The Secretary of Public Security of São Paulo is going to add, in October 2019, drones into the Eagle Eye System. Using reality register and verification technologies to control our fears seems like an obvious way to go. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to think about who controls those surveillance tools.
Technology in the fight against crime
The Eagle Eye System is based on the prevention and police action on crimes through the monitoring of strategic regions of São Paulo. These are currently fixed cameras in public places, which record images transmitted to the Operations Center of the Military Police (Copom).
One report points out that in Ribeirão Preto, the program reduced the percentage of vehicle thefts and robberies in the central region of the city. The initiative to insert drones into the program, called Dronepol, is motivated so that they replace helicopters, allowing larger areas to be monitored less costly.
The use of technology to fight crime is a commitment of the Public Power to overcome the difficulties in identifying, locating and acting on suspects and agents of the occurrences. These high expectations, however, cannot ignore the fact that these are not just security systems.
That’s because not only criminals are being watched. All manner of behavior, attitude or routine is observed by these cameras – and potentially judged, as demonstrated by this report, which highlights “good deeds” observed by the police by the Eagle Eye system. Image capture is a control system, as it produces information about who is monitored. And this is not a new subject – the association between forms of discipline and surveillance is the central theme of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, published in 1975.
You’re also being watched
Within the scope of public spaces, surveillance is not directed only at suspects. All the citizens that pass by are monitored, have information produced about themselves and their habits, and are subject to some type of control.
The reader may now think that this same system can prevent police abuses. It can provide a safe space in which the people passing through know that they will not have their rights violated with impunity. Under the fallacy of “out of debt, out of danger” policies that bet heavily on surveillance equipment are being promoted.
But why, after all, is this a fallacy? Because it ignores that surveillance provides control over others, but it does not reveal who is in control. That is, by affirming “out of debt, out of danger”, there are no limits on what the duties are, and who defines those duties.
That is, surveillance tools generate an asymmetry between whoever watches and who is watched. It becomes very difficult or even impossible for the watched to regain his self-determination if he experiences violations, for the surveillance apparatus generates asymmetrical power to the watcher – whoever has access to it.
All of this can be said of cameras, towers, and mirrored cabins. They are all devices that allow surveillance, someone who looks at people from a privileged space. But the drones, as well as the use of cross-database and facial recognition (discussed at a public hearing in the Chamber of Deputies) on the hype of ICT use for public safety, bring a new factor to this equation.
These technologies extend the possibilities of locating individuals and judging behaviors. For this, the asymmetry of power generated by surveillance relations increases significantly. Taking into account that many of the information with which police forces work is classified, it is difficult to ascertain the purpose of the captured images, to investigate errors and abuses.
Not knowing the purpose for which these images are captured also means that there is no public control over information security flaws. In this sense, it is necessary to think of policies that avoid the treatment of this information by criminals, and also to ensure that there is sovereignty of the state authorities on surveillance software.
Caution must be exercised over the private interests of hardware and software producers who offer surveillance tools. The very effectiveness of drones to effectively monitor and combat crime should be carefully studied – is crime reduced or practiced in other, less policed areas? Even the SSP-SP Criminal Statistics Interpretation Handbook warns that “to analyze crime and police action from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, many variables need to be considered, some of which, while having a significant impact on crime, are not immediately measurable nor applicable to all communities”.
To the extent that many of the technologies are foreign, the stealth treatment and the massiveness of the data treated can create risks to their own national sovereignty. As hacktivist Julian Assange (accused of leaking documents on war crimes in Wikileaks) warns in his book Cypherpunks, “Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries”. Wikileaks is meant to denounce surveillance between statesmen and the informational opacity promoted by large companies. By demonstrating the existence of this type of control, it exposes the fragility of those who embraces technologies without knowing its risks.
We cannot have a segmented view when it comes to technologies integrated into something as complex as mobile cameras connected to the internet. Both in analyzing crime statistics and in adopting technologies to reduce them, one must reflect beyond the immediacy and recognize the opacities that need to be clarified.
For more on this subject, I recommend another IRIS blog post, about facial recognition in public safety; check it out here!