Fortress Toronto for G20 summit

There is an interesting article yesterday in the Toronto Star that does a good job of describing what will happen when the G20 arrives in town in June this year.

Of course, it will be accompanied by all the security and surveillance that these days comes as part and parcel of these ‘mega-events‘ (see also: here and here) whether they be sporting, economic or political – with the added hyper-security around world leaders. Rather like the peripatetic monarch’s court that used to be a feature of high mediaeval European societies, the travelling circus of global governance brings with it, its own security norms, creating locked-down ‘islands’ within cities, temporarily removing the rights and liberties of residents, and moving out and on those people seen to be ‘out-of place’ (the homeless, street vendors, protestors and so on). In many cases, ordinary people are suddenly potential troublemakers, and residents are harassed in advance by intelligence services who check profiles, backgrounds, political affiliations and so on. Business within the zone are usually negatively affected – even if the case is made, as it normally is, that there will be some nebulous ‘economic benefit’, which (oh, so conveniently) happens to cover the costs of security. The events are often also ‘test-beds’ for new technologies of surveillance and security – last year at the Pittsburgh G20 summit, we saw the use of sonic weapons on protestors for example.

Why do cities put up with this? Well, it’s all about inter-urban competition. For urban authorities these mega-events reinforce the global status of the city, or allow it to climb the ever-incrasing numbers of rankings of ‘world cities’ of ‘global cities’.¬† Toronto, like so many other cities in the second or third rank of global cities, is obsessed with appearing to be world class, and the local government will put up with almost any kind of inconvenience to its citizens that is seen to benefit the city’s global status.

I’ll be keeping an eye on developments, but if I was a Toronto resident, and if I could, I’d just leave town for a couple of weeks before and during the event…

India plans ‘world class’ electronic surveillance for Commonwealth Games

The Times of India reports on the Indian government’s plans to implement comprehensive surveillance for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. One aim seems to be to create the kind of ‘island security’ with which we have become so familiar at these kinds of mega-events: vehicle check-points with automatic license-plate recording and recognition; x-ray machines and other scanners for vehicles (and perhaps people too). They will also massively expand CCTV systems and not just in the actual Games area, but throughout the city of Delhi.There are also, as usual plans to use more experimental surveillance and control techniques (as with the use of sub-lethal sonic weapons in Pittsburgh the other day), in this case a drone surveillance airship,” capable of taking and transmitting high-density visual images of the entire city.”

However, this is not just about the temporary security of the games. As with many other such mega-events, the Indian government appears to be planning to use the Delhi games as a kind of Trojan Horse for the rolling out of similar and more permanent measures in big cities across the country. The Times article claims that the Ministry of Home Affairs intends to expand the measures and “soon the same model is planned to be replicated across the country,” and in particular on use of airships, “similar airships would be launched in other big and vulnerable cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai.” And there will be an infrastructure too, apparently “the IB [Intelligence Bureau] is silently working to create a command center to monitor all-India intelligence and surveillance.”

Of course the threat of ‘terror groups’ is the justification, and there’s no doubt there is a threat to Indian cities from such groups, particularly those based in Pakistan. However, the Indian public shouldn’t assume that anything done in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’ will: 1. actually work (in the sense of preventing terrorism); or 2. be used for those purposes anyway. This same trend happened¬† in the UK during the early 1990s, when the threat of the Provisional IRA was the justification, and before most people in Britain had even noticed, a massive (and it seems ever-expanding) patchwork of CCTV camera systems had been created, which were joined by further repressive measures even before 9/11. And did this massive number of cameras stop London being attacked by terrorists? No, it didn’t.¬† 7/7 still happened. But of course we had lots of good pictures after the event for the media… and they are very expensive and don’t even do much to stop regular crime, as a recent meta-study has shown. What would be more effective would be peace and co-operation with Pakistan, a move away from both chauvinistic Hindu and Muslim nationalisms and extremisms which only generate resentment and hatred, and old-fashioned targeted intelligence work on those very few people who are actually planning terrorism – not mass surveillance and the gradual erosion of civil liberties of the entire population based on state fears that some of them might be guilty.

Finally, this is about globalization. The whole way this is promoted by the Indian government is as if there is some international competition to install as much CCTV and security as possible. But the global spread of the surveillance standards and expectations of the rich western elite is a self-fulfilling logic that benefits only the massive global security-industrial complex.