London. -- The British company Procurement Services International presents itself as the leading western exporter of police equipment to Indonesia. Especially for special units that have fought political dissidents in East Timor, a province annexed in 1975. According to Amnesty International, over 200,000 people out of a population of 750,000, have died since the Indonesian invasion.
PSI had the privilege to (virtually) receive on October 26 in London one of the UK Big Brother Awards, during a ceremony organized by Privacy International with the help of organizations like the Omega Foundation and Statewatch.
PSI furnishes riot control vehicles such as the Tactica, which can be adapted as a water cannon. The Indonesian government sometimes used the Tactica with a mixture of chemical irritants which has stung people's eyes and burnt their skin, according to an investigation released in June 1997 by the British TV program The World in Action. During a special inquiry about human rights abuses in East Timor, the TV crew had the great idea to organize a secret camera footage at PSI headquarters. With a special guest as a would-be client: Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Laureate.
The transcript of the program, obtained from Omega Foundation people, shows Nicholas Oliver, Managing Director of PSI, making this extraordinary statement -- talking to Horta, a man he evidently did not matched:
Said Horta afterwards:
you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human
face - for ever."
George Orwell, Nineteen Eight-Four, published in 1948.
The first UK Big Brother Awards, a reminder for the book's 50th anniversary, were portrayed by gold-like sculptures of a boot on a human face. The 'name and shame' ceremony were aimed to government agencies and private companies for "their relentless attack on personal privacy".
The ceremony was held at the London School of Economics, based in Westminster district, heart of the UK's political establishment. The 'name and shame' ceremony was held in a relaxed atmosphere, where petits fours, vin rouge and a rock band formed a successful mixture. Around 200 people attended, massed in a small conference room. Video cameras were not excluded, however. Your correspondent was granted permission to take some pictures.
"Surveillance has now become an inbuilt component of every piece of information technology on the planet, we've got a long way to go to wind the clock back," told Simon Davies, PI's director and a LSE lecturer, to the BBC (Oct. 27 report). "I think these awards are the beginning of a movement".
EPIC's Dave Banisar told the Lambda he hoped to have some time one day to manage such a party in the US. He was proud to present the Big Brother Survival Kit, in which 10 international firms (from IBM to Lockheed, Inmarsat and Microsoft) were listed as the 'Big Brother Corporations'.
The academics, writers, activists and lawyers who make up Privacy International's awards panel concentrated their first awards on the UK, but plans to extend them to other countries over the next few years. PI members in the United States, France, Austria and Germany will shortly announce dates for their national awards.
States The Big Brother Survival Kit:
And the winners are...
CORPORATION: The British firm Procurement Services International received an award for exporting surveillance equipment to Nigeria, Turkey and Indonesia, three countries whose human rights records have been severely criticized.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT : Newham Council in London won in this category for equipping its 140 street cameras with automated facial-recognition software intended to pick out criminals in crowds.
NATIONAL GOVERNMENT: The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was named a Big Brother over its plans for the police to have access through a third party to the keys to encrypted data.
PRODUCT: The WatCall software produced by Harlequin Ltd can analyze telephone records and is able to compare numbers dialed and received in order to group users into 'friendship networks'. It avoids the legal requirements needed for phone tapping.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: The Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire, operated by America's National Security Agency, won this coveted award for its forty year involvement in the routine interception of private communications.
Privacy International also presented awards for the defenders of privacy. These "Winstons" (after Winston Smith, the hero of Nineteen Eighty Four) were given to five people and organisations :
SCHNEWS is a Brighton based weekly newsletter which for the past three years has done a great deal to raise awareness of privacy and surveillance issues, particularly those which the mainstream media refuse to touch. Its small team works on a voluntary basis, and the publication (which is free) is seen as one of the most influential civil liberties organs in Britain.
LINDIS PERCY has for many years fought to raise awareness of the activities of the US National Security Agency, particularly relating to Menwith Hill, the agencies key spy base, located in Yorkshire. She has been arrested more than 150 times, and has recently been jailed for her actions. She received the Lifetime Achievement Winston.
ALAN LODGE is a Leeds photographer who has spent more than a decade raising awareness of front-line police surveillance activities, particularly the endemic practice of photogrtaphing demonstrators and activists.
ESTHER BULL is a 19 year old student who last year discovered that her landlord had placed a video camera behind a two way mirror in her bathroom. Esther had been filmed secretly for nearly two years, but the lack of a privacy law meant that the perpetrator could only be prosecuted under the "bad landlord" laws. She has helped form the "Operation Peeping Tom" campaign to encourage other victims to tell their story.
HARRY COHEN is a Labour MP who has consistently worked to strengthen data protection by introducing private members bills. He has frequently been a lone voice in Parliament on this issue.
PI is also pleased to announce a future schedule for awards. The 1999 US Big Brother Awards ceremony will be held at the 1999 Computers Freedom and Privacy Conference, 6-8 April 1998. The 1999 UK Big Brother Awards will take place in London on 18 October 1999.