26 April 2012

The City, a Battlefield

The militarization of the urban arena that can be witnessed especially across the developed world renders the city an ever more hostile location for its citizens.
Many articles have been written recently on the topic of military urbanism and I would like to share some of my collected bookmarks especially in relation to new surveillance techniques herewith to illustrate the vast and multifaceted contemporary phenomenon.
The thematic has gained topicality especially in London in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics.  Unmanned drones equipped with surveillance cameras will patrol over London during the Olympic games. Quiet Babylon notes that it has been a ‘bounteous season for panoptiswarm-related news’. Now everybody gets a drone: from Occupiers (details here) to journalists. One has to live with urban drones these days. Find here a video discussion on the impact of domestic drones on privacy, safety and national security. The event was organised in reaction to a new aviation bill in the US that has been signed in February and which will open domestik skies to ‘unmanned aircraft systems’.

Facewatch ID app (source        
Apart from surveillance drones another measure is Scotland Yard’s free ‘wanted’ app which is called Facewath ID. The app will allow people to see CCTV images of suspects in their area by using their smartphone’s location services.

Smart Water campaign (source
Smart Water areas (Image by author)
Already in use in certain locations in the UK is Smart Water which is an anti-criminal system using a liquid that contains a unique code. One application of the Smart Water is via sprinkler systems that spray a burglar with the invisible liquid which cannot be washed off for several months. The unique code that is detectable under ultraviolet light then generates evidence to connect a suspect to a specific location.
Various examples of new technologies of surveillance evoke an even gloomier image of a militarised city. Intelligent geotextiles or Smart Dust are still under development but can be imagined to be a substantial part of our future cities’ surveillance systems. Smart Dust will be ‘comprised of speckle-sized devices that can sense environmental conditions, such as light, temperature and humidity. More importantly, they can gather civilian and military intelligence. Their tiny dimensions mean they are difficult to detect and can squeeze through the narrowest of gaps in doors and walls. They can communicate with each other wirelessly, as well as transmit data to a nearby command center or remote satellite’.

Cybugs (source)
New surveillance technologies very often make use of nature, either by imitation or by manipulation. Spray-on nanoparticle mix turns trees into antennas, hacking animals, remote controlled insects and Cybugs (see also here), Micro Air Vehicles, forensic entomology – these are just a few more examples the militarisation of nature where immaculate features of nature are utilised for urban warfare, surveillance and crime prevention.

Policing Genes Project by Thomas Twaites (source)
To finish this list of links I would like to point to an artwork dealing with these topics: Recent research and developments in pollen forensics (forensic palynology) have led the artist Thomas Twaites to think about the possibility of bee – policing. In his vision, developed together with James French, a PhD student at the UCL Department of Security and Crime Science, he imagined private person’s plants being monitored by the police through analysing the bees’ pollen. This method can be used to identify genetic manipulated plants or growing of illegal substances. In this case nature in form of an insect becomes a means of power. Similarly to bomb sniffing military bees, these insects can be easily utilised to spy on urban citizens under the disguise of security and safety.

Header Image source