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SEPTA Cameras Out Of Batteries While China Gets Dystopian

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In May 2008, Naomi Klein wrote an in-depth feature for Rolling Stone titled, “China’s All-Seeing Eye.” In the piece, she discusses Shenzhen, a city close to Hong Kong, which didn’t exist 30 years ago, and can be described as an experiment in Big Brotherism. She calls it “market Stalinism.”

“Over the past two years,” Klein writes, “some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city…The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network, an all-seeing system that will be capable of tracking and identifying anyone who comes within its range – a project driven in part by U.S. technology and investment.”

The project is known in China as “Golden Shield” and much of the technology is supplied by IBM, GE and Honeywell. Corporations that have moved into Shenzhen include Adidas, Visa, McDonald’s and UPS.

Klein goes onto describe the vast network being worked on by Chinese scientists and engineers, calling the one-time rural fishing village, “a communist-style police state, fortressed with American “homeland security” technologies, pumped up with “war on terror” rhetoric.”

Okay, that’s one extreme of the scary stuff. The other exists right here in Philly.

The Drudge Report, a highly-trafficked news website of misleading headlines, yesterday linked to a piece from CBS 3 Philadelphia. Drudge called the piece, “Men vanish after taking photos of Philly subway system.”

CBS 3’s headline is actually titled, “Inoperative Cameras Hinder SEPTA ‘Photo’ Probe,” which, if you ask me, is the real story (No one vanished; one lucked out due to bad technology).

The raw deal: Between Wednesday and Thursday, two incidents were reported by Septa workers to police. Suspicious men were taking pictures underneath the subway system. In both cases, the cameramen ditched out before the police arrived at both the Snyder Avenue stop (Tuesday) and the Lombard-South stop (Wednesday). Police were able to identify the man at the Snyder stop, but the guy at Lombard-South remains unknown because the cameras at the station are broken, and covered with plastic bags.

A cashier at Lombard-South approached the unknown male in question, asked why he was taking pictures, but he left before police arrived.

It’s probably nothing. An art student seeking out some creative signs of the city’s crumbling underworld? A New Yorker documenting our cheap little line for laughs of superiority? Who knows? Police actually insist it has nothing to do with terrorism (even though terrorist plots have, in the past begun with similar reports). “We’re not alarmed by either incident,” Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan told CBS 3. “And we certainly see no connection to events that are unfolding up in New York [the FBI terror raids going on in Queens, as well as the arrest of Najibullah Zazi].”

But wouldn’t you feel a little better knowing the dude at Lombard-South had been identified?

Cameras were supposed to be installed and working at six stations in South Philly. But CBS 3 found that they were only working at three of those stations. “Septa could not provide a definitive time frame,” says reporter Walt Hunter in the report, “on when the cameras, which have hung in place for months, will begin working, providing what they promise will be a state-of-the-art security system.”

That brings me back to the original point. What’s happening in China is not a good thing. In fact, it’s pretty messed up. “When Golden Shield is finished,” Klein writes, “there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces.”

Dystopia much?

Part of the reason corporations are able to use China as a 1984 experiment is because their communist government actually gives corporations official votes in government and the people are at the mercy of the state. That becomes more likely as people feel scared in their homes, which, as we saw in the aftermath of 9/11 with the PATRIOT Act, could be possible here in America.

Let’s say both these men had been identified by (working) cameras, were caught and were, in fact, terrorist stooges. That would at least allow a debate to go on regarding the use of cameras for terror-annihilating purposes while letting the citizens keep our privacy.

But here in Philly, the potential for such a debate doesn’t exist because of the local government’s inefficiency. If a city in China that didn’t even exist a few decades ago has the Oriental Minority Report, shouldn’t we be able to at least get a camcorder up in here?

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