Surveillance Society|Gay Adoption|Sandra Bullock Disowns BP Greenwashing

The “Surveillance Society” is my coinage for the fact that we are heading down that slope toward George Orwell’s 1984 when everything you say or do is available so that “Big Brother” can “protect” (control) you. Orwell’s date may have been 20 years too early, but even before 9/11, governments have been employing the latest technology to watch you and me. It is usually done under the excuse of countering terrorism and it plays on the public’s fear response. If not terrorism, then crime. The local town of Tiburon has a minuscule crime history.  The total value of all crime (Exclusive of parking and traffic violations) in the year 2008 was $200,000, down from over $300,000 the year before. But this has been the excuse for the Tiburon Police Chief and the town council to promote cameras at the two entrances to the town. (There are only two roads that enter or leave Tiburon.)  The citizens will be spending $50,000 of the $200,000 for this assault on privacy. The balance will be paid for by the rest of Marin County citizens.

I just discovered that the “surveillance society” coinage is not original. Someone else and probably many someones has been using it in his blog from which the following column comes. I hope you will have your appetite whetted and will go to his blog for more of his cogent writing on this subject. The link is Notes from the Ubiquitous Surveillance Society.

New Issue: 7.1 Open Issue

New Call for Papers: Issue 8.3 Surveillance and Empowerment

by David

There’s been a huge furore here in Canada about the current government’s decision to abolish the long-form census. I’ve been following the debate more interested in what the proponents and opponents have been saying about privacy and surveillance rather than intervening. But it’s about time I got off the fence, so here’s my two cents’ worth. It may come out as an op-ed piece in one of the papers soon, I don’t know…

Sense about the Census:

Why the Long-form Census debate really matters.

The debate about the scrapping of the long-form census is in danger of being unhelpfully polarized. The result can only benefit the current government to the long-term detriment of the Canadian people. On the one hand, some of those campaigning for the reinstatement of the survey have dismissed issues of surveillance and privacy. On the other hand, supporters of its abolition have referred to ‘privacy’ and ‘coercion’ as if these words in themselves were reason enough to cut the survey. But the whole way in which privacy has been discussed is a red herring. We need to reaffirm a commitment to privacy alongside other collective social values not in opposition to them. We need privacy and we need the census.

First, coercion. The long-form census is undoubtedly a form of coercive state surveillance. One only has to glance at the recent history of state data collection and its role in discrimination and mass-murder to see that that one can be far too blasé about the possibility of states misusing statistics. Examples abound from the Holocaust to the genocide in Rwanda, and there is no reason to suppose that this could never happen again. In fact technology makes discrimination easier and more comprehensive: with sophisticated data-mining techniques, inferences can be made about individuals and groups from disparate and seemingly harmless personal data.

However, just because the censuses have the potential for abuse, this does not make it wrong. Surveillance forms the basis of modern societies, good and bad, and coercion is all around us from the time we are children told by our parents not to play on the stairs. Coercion can be caring, protect us and improves our lives. The long-form census would have to be shown to be unfairly coercive, or not have enough beneficial policy outcomes to justify any coercion. This, the government has failed to do, whereas the campaign for the restoration of the survey has highlighted numerous examples of improvements in communities across Canada resulting from long-form census data.

Now to privacy. The campaign to restore the long-form census has seen frequent instances of the argument, ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’. This is one of the most glib arguments about privacy and surveillance, not only because of the potential abuse of state data collection but also because it assumes so much about what people should want to keep private. Another common argument is that privacy is irrelevant because ‘everyone gives away their personal information on Facebook anyway’. But the fact that some people chose to share parts of their lives with selected others does not imply that any infringement of privacy is acceptable. Privacy depends on context. Social networking or marketing trends do not mean that ‘anything goes’ with personal data.

In making these arguments, campaigners end up unwittingly bolstering a government strategy that relies not only on the evocation of ‘coercion’ but on pitting individual privacy against collective social goals. Yet, the government’s position is misleading. But privacy is not simply an individual right but also a collective social value. And further, just because the data is collected from individuals by the state, does not mean that the state infringes on privacy. It depends on whether the data is stored without consent in a way that identifies individuals or is used in a way negatively impacts upon them.

However, Statistics Canada have demonstrated a commitment to privacy within the census process. The long-form census data is not used to identify or target individuals. It is aggregated and used for wider community purposes. As Statistics Canada say quite on their website: “No data that could identify an individual, business or organization, are published without the knowledge or consent of the individual, business or organization.” The census returns are confidential and Statistics Canada employees are the only people who will ever have access to the raw returns, and they are bound by The Statistics Act. All this was confirmed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who found the 2006 census fully compliant with privacy law.

So both privacy and coercion are red herrings. The conduct of the long-form census has demonstrated a commitment to privacy alongside other collective social values in support of individuals and the wider community. This moderate, sensible and profoundly Canadian position is now under threat. That is why this debate matters.


From Huffington Post–Click on headline link to go to the original

July 29, 2010

Same-Sex Couples Match Heterosexual Couples In Performance As Adoptive Parents, UVA/GWU Study Finds

First Posted: 07-27-10 04:25 PM   |   Updated: 07-27-10 04:44 PM

In multiple states, adoption for same-sex couples is against the law — governments hold that a child needs both male and female parents for “optimal development.” However, a recent study from George Washington University and the University of Virginia goes against this theory.

According to the Washington Post, University of Virginia researchers Rachel Farr and Charlotte Patterson and George Washington University researcher Stephen Forssell studied children adopted at birth by 50 heterosexual couples and 56 homosexual couples and drew information on the preschoolers from a variety of adults. They discovered that homosexual families were just as adjusted as families with heterosexual parents.

The Post has more on the larger meaning of the study:

From a public policy stance, the study suggests there is “no justification for denying lesbian and gay prospective adoptive parents the opportunity to adopt children,” Patterson, the lead researcher, said.

A study released in January had similar findings. Conducted by researchers from New York University and the University of Southern California, it found that children raised by same-sex parents are “statistically indistinguishable” from children raised by married, heterosexual couples.

Across the world, countries seem to be warming to the idea of same-sex adoption. Swiss Info reports that a measure callingfor legalization of same-sex adoption was introduced into Swiss Parliament in June.

What do you think of this study? Do you think it will change state policies? Weigh in below.


EXCLUSIVE: Sandra Bullock Disowns BP-Backed Greenwashing Campaign

Academy Award-winning actress and New Orleans resident Sandra Bullock has severed her involvement in a campaign to call attention to the BP spill, after learning from ThinkProgress that it was a greenwashing effort by the oil industry. Bullock is prominently featured in the Restore the Gulf campaign, run by Women of the Storm and sponsored by America’s Wetland Foundation.

In an online video with other major celebrities, Bullock called for American people to “speak up” and “sign the petition” for Congress and President Obama at the campaign website, which demands that “a plan to restore America’s Gulf be fully funded and implemented for me and future generations.” The YouTube video makes her the face of the campaign:

Unbeknownst to Bullock, America’s Wetland Foundation is a front group established by Shell Oil in 2002 and funded by the American Petroleum Institute, BP, and a host of other oil companies. Women of the Storm was established after Hurricane Katrina by Anne Milling, the wife of America’s Wetland chairman R. King Milling, who is part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) team to lift the offshore drilling moratorium. This greenwashing campaign, first uncovered by’s Brendan Demelle, subtly includes mentions of “safe domestic energy” and oil industry factoids, while implying that American taxpayers, not the unmentioned oil industry, should pay for restoring the region BP has poisoned.

Sandra Bullock’s publicist tells ThinkProgress the actress was never informed of the campaign’s big oil ties. In a statement issued to ThinkProgress, Bullock’s representatives indicated they would immediately ask “for her participation in the PSA be removed until the facts can be determined”:

Ms. Bullock was originally contacted through her attorney to be a part of the PSA in order to promote awareness of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At no time was she made aware that any organization, oil company or otherwise had influence over Women of the Storm or its message. We have immediately asked for her participation in the PSA be removed until the facts can be determined. Her commitment to the Gulf region has been apparent for many years and she will continue to pursue opportunities that will bring awareness and support to the plight of the Gulf region.

With its deep pockets, BP’s focus should be on supplying necessary funds to restore the Gulf region, not secretly supporting greenwashing campaigns to redirect blame. The people of the Gulf of Mexico don’t need the toxic influence of the oil industry, and the American people don’t need its toxic pollution.



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