Surveillance cameras in the favelas (2)

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the military police had installed surveillance cameras in the favela of Santa Marta, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which I visited back in April. This is the first time such police cameras have been put into such informal settlements in Rio. My friend and colleague, Paola Barreto Leblanc, sent me this link to these youtube broadcasts from a local favela TV company, in which residents discuss their (largely negative) views of the cameras.

There is also a poster that has been put up around the area produced by the Community Association and other local activist and civil society groups – see here – which reads as follows in English:


At the end of August, the inhabitants of Santa Marta were surprised to learn from newspapers and TV that nine surveillance cameras would be installed in different areas of the favela. A fear of being misinterpreted paralysed the community.

Many of the people of the city, and some in the Moro itself support this initiative.  However, we are a pacified favela, so why do they keep treating us as dangerous?

Walls, three kinds of police, 120 soldiers, cameras – this is no exaggeration.  When will we be treated as ordinary citizens instead of being seen as suspects?

Wall: 2 million Reais, Cameras, half a million Reais. How many houses could this amount of money build? How many repairs to the water and sewage system?

The last apartments built in Santa Marta are 32 square metres. The Popular Movement for Housing [an NGO] says that the minimum size should be 42 square metres. Other initiatives have gone with 37 square metres. So why don’t we stand up and demand this minimum standard? This should be our priority!

When will the voice of the inhabitants of this community be heard?

We need collective discussion and debate.

Fear is paralysing this community and preventing criticism. But the exercise of our rights is the only guarantee of freedom.

“Peace without a voice is fear”

We want to discuss our priorities. We want to know about and be involved in the urban development project in Santa Marta.

We will only be heard and respected if we unite.

Think, talk, reflect, debate, get involved…

Flying into trouble?

Governments will find it harder and harder to stand up to this kind of pressure from the growing security economy – all the companies grown fat on the War on Terror

Two recent stories of the cancellation of airborne surveillance programs should remind us that the route to a surveillance society is not an inevitable technological trajectory.

You don't see that very often! An airborne DEA surveillance plane (Photo by Schweizer Aircraft/MCT).
You don't see that very often! An airborne DEA surveillance plane (Photo by Schweizer Aircraft/MCT).

One is a classic tale of secret budgets disguising incompetence and disorganisation rather than efficient espionage. The US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) has ended an experimental air surveillance program, following almost total equipment failure. The planes, in short, didn’t fly, or didn’t fly much. Almost $15 million US down the drain, and no accountability because this was an ultra-secret, need-to-know, maximum deniability, ‘black earmark’ project…

The other is a more courageous story of a government finally standing up to the pressure or its larger ‘allies’, and the fear-mongering PR of arms companies. In this case, the Australian government has withdrawn from the BAMS Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program. It has cost the country $15 Million AUS, but this will save almost $1 Billion AUS. It also puts a small dent in the massive expansion of UAVs, now being used everywhere from the skies of Afghanistan to the streets of Liverpool. This decision did not make the military-industrial complex very happy and the story in The Australian shows clear evidence of corporate PR spin at work – the emotional blackmail of claiming that this decision could cost Australian lives in the event of more bushfires (or in other stories, it would leave Australia open to terrorism).

Global Hawk (USAF)
Global Hawk (USAF)

Even in a recession, governments will find it harder and harder to stand up to this kind of public pressure from the growing security economy – all the companies grown fat on the War on Terror that have the ear of the military and are backed by US-led consortia. It is to their credit that the Australian government has not given in – as for the US DEA, well, that is the opposite lesson – secrecy and the assumption of necessity can lead to massively wasteful state procurement and an absence of real security. The question is whether either lesson will prompt wider leaning…

CCTV is good for something… or is it?

MSNBC has some great footage of US Airways 1549 that crash-landed in the Hudson yesterday, taken from CCTV cameras on a nearby wharf.

However well this footage shows the undoubted skill of the pilot, I can’t help thinking every time I see this kind of use of CCTV footage that it must play a really important part in the process of normalisation. The fact that people can see footage from CCTV on the news adds to a largely mistaken impression that video surveillance ‘works’. It doesn’t matter whether the footage is of an amazing tale of heroism and survival, a crash or a crime prevented or committed, the images have a pre-rational power. They create a ‘demand’ for more cameras or the idea that they are necessary even though we may be watching something that nothing to do with the purpose of the cameras, and may even, as in the case of images of crime occurring, be witnessing the overt failure of the preventative purpose of CCTV.

Still, great video, isn’t it?