Friday, June 12, 2009

The End?

This weekend marks the final transition from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting. As I'm sure you know, the transition day was delayed because many people complained. It seems they thought they hadn't enough time, or enough money, to by conversion boxes, if they needed them. Many people stated that the transition would abandon many elderly who depend on broadcast TV for... entertainment and news I guess... and since they were on fixed incomes they couldn't afford the boxes with such short notice.

That was a crap excuse. Maybe it was different in other areas, but I used to work in the industry, and I know for a fact that we started warning our customers as early as 2002. Could have been earlier, but the first time I can remember telling a customer was shortly after the attacks in New York and DC. It could even have been later... maybe 2003 or 2004, and I'm getting my memories confused. It doesn't matter anyway, because the point is they had between 4 and 8 years to prepare, not a matter of months. That's enough time, I think.

My real question is what is said about the transition. It's allegedly going to "free up that part of the broadcast spectrum for other uses."

The official take on these "other uses" is that it will be used for public safety communications. These are communications for fire departments, police departments, civil defense, etc.

I wonder, are they going to broadcast visually for these communications? Why is there the need for it? I don't work in that industry, so I'm not aware. Has the band reserved for this sort of thing become cluttered?

If you remember your old TVs, they have UHF (ultra high frequency 300-3000MHz) and VHF (very high frequency 30-300MHz).

There are many other radio frequencies used for communication. You have low frequencies, super low frequencies, medium, high, super high, extremely high... pretty much all you'd imagine.

Interestingly enough there are some designations for things one doesn't normally think about, but are necessary: satellite reception, military countermeasures, and guessed it... traffic radar.

The photo radar comes to mind. This is where they build the little stands with cameras on them at the intersections of streets or public crosswalks that take pictures of people who "violate" the law.

The band reserved for photo radar is currently around the 33 to 35 GHz range. I'm trying to figure this out. We've had new cameras installed, and I actually support the reasons behind putting them up, at least I did, until I finally heard a good argument against it.

We have speeders that come down our hill too fast to slow down for the light at the bottom or the school crosswalk next to it. It makes it near impossible to pull out onto the main road from our side street because the speeders crest the blind hill and fly toward you at least 20mph over the posted limit, or more. They put cameras (all over town too) at this intersection, and it has slowed the traffic. I am all for this.

The argument I heard against it was that the operation of our cameras may be contracted out to a third party, a private for-profit institution that may or may not, depending on the honorable nature of the company, seek profits over my rights. They can do any manner of things to the photos before handing them to the police, including but not limited to using photoshop to alter times, speeds, license plates, entire cars even...

Sadly, I must admit that this has, while not convincing me of the evils of traffic cameras, made me more wary of them.

If you're interested, click here for information on how to beat a ticket received from a traffic camera. You can even have it not appear on your record.

But this isn't what I'm really concerned about.

They are freeing up 30-3000MHz for public safety communications.

Since I don't believe the traffic band for radio communication for fire, police, and hospital are cluttered, the only logical thing I can think of would be communications for visual devices. Perhaps broadcast TV, like camera phones, from dispatch to police cars, trucks, and fire. Perhaps communication between a hub or chief to individual officers on the beat or firefighters in a structural fire. Perhaps even cameras on their hats/helmets that broadcast in real-time what they see. I think that usage of these bands is more than justified.

What I don't think is justified, and what I worry about considerably, is the usage of these bands for the broadcast of "big brother" cameras. As London, England, is currently plagued, are we destined to be swarmed by masses of "public safety" cameras on every street corner and alley?

Cameras used to spy on our every-day lives?

This is not a societal step in the right direction, in my opinion. I hope that this is not the intended use of these newly "freed" bands.

I don't want cameras spying on me. I don't need the government watching everything I do. Government is a necessary evil used to mitigate grievances between individuals, groups, or states. Assault, robbery, transport of goods, civil rights cases, even taxes, are all grievances between groups.

What I don't need is a camera shoved in my face, surveying my surroundings in order to keep me safe. It is good to be protected. I'm not denying that. I'm saying that the risk of abuse of this system far outweighs any benefit received.

Could spy cameras on street corners have prevented the terrorist attacks of 1993? 1995? 2001? Could they have found who sent the mysterious anthrax? Perhaps.

Could spy cameras, especially ones that can penetrate your clothing, stop people from planting devices in towns or on airplanes? Probably.

Does this justify the usage of those cameras? I think not.

I am a fervent believer in the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." I even have it cross-stitched into my pillow.

Perhaps these traffic cameras were the beginning. Perhaps I should protest them. I definitely will reject any public spy cameras on my street corners.

Some say it's the end of analog transmission. Is it also an end to freedom? You decide.

As a side note, while researching radio frequencies, I was reminded of numbers stations. These are stations on shortwave used to transmit streams of numbers to a target. The numbers are believed to be encrypted communications to spies in foreign countries. You can hear an example here and see an example here. These files are the property of their respective owners and I have used them without their permission. If they so choose, I will remove them from this post.

Could this be what the "new uses" for these freed broadcast bands will be? More spy communication? With or without cameras?

I am most intrigued by the comment in the video by the reporter, referring to a British official who stated, "People shouldn't be interested in numbers stations, because people shouldn't be listening to them, because they are illegal to listen to."

Maybe I'm just paranoid.....

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