The Twitter Riots put the Surveillance Society on trial

The time lines for the Tottenham Riots and subsequent assaults on Enfield, Walthamstow and Brixton show clearly how Twitter enabled small groups to rapidly develop tactics for distracting the police while their elders looted the local trading park. Now we will see whether the technologies used to enable the Iranian secret police to track down and incarcerate dissident Twitterers are used to do likewise to those who organise the incineration of inner city shopping centres for criminal gain. If not we will know that the great RIPA debate was, and is, dishonest: even if the technologies work, we do not have the competance and will to use them, or they are being used for the security of the state, not of its citizens.

In my previous blog entry on the riots I referred to the use of footage from the surveillance cameras and the RFID chips and serials numbers to track and trace the looters. It has been put to me that the torching of the Jewellers in Tottenham and later of Aldi and Carpetright was to destroy the evidence being logged by the surveillance cameras while the discarding of packaging was to “lose” the RFID chips. That raises the interesting question of whether surveillance cameras that do not transmit in real-time to a remote location are more of a threat than a benefit. It also indicates the need to put the RFID chips inside the product rather than the packaging.

And what about looting raids which begin by taking out the communications infrastructure, as happened when the IRA was actively “fund-raising”? And what about when shutting down “civilian” mobile communications is part of the response?  This adds a new dimension to Broadband and Communications debates, particularly with regard to infrastructure sharing, resilience and business standby routines.    

The immediate question is, however:

Will the suppliers of surveillance technology give the police the skills they have not got (quantity and well as quality) to use the evidence available to arrest most of the arsonists and looters to short order so that are in custody awaiting trial in time to enable the Notting Hill Carnival to be a joyous celebration?

If so, we should be able to rapidly rebuild confidence that the Surveillance Society works for good as well as ill – despite the many problems that will still have to be addressed.  

If not ….