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.

US plans surveillance drone airship

I am sure there will be arguments about the violation of airspace, which will not be trivial as the ongoing diplomatic and increasingly military row over US surveillance vessels off China is showing…

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are one of the fastest-developing areas of surveillance technology. A new plan revealed by the US Department of Defense combines old and new tech with a plan, first revealed by the Los Angeles Times, for an pilotless surveillance airship called ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is the Structure) that will fly right at 65,000 feet (about 20km) high, right at the edge of ‘airspace’. The point of the airship is to provide the kind of constant watch that a geostationary satellite provides, but at a much lower level so that for more detailed pictures of the precise movements of vehicles, objects and people could be observed.


Well, as usual, the reports only seem to to be concerned about how great this would be for US military tactics, and are not interested in the law, politics and ethics of such devices. For example, I am sure there will be arguments about the violation of airspace, which will not be trivial as the ongoing diplomatic and increasingly military row over US surveillance vessels off China is showing. And of course there are issues around the violation of human rights by such intrusive technology: international violations are very hard to deal with, however. And this will only be the beginning. The new Obama administration has promised more investment in intelligence and surveillance and less in warfighting. That sounds good in some ways, but of course just poses new problems and new issues for those of us concerned with ongoing US attempts to cover the whole world with surveillance for the benefit of its strategic aims.