Monday, October 22, 2007

Las Vegas & Counterterrorism

Interesting article in this morning's Washington Post discussing the role of Las Vegas as "incubator of a whole host of surveillance technologies."

"This city, famous for being America's playground, has also become its security lab. Like nowhere else in the United States, Las Vegas has embraced the twin trends of data mining and high-tech surveillance, with arguably more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. Even the city's cabs and monorail have cameras. As the U.S. government ramps up its efforts to forestall terrorist attacks, some privacy advocates view the city as a harbinger of things to come."

The article builds on other themes we discussed in Criminology this semester, particularly the Frontline documentary "Spying on the Home Front", which focused on the infamous New Year's Eve 2003 data mining request by the federal government for the records of every Las Vegas hotel and casino (and their guest registrations) over a two week period.

The request was made after a intelligence report indicated that there might be a terrorist attack in Las Vegas during the New Year's Eve celebration (a report which later turned out to be "mistranslated" and wrong).

In this era of terrorist pre-emption and prevention, the role of law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors and virtually every other aspect of the criminal justice system is being changed dramatically. That Las Vegas is serving as a petri dish of experimentation with new surveillance technologies isn't all that surprising, given the enormous amounts of money that move through the casinos and the emphasis on preventing criminal activity associated with gambling.

As any student of Vegas history can tell you, the "eye in the sky" surveillance technology was first pioneered there in an effort to cut down on cheats and thieves. By placing gamblers under the watchful eye of "big brother," deterrence is achieved, which is exactly what Jeremy Bentham (and later Foucault) theorized would happen. Total surveillance equals total control.

My next trip out I plan on trying to score a tour of some of the casinos and their systems for research purposes. And it will answer the long-running question I have regarding one of my guilty pleasures on Friday nights: how much of what they show on the NBC show "Las Vegas" is fake and how much of it is real (I'm talking about the surveillance technologies)?

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