Thursday, March 16, 2006

Little News Round-up, and Linguistic Battles

A quick few news links...

The FT reports that ID cards could have PINs* (not PIN number numbers), which would extend the range of verification techniques, all the way from a quick visual check, through PINs, to biometric validation (although there's no reason why you need the card for this one, if you're connected to the central database).

(* N.B. The article is supposed to be limited access, but in the hardcopy version, it stopped where the preview stops anyway...)

The hacker in me thinks that more complex security = much more chance of a "way in", or around the system, especially when it comes to automated validation. A system can be set-up for both a "simple" (PIN) check and an "advanced" (biometric) check, with the more advanced one being mandated at the human level, so route round the human (weak) side of things, and it's all of a sudden a lot easier to validate "yourself". Danger, Will Robinson.

Local rag, The Argus had a couple of interesting stories the other day: An apparent increase in "yob" culture" in Brighton, and a note on a Home Office report that says Brighton has 20,000 CCTV cameras, 3rd only to London and Manchester.

No attempt seems to have been made to link the two stories up, but a Liberty spokesperson hints at the problematic limitations of using observation to control behaviour:

"People often feel very uncomfortable being surrounded by hundreds of cameras and in our opinion they often do very little other than monitor innocent citizens."

"Innocent" citizens, maybe. Unfortunately, insobriety has a peculiar effect, freeing us from those social inhibitions that act upon us to regulate our behaviour as we perceive ourselves to be perceived by others. The effect that beer has which results in being able to sing loudly at 3am is exactly the same effect which prevents us from worrying so much about being monitored on CCTV. Indeed, if you believe the TV documentaries, the presence of a camera nearby can often accentuate the urge for exhibitionist behaviour.

In short, CCTV is a social phenomenon, not a technological one - but alcohol is a "cure" for that exact same aspect of "monnitoring", whether it's a solution for monitoring in the workplace, or monitoring elsewhere.

A final observation is also to be made regarding the last story here and the current tennis match over ID Cards between the 2 houses. In one, the debate is centred around the definition of "torture", while in the other the debate is around the definition of "voluntary". I've touched on this before, but the use of language is increasingly important in politics, just as it is in marketing. Accessibility to policy and accountability depends on understanding, shared comprehension. Hammering out this comprehension through language that means the same thing on both sides of the fence is essential, but keep an eye out for its abuse...

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