Big Brother Prison

This Dutch prison is the future of surveillance.

At a high-tech prison opening this week inmates wear electronic wristbands that track their every movement and guards monitor cells using emotion-recognition software.

Remember, new surveillance technologies are first used on populations with limited rights: inmates, children, the mentally ill, military personnel.

Posted on February 2, 2006 at 11:23 AM29 Comments


Anonymous February 2, 2006 11:35 AM

If kept in a database, the tracking information could be used as raw data for some very interesting research on prison populations.

Foolish Jordan February 2, 2006 11:37 AM

“Remember, new surveillance technologies are first used on populations with limited rights”

And pets, who are regularly “chipped” nowadays.

Erik Carlseen February 2, 2006 11:46 AM

Wasn’t there a movie about this where the prisoner’s heads explode if they break out of prison?

If it does, the inventors could be up for a Nobel Prize!

Andre LePlume February 2, 2006 12:42 PM

This future has already been documented on The Simpsons, when Flanders is in control of the world:

Ned: [on TV] Heidely-ho, slaverinos!

Family: Okily dokily.

Homer: Hey, what the hell is that geek Flanders doing on TV?
[a siren goes off]

Ned: Oh! I see by the Big Board we got a Negative Nellie in Sector Two. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask the whole family to kind of freeze and prepare for Re-Neducation.

Bart: Don’t you remember, Dad? Flanders is the unquestioned lord and
master of the world.

Homer: D’oh!

Unstructured February 2, 2006 1:00 PM

Agreed Bruce, the greatest test labs are for those who have no recourse or options. It’s then slowly moved outward into society as the ideas become solidified in the minds of the population. You could even extend this theory to folks on probation, parole, and in drug treatment centers- by court order. This is my first post here, I’ve been reading for a while and respect the back and forth I see and of course respect Bruce and his opinions. Peace and Good Day

kashmarek February 2, 2006 1:03 PM

Include hospital patients (all kinds), nursing home residents, and the homeless (well, they tried at least).

Roy February 2, 2006 1:44 PM

It’s a mistake to limit this to convicts.

Including the guards would reduce the incidence of rape, murder, and ‘suicide’.

Ed T. February 2, 2006 2:23 PM

And, what is so ironic about this: it is happening in the Netherlands, where due to the persecution experienced at the hands of the Nazi German occupation, the citizens are almost anal when it comes to privacy and civil liberties…

Ian February 2, 2006 5:28 PM

Slippery slope arguments aside, I don’t particularly consider this a bad thing. Then again, I’m all for revoking the rights of people who choose not to fulfill their responsibilities.

BachusII February 2, 2006 5:33 PM

I saw this on the news the other day. It’s a spinoff of a project in the city of Groningen (or vice versa) where cameras are being equiped with microphones and voice-stress detecting circuits. The idea is that screams or highly stressed voices activate the recorders. Thus saving tapes (digital media?) and wasted mantime by not sifting through hours of nothing happening.

The mikes in the prison presumably have lower stress tolerance levels before they trip a record/alarm switch.

Roger February 2, 2006 7:33 PM

“Remember, new surveillance technologies are first used on populations with limited rights: inmates, children, the mentally ill, military personnel.”

Really? I think I take your point (that if we allow these sorts of things to encroach on the defenceless, they will become more tolerated for use on everyone); but I don’t think the statement as given is actually true.

Nearly every surveillance technology I can think of was first used against a particular opponent because that opponent was too powerful, dangerous or wily to be caught otherwise. The two “victim groups” which come up repeatedly are dangerous or organised criminals, and enemy soldiers during wartime. (Another interesting thing I’ve just realised, is that very few surveillance technologies were originally intended for surveillance; most are adaptations of existing instrumentation systems.)

The first baker’s dozen I thought of:
Technology; first surveillance targets; original use
* Bloodhounds (“sniffer” dogs): poachers and murderers; hunting
* Telescopes: enemy troops and warships; astronomy
* Postal interception: enemy generals, political conspirators; plain old literacy
* Financial audit trails: preventing embezzlement; ???
* Aerial surveillance: enemy troops; flying for its own sake
* Covert listening devices: a corrupt lawyer working for an embezzler; dictaphones
* Covert photography: suffragette prisoners who refused to allow mugshots; telephoto lenses for landscape photography, also Paul Strand’s covert cameras for street photographic art c. 1915
* Radio interception: enemy troops in WWI, then organised crime during the US Prohibition; radio communication
* Telephone taps: organised crime during Prohibition; an accidental misfeature of trunk lines
* Radar: enemy warplanes; radio communications and medical equipment
* Night vision: enemy troops; astronomy and early television
* Directional microphones: spies and diplomats; studio outside broadcast equipment
* CCTV: armed bank robbers; TV for entertainment.

Out of that list, only covert photography could reasonably be described as “first used on populations with limited rights”. In fact most were first used for surveillance because the surveillance target was powerful and/or dangerous. In that respect, even the suffragettes don’t entirely count as weak; they were subject to covert photography because they were starting to commit serious crimes (arson) but the UK Home Office feared the political consequences of using conventional police methods against them.

B-Con February 2, 2006 9:04 PM

Because monitoring is easier, the Lelystad facility requires far fewer guards

I hope they don’t make the mistake of understaffing the prision. Electronics are no substitute for humans.

Bob Smith February 3, 2006 12:58 AM

It seems to me the lack of cameras in bathrooms and cells make them a prime area for rape, assault, and murder, especially with a lot fewer guards around to keep order.

wim February 3, 2006 1:08 AM

And, what is so ironic about this: it is >happening in the Netherlands, where >due to the persecution experienced at >the hands of the Nazi German >occupation, the citizens are almost >anal when it comes to privacy and civil >liberties…
In the Netherlands privacy and civil liberties don’t seem to exist if their needs to be something introduced that somehow could reduce the risk of terrorism or crime

On topic, while I do agree with the statement that things like this first will be tested on groups like these people you could argue that in this case their is a valid reason to implement a system like this.

Arturo Quirantes February 3, 2006 5:50 AM

Funny, as it comes from the same country whose biometric passport has just been cracked (see this blog, Jan 31).

Now all the inmates need is to hire the guy who just cracked the Verichip and hop, Joe Neverdogood is in three, no four … er, make it five different places at the same time.

Gargamel February 3, 2006 6:25 AM

“Slippery slope arguments aside, I don’t particularly consider this a bad thing. Then again, I’m all for revoking the rights of people who choose not to fulfill their responsibilities.”

Well, what do you mean by “not to fulfil ones responsibilies”? Unfortuately justice is NOT blind, nor the laws, nor the government.

During the Inquisition, heretics and “witches” were tortured, imprisoned, and murdered.

In Nazi-Germany, it was considered “necessary” to imprison and murder jews.

During the Red Scare, communists (or people the Government believed to be or be associated with communists) were fired, humiliated, or imprisoned.

During the present Terrorist Scare, people that are suspected of being terrorists (without enough evidence to convict them in a court) are being imprisoned indefinately.

What do you do if it is the SOCIETY, the POLITICIANS, or the GOVERNMENT that do not fulfil its responsibilities or obligations against the PEOPLE?

Ligthert February 3, 2006 8:07 AM

A friend of mine works at this prison as a security officer. Him is told that the primary reason is to cut costs. Which seems typical dutch the past 5 years; cut costs ad infinitum.

The wrist/ankle band moniters bloodpressure, hartrate and such kind-off stuff. The microphones only kick in when there is shouting. So only when there is a skirmish security will come barging through the door. The claim that it detects emotions is a conclusion based on what can be detected on the service

The devices they wear are intresting since they register every movement in certain areas from which they conclude what is going on.

Also the prison culture here in the Netherlands are different. Where in the states security is killing 2 inmates per month on average and groups/clans are fighting eachother as their favorite past time.. This isn’t the case here where if you behave well enough for the duration and do what is being told you can be out for murder in 2-6 years depending on your laywer. This makes this system possible where they reward (or restrict) priveledges of the inmates based on their behaviour.

As for the dutch and privacy etc etc… we suck.. Not much people see this. But those who do resist. It was “our” idea to instate dataretention in europe entirely (I hate you Donner)

Personally it is my civil duty from June 2007 to work with crypto non-stop and create so much worthless bulk traffic that the real catch is harder to find 😉

Victor Bogado February 3, 2006 8:29 AM


Or killed, a Brasilian was cold bloded murdered in London by the police. Because they thought he was involved with terrorism.

They first telled the world that he was using a too thick coat for a warm day and a big scary backpack. When videos, from surveilance cameras were released, along with witnesses acounts, disproved that version (he was neither with a coat nor with a backpack, and he was imobilized when they shot him), the police department puted the reporter that “bought” the tape behind bars.

The official word from the Lodon police is “we are sorry”. No one was arrested or punished in any way for their grave mistake. No one. If it were a French, American or an English boy things would be different, and this makes me mad.

corey lawson February 3, 2006 2:17 PM

Tech used for nefarious purposes before being used on/for civilians?

Better add hearing aids to the list. First, room & telephone bugs, now hearing aids. Good luck getting technical specs on hearing aids from ther mfgrs.

Roger February 6, 2006 2:29 AM

@Victor Bogado:
“They first telled the world that he was using a too thick coat for a warm day and a big scary backpack. ”

Actually, those false rumours — and several others — originated with the press interviewing “eyewitnesses”, not the police.

“When videos, from surveilance cameras were released, along with witnesses acounts, disproved that version…”

Actually, the police informed Senhor de Menezes’ family, their lawyers, and Brazilian consular officials of the inaccuracy of those rumours within two days, well before the CCTV tapes were stolen.

“…the police department puted the reporter that “bought” the tape behind bars.”

The journalist was charged with stealing evidence from the investigators. The arrest was at the request of the Independent Police Complaints Commission — the people investigating the police — not the police. So far as I am aware he has not yet been prosecuted, and I would think his prosecution would be delayed until it can be seen if he jeopardised any other trials.

“No one was arrested or punished in any way for their grave mistake. No one.”

False. The officers involved were suspended during the investigation. The matter was placed before the IPCC for investigation, in accordance with procedure. On 18 August, the IPCC predicted the complex case could take up to 6 months to investigate, i.e. up until 18 February 2006. In December, the IPCC indicated that the investigation report would be completed in about a month, and that it was “likely” that it would recommend criminal prosecution of some of the police officers involved. The IPCC completed and submitted its report on the 19th of January this year, 5 months after predicting it would take 6 months. The report has not been released to the public at this stage, but the list of recipients (including the solicitors of the Crown Prosecution Service) strongly suggests that it indeed does call for prosecution.

On the 29th of January several newspapers carried stories which claimed to be based on leaks from this report, and suggesting that the officers most likely to be charged are from the surveillance team (as some of us suggested on this blog three days after the tragedy). These stories are unconfirmed at this stage.

repeater February 13, 2006 9:01 PM

Put a cell phone and MP3 player in that wristband, and we’ll all be clamoring for it.

Posted by: Ralph Broom at February 2, 2006 03:24 PM

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