just one study but the Big Brother security folks want to sell cameras and keep their jobs and probably think we should live in a society that watches your every move and therefore you must behave. http://www.surveillanceproject.org/files/SCAN_Report_Phase1_Final_Jan_30_2009.pdf

There is a group counting the cameras in Greater Vancouver before the Olympics so that people can, in general be aware of how much surveillance there always is. But if you plan to come to the Olympics and actually venture anywhere public in Vancouver, you can bet that you’ll be filmed. In fact, there is probably not a street in any commercial area that doesn’t have one camera or another. It’s pretty impossible to remain invisible these days unless you’re in the boonies. Big Brother is here, and is watching all of us right now.  And maybe, just maybe, Big Brother likes to watch.

 

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