Suspicious minds

5 March 2008

I had seen these batshit-insane adverts for a couple of weeks already, but hadn’t got a decent shot of them to provide. Now I’ve found that the Met Police have kindly provided copies on their own website all along. Have a butcher’s below:

police_camera police_mobile

If you take a photograph of something you “shouldn’t”, or so something “odd” with more than one mobile phone, you’re a suspect. What counts as “suspicious” or “odd” behaviour, they don’t say. In fact, the message from these adverts appears to be: We haven’t got a fucking clue who the terrorists are – so we’ll leave it to your internal prejudices to decide instead. The message of this campaign is so vague, they’re even saying be vigiliant of anyone who lives in a house in an “unusual” manner:

police_house

The endless calls for heightened vigilance and suspicion of your fellow citizens, in the absence of evidence of a specific threat may be in the name of security, but they lead to a form of mass insecurity. The police’s reliance on the wisdom of crowds ends up utterly failing, as there is no correcting mechanism for the level-headed to compensate for the paranoid; even if 99% of us are not taken in by a false alarm all it takes is one panicky idiot to call in what they think is a threat and the police have to act – even if it’s just a tape dispenser, chilli sauce or a nesting box for bats.

Aside – ironically, the police themselves are no strangers to this, with one errant officer having this week circulated a well-known urban legend about drugs being sold to children. You’d think they’d be aware the damage a single loose cannon can cause.

Anyway, back to the terrorist alerts. It’s what Bruce Schneier has referred to as the “war on the unexpected“. Of course, the ones I’ve just listed are just the bonkers false alarms that make the news; there must be many more mundane incidents that never get reported in the news. Just what is the cost of all these false alarms? Not just the drain on police resources (especially while we are constantly reminded of the cost of hoax 999 calls), nor the cost of all the inconvenience every time a street or train station is evacuated, or even the health costs of the additional stress of living in fear. There’s also the cost in lost social cohesion, trust in each other and faith in the authorities to be able to do the job, intangibles it’s impossible to put a price on.

So what next? Apart from taking the piss with remixes of the posters on BoingBoing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And I don’t just mean wearing Keep Calm and Carry On T-shirts, whilst continuing to take photographs, using your multiple mobile phones and, er, living in your house without fear of intimidation (though of course we should). What I mean is something further – is it going to take before there’s a backlash, from more than the usual suspects, and some sanity is restored to anti-terrorist policy?


2 Responses

Sadly the reason for these useless posters is what they call “design by committee”. Having worked in the public sector, believe me, I know. I’ll never get over it.

Hey, if you did have a “Debunk a Terror Alert” hotline, you could do bayesian filtering between the two; might actually be useful, and at least it would be cool.