"Totalitarian Technology"


Over the last decade, Hollywood has sensitised us to totalitarian technology. Block buster movies portray our heroes and heroines using the weapons of the new millennium. Militarised police forces keep citizens safe; android warrior personnel, part human, part robot are gainfully employed as global peacekeepers; prisoners are incarcerated in high tech electronic jails, controlled with implanted microchips, while the free population is kept under surveillance through the use of biometric identity systems.

Science fiction perhaps? Reality yes! Much of what we see on the big screen is not the latest fantasy of Hollywood script writers, but is based on fact. Any film maker wanting a picture of the future need look no further than existing military technology and research.

A recent report published by the European Parliament, "An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control", shows just how far these new technologies have come, and how they are being actively employed against citizens in countries across the globe.

The report warns of "an overall technological and decision drift towards world wide convergence of nearly all the technologies of political control", including identity recognition; denial; surveillance systems based on neural networks; new arrest and restraint methods and the emergence of so called ‘less lethal’ weapons.

Developments in surveillance technology, innovations in crowd control weapons, new prison control systems, the rise of more powerful restraint, torture, killing and execution technologies and the role of privatised enterprises in promoting such technologies pose a grave threat to our immediate and future freedoms.

Trade in Technologies of Control

Cutting edge developments made by the Western military-industrial complex are providing invaluable support to various governments throughout the world. The report "Big Brother Incorporated", by surveillance watchdog Privacy International, presents a detailed analysis of the international trade in surveillance technology.

Privacy International says it is concerned about "the flow of sophisticated computer-based technology from developed countries to developing countries — and particularly to non-democratic regimes where surveillance technologies become tools of political control."

The international trade in surveillance technology (known as the Repression Trade), involves the manufacture and export of technologies of political control. More than seventy per cent of companies manufacturing and exporting surveillance technology also export arms, chemical weapons or military hardware.

The justification advanced by the companies involved in this trade is identical to the justification advanced in the arms trade — i.e.: that the technology is neutral. Privacy International’s view is that in the absence of legal protection, the technology can never be neutral.

As "Big Brother Incorporated" points out, "even those technologies intended for ‘benign’ uses rapidly develop more sinister purposes. The UK manufactured ‘Scoot’ traffic control cameras in Beijing’s Tianamen Square were automatically employed as surveillance cameras during the student demonstrations. Images captured from the cameras were broadcast over Chinese television to ensure that the ‘offending’ students were captured."

Privacy International cites numerous cases where this type of technology has been obtained for the express purpose of political and social control...

·         ICL (International Computers Limited) provided the technological infrastructure to establish the South African automated Passbook system, upon which much of the function of the apartheid regime depended.

·         In the 1980s Israeli company Tadiram developed and exported the technology for the computerised death list used by the Guatemalan police.

·         Reported human rights abuses in Indonesia — particularly those affecting East Timor — would not be possible without the strategic and technological support of Western companies. Among those companies supplying the Indonesian police and military with surveillance and targeting technology are Morpho Systems (France), De la Ruue Printak (UK), EEV Night Vision (UK), ICL (UK), Marconi Radar and Control Systems (UK), Pyser (UK), Siemens Plessey Defense Systems (UK), Rockwell International Corporation (USA) and SWS Security (USA).

Tools of Repression for 'Democratic' States

We should not forget that the same companies supplying regimes with repression technology, also supply ‘democratic’ states with their totalitarian tools.

Leutcher Associates Inc. of Massachusetts supplies and services American gas chambers, as well as designing, supplying and installing electric chairs, auto-injection systems and gallows. The Leutcher lethal injection system costs approximately $30,000 and is the cheapest system the company sells. Their electrocution systems cost £35,000 and a gallows would cost approximately $85,000. More and more US states are opting for Leutcher’s $100,000 "execution trailer" which comes complete with a lethal injection machine, a steel holding cell for an inmate, and separate areas for witnesses, chaplain, prison workers and medical personnel. Some companies in Europe have even offered to supply gallows.

In the 1970’s, J.A. Meyer of the US Defense Department suggested a countrywide network of transceivers for monitoring all prisoners on parole, via an irremovable transponder implant. The idea was that parolees movements could be continuously checked and the system would facilitate certain areas or hours to be out of bounds, whilst having the economic advantage of cutting down on the costs of clothing and feeding the prisoner. If prisoners go missing, the police could automatically home in on their last position.

Meyer’s vision came into operational use in America in the mid 1980’s, when some private prisons started to operate a transponder based parole system. The system has now spread into Canada and Europe where it is known as electronic tagging. Whilst the logic of tagging is difficult to resist, critics argue that the recipients of this technology appear not to be offenders who would have been imprisoned, but rather low risk offenders who are most likely to be released into the community anyway. Because of this, the system is not cheaper since the authorities gain the added expense of supplying monitoring devices to offenders who would have been released anyway. Electronic tagging is however beneficial to the companies who sell such systems. Tagging also has a profitable role inside prisons in the US and in some prisons, notably, DeKalb County Jail near Atlanta, where all prisoners are bar coded.

'Non-Lethal' Technology of Control

The increasing militarisation of police forces throughout the world is reflected in the spread of "less lethal" weapons such as pepper gas. Benignly referred to by the media as "capsicum spray", pepper gas was recently used by Australian police in the state of Victoria to subdue a man. According to media reports, the Victorian police also used "a weapon they don’t want to disclose".

The effects of pepper gas are far more severe than most people realise. It is known to cause temporary blindness, a burning sensation of the skin which lasts from 45 to 60 minutes, upper body spasms which force a person to bend forward and uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes.

For those with asthma or subject to restraining techniques which restrict the breathing passages, there is a risk of death. The Los Angeles Times has reported at least 61 deaths associated with police use of pepper spray since 1990 in the USA, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented 27 deaths in custody of people sprayed with pepper gas in California alone, since 1993.

The US Army concluded in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study that pepper spray could cause "Mutagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neuro-toxicity, as well as possible human fatalities."

The existing arsenal of weapons designed for public order and control will soon be joined by a second generation of kinetic, chemical, optico-acoustic, and microwave weapons, adding to the disabling and paralysing technologies already available. Much of the initial work on these new technologies has been undertaken in US nuclear laboratories such as Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos. The European Parliament Report "An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control" lists a Pandora’s box of new technologies including:

·         Ultra-sound generators, which cause disorientation, vomiting and involuntary defecation, disturbing the ear system which controls balance and inducing nausea. The system which uses two speakers can target individuals in a crowd.

·         Visual stimulus and illusion techniques such as high intensity strobes which pulse in the critical epileptic fit-inducing flashing frequency and holograms used to project active camouflage.

·         Reduced energy kinetic weapons. Variants on the bean bag philosophy which ostensibly will result in no damage (similar claims were once made about plastic bullets).

·         New disabling, calmative, sleep inducing agents mixed with DMSO which enables the agent to quickly cross the skin barrier and an extensive range of pain causing, paralysing and foul-smelling area-denial chemicals. Some of these are chemically engineered variants of the heroin molecule. They work extremely rapidly, one touch and disablement follows. Yet one person’s tranquillisation may be another’s lethal dose.

·         Microwave and acoustic disabling systems.

·         Human capture nets which can be laced with chemical irritant or electrified to pack an extra disabling punch.

·         Lick ‘em and stick ‘em technology such as the Sandia National Laboratory’s foam gun which expands to between 35-50 times its original volume. Its extremely sticky, gluing together any target’s feet and hands to the pavement.

·         Aqueous barrier foam which can be laced with pepper spray.

·         Blinding laser weapons and isotrophic radiator shells which use superheated gaseous plasma to produce a dazzling burst of laser like light.

·         Thermal guns which incapacitate through a wall by raising body temperature to 107 degrees.

·         Magnetosphere gun which delivers what feels like a blow to the head.

"An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control" says "we are no longer at a theoretical stage with these weapons. US companies are already piloting new systems, lobbying hard and where possible, laying down potentially lucrative patents." For example, last year New Scientist reported that the American Technology Corporation (ATC) of Poway, California has used what it calls acoustical heterodyning technology to target individuals in a crowd with infra-sound to pinpoint an individual 200-300 metres away. The system can also project sonic holograms which can conjure audio messages out of thin air so just one person hears them. Meanwhile, Jane’s reported that the US Army Research Laboratory has produced a variable velocity rifle for lethal or non lethal use — a new twist to flexible response. Other companies are promoting robots for use in riot and prison control.

Advances in Biometric Identification

Through the inevitability of gradualness, repression technology, in the form of biometric identity systems, is permeating our every day life. Biometry involves using a physical characteristic such as a fingerprint, palm print, iris or retina scan to identify individuals. These unique identity charact-eristics are digitally stored on a computer system for verification. This way, the identity of each person can be compared to the stored original. Christians will be interested to note that with biometric systems, the original print is stored not as a ‘picture’ but as an algorithm. The number of your name will be literally in your hand (thumb print) or in your forehead (eyes).

Biometric identification is not something that we just see at the movies. It is here, it is with us now. Governments in Australia, the USA and the UK are planning its widespread introduction by 2005.

Both the Dutch and Australian public rejected plans for a national information and identification scheme en masse several years ago, but have reacted more passively to equally intrusive (but less blatant) schemes in the 1990’s.

Uses of the Social Security Number in the USA, the Social Insurance Number in Canada, the Tax File Number in Australia, the SOFI Number in the Netherlands and the Austrian Social Security Number have been extended progressively to include taxation, unemployment support, pensioner benefits and, in some cases, health and higher education. Functional creep is rampant.

Large scale government computer based schemes have been shown in several countries to be much less cost-effective than was originally estimated. Years after the governments of the United States and Australia developed schemes to match public sector data, there is still no clear evidence that the strategy has succeeded in achieving its goals. The audit agencies of both federal governments have cast doubt that computer matching schemes deliver savings.

A nationwide survey by Columbia University last year reported that 83% of people approve of the use of finger imaging. Biometrics is being embraced on a global scale. The Australian company, Fingerscan, a subsidiary of Californian based Identix Inc, recently won one of the biggest bank contracts for biometric security in the world. Fingerscan is working with the Bank of Central Asia in Jakarta, Indonesia to replace numeric passwords for employees at 5000 branches with fingerprint based system access.

Fingerscan also has the world’s largest application of biometrics in the servicing of automated teller machines. In conjunction with contractor Armaguard, which services ATMs for Australian banks, many ATMs are now unlocked by the representative’s fingerprint. The representative brings a portable scanning device that plugs into the back of the ATM and connects the bank’s server which grants him or her admittance.

The US government has a deadline of 1999 to implement electronic benefits processing for welfare recipients, but this may be delayed to accommodate biometrics, which is currently being piloted in five American states. The Australian government will introduce a biometric identity system for welfare recipients by 2005.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the USA have plans to introduce nationwide fingerprinting for hospital patients. This may be extended into other medical applications. The Jamaican Government is planning to introduce electronic thumb scanning to control elections. Social Security verification using biometrics is used in Spain and South Africa. In 1994, the UK Department of Social Security developed a proposal to introduce a national identification card, which recommended a computerised database of the hand-prints of all 30 million people receiving government income assistance.

Big Brother's International
Network of Surveillance

Biometric identification is the technology of today and the future. It is not a matter of if, but when, a global network of computers will link all stored biometric images in a central location, managed by a collective of international authorities.

In 1994, under the leadership of US Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a consortium of the world’s leading companies formed the Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC). Headed by the president of Mitsubishi, the chair of EDS, and the vice chair of Siemens Corporation, the GIIC intends to create a conglomerate of interests powerful enough to subsume government interest in the regulation of biometric and other technologies. The effort is being funded to a large extent by the World Bank.

Governments in 26 countries are, at this moment, monitoring and cooperating with project FAST (Future Automated Screening for Travelers). FAST was first piloted in 1993 by US immigration authorities when a new lane at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport was opened. The technology for the system is known as INPASS (Immigration and Natur-alization Service Passenger Accelerated Service System) which is a biometric identification system used to expedite passengers through customs at international airports in as little as 20 seconds.

Applicants for registration with FAST are interviewed, and identity confirmed. Hand prints are taken, converted to a template and stored digitally on a smart card. Once the last of five green lights appear at the tips of the fingers, the glass exit door opens and the passenger continues to the baggage claim and customs zone. The system is currently a voluntary trial for frequent travellers to and from the USA who are US or Canadian nationals.

With new technology, travelers can rest assured that their security is always in good hands. The US Militech Corporation has developed a Passive Millimeter Wave Imaging system, which can scan people from up to 12 feet away and see through clothing to detect concealed items such as weapons, packages and other contraband. Variations of this through-clothing human screening are under development by companies such as the US Raytheon Corporation, and will be an irresistible addition to international airports everywhere.

Once upon a time, surveillance was targeted at certain groups and individuals. In our time, surveillance occurs en masse. Much of the ‘harmless’ computer based technology necessary for our daily lives could actually be used to keep the entire population under surveillance.

Telephone systems lend themselves to a dual role as a national interceptions network, according to "An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control". For example, the message switching system used on digital exchanges like System X in the UK, supports an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) Protocol. This allows digital devices, e.g. faxes, to share the system with existing lines. The ISDN subset is defined in their documents as "Signaling CCITT"-series interface for ISDN access.

What is not widely known is that built-in to the international CCITT protocol is the ability to take phones ‘off hook’ and listen into conversations occurring near the phone, without the user being aware that it is happening. This effectively means that a national dial up telephone tapping capacity is built into these systems from the start. Further, the digital technology required to pinpoint mobile phone users for incoming calls means that all mobile phones in a country when activated, are mini-tracking devices.

The issues surrounding the uncontrolled and unregulated spread of tyrannical technology are immediate and ongoing. The technologies of repression that are trialed in so-called non-democratic countries are now being aggressively marketed in the West, while Hitler’s Germany becomes a vague memory. It is up to us to do what ever we can to stop the insidious spread of this technology, and to demand the right to choose whether we participate in the biometric system or not. We should ask ourselves... who will heed our cry for help once these technologies are fully implemented?


Davies, Simon, "Touching Big Brother", Information Technology People, Vol 7, No 4, 1994

Elllerman, Sarah, "The Rise of Tempest", Internet Underground Magazine, June 1996.

European Parliament, Scientific and Technical Operations Assessment, 1998, "An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control", available at http://jya.com/stoa-atpc.com

Jane’s US Military R & D, "Human Computer Interface, Vol 1, Issue 3 1997

O’Sullivan, Olara, "Biometrics comes to Life", http://www.banking.com/aba/cover_0197.htm

Privacy International, 1995, "Big Brother Incorporated", http://www.privacy.org/pi

US Scientific Advisory Board, "New World Vistas", the proceedings of Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium of the USAF SAB, November 10, 1994, (republished by International Committee for the Convention Against Offensive Microwave Weapons).

Susan Bryce is an investigative journalist and researcher whose interests include issues which affect individual freedom, environmental health, surveillance technology and global politics. She can be contacted at PO Box 66, Kenilworth, QLD 4574, Australia