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Headspace: Looking for Western values in Kensington

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Book extract Headspace is Reg contributor Amber Marks's exploration of how the state and private sectors are trying to exploit the science of smell to watch and control citizens.

The book is published by Virgin Books and is available here.

This week, in Chapter 20, Eden Olympia, Amber attends a conference dubbed Building a Secure World, held at a top secret conference centre somewhere in Olympia, Kensington.

Most of us on the train pulling into Kensington Olympia were probably conference attendees, but the brazen indiscretion of the man opposite me was still a shock to the system.

"The government's still refusing to sign the contract. It's time to play hardball. We need to get the WTO involved, get them to put the pressure on," he said into his mobile phone.

The train doors opened and I tried to follow him to find out what government he was referring to, on behalf of which organisation he was talking and what kind of pressure the World Trade Organisation could exert, but I lost him in the crowd exiting the station.

The security on the way in to the exhibition hall was predictably tight; the event was sponsored by Group 4 Securicor, Smiths Detection, Thales, Security Management Today, Mannix Security, BMT Centre for Homeland Security, Oracle Corporation and L3 Communications.

The ground floor of the exhibition hall was a hive of activity. The Department for Trade and Industry handed out brochures outlining the assistance it could provide to security companies trying to get a head-start in the competitive industry of counter-terrorism and a woman in black leather hotpants wandered up and down the hall with Love Heart sweets, inviting visitors to see the security solutions she could service them with. Numerous companies advertised their wares with the slogan "The Surveillance of Tomorrow Today" and others asked "If the nation looks to you for its security, who do you look to?".

Patrick Mercer, the then shadow home secretary, addressing an audience filled to the brim with security company executives, remarked on the unprecedented move by Eliza Manningham-Buller, the then head of MI5 and reputed bee-keeper, to inform the public of the gravity of the terrorist threat faced. He thought that was a good move.

In fact he thought that the government should do more. The public, he said, should be kept permanently aware of the level of threat faced by the UK of terrorist attacks. The threat level should be regularly communicated in cinemas and on the radio and television, as it was in the US.

"Who knows," he concluded, "how big the next threat will be? There is no way we can tell but the number of casualties will be in the thousands."

Private industry should be given financial incentives to incorporate security systems within their architecture.

The director of Transport Security and Contingencies (TranSec) assured the audience that the government was continuing to invest in counter-terror technologies and was conducting screening trials of new technologies at stations to see how well they worked and, importantly, the extent to which the travelling public was willing to accept them.

The results so far were encouraging. The vast majority of the travelling public in the UK were happy to comply with the security arrangements. In fact, she'd been surprised by how few refused to undergo security screening. The results suggested that the public accepted the necessity of security measures, which democratically legitimised government moves to install them on a more permanent basis.

The director of TranSec confirmed that the threat to the UK was real and serious and that international terrorism was here to stay. It sounded like the War on Terror would be a permanent state of affairs and the audience seemed pleased. The UK government focus, she stated, had to be on research and development of new security technologies.

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