An International Weekly - Sample: Jan 1 - Jan 30 1997


Krovel Archive

All Marble Archives



All Marble Forums





Lending a helping hand?

By Roy KrÝvel

Exporting surveillance technology to the majority world is a growing business. Several reports have recently shown how this technology helps many a repressive regime to stay in power. New advances in surveillance technology will make life even harder for human rights activists.


Indonesian Turmoil

Indonesian president Suharto was forced to fight for his regimes political future this summer. The most popular opposition politician, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was unseated from her office and the resulting riots were crushed violently. the leader of Indonesia's only independent trade union, 71 year-old Muchtar Pakpahan, was arrested and charged with subversion. Indonesia's best known author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, was summoned and interrogated. The head of a tiny political group, the PRD, Budiman Sudjatmiko, is also in jail awaiting to be charged. His offence carries the maximum penalty of execution.

The recent attacks on the disorganized opposition, fits the old Indonesian pattern: President Suharto came to power in the inferno which claimed one million lives in 1965--most of them accused of being members of the Indonesian communist party. In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, resulting in 200 000 deaths over the next three years. Amnesty International and others, still accuse the regime of violating the human rights.

Luckily for the regime, Indonesia still has access to all the modern surveillance technology and equipment for investigation and interrogation. Indonesia is not alone.


International Involvement

The U.S., for instance, granted 350 permits for export of this type of equipment from 1991 to 1993.

Two of the products being offered at the international market are Technipol International Corporation's electro shock batons and Universal Safety Corporation's infamous "the Source". "The Source" can give the "suspect" shocks of 3,500 volts and is marketed as "the law enforcement weapon that gives dignity."

But the U.S. is not alone operating in this booming market. A report made by Privacy International shows how modern surveillance technology is being exported to several regimes with dismal human rights records. China is one major buyer. Video cameras produced in Britain were deployed in Tiananmen Square. Pictures from these cameras were later used to publish pictures of demonstrating students when the regime cracked down on the students in 1989. Privacy International named Britain, USA, France, Israel, the Netherlands and Germany as the most eager exporters.

IBM and the british firm ICL delivered the technological infrastructure for the pass book system, to the South African apartheid state. Security Systems International sold Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, advanced technology in the 1970s. Israeli Tadiram developed and exported necessary equipment used by the Guatemalan generals in the dirty war of the 1980s against the maya population.


The State of the Art

The surveillance technology is developing faster than ever before. The equipment of yeasterday now look more like toys. Today, we witness the birth of the transparent society--a society where nothing is secret and nowhere is out of sight.

During the Olympics in Atlanta, systems for face-recognition were deployed at every entrance. A company in Florida, NeuroMetric, clamis to be able to scan 20 faces a second into a computer and by the end of 1997, will be able to compare the faces to a database of 50 million persons. No wonder the immigrantin authorities in the U.S. are spending millions of dollars to develop a system of cameras and computers, that can identify known illegal immigrants, drug traffickers, terrorists and others. In Britain, more than 300,000 cameras are already in place. Alhough they are not of tomorrows quality, the pictures are crystal clear, have built-in zoom, can be operated from a centre, can read the writing on a cigaret package at a distance of 100 yards and work almost as good during the night.

Washington D.C. and Redwood City in California are both betting on advanced microphones deployed in high-crime areas to reduce the crime-rate. The microphones were originally developed to detect submarines.

Voice recognition is also making fast progress. One system, the Power Secretary and Dragon Dictate System, is using a Pentium chip to convert 100 words a minute into writing--with almost 100% accuracy. The spoken words are converted into words on a screen or in a text file for later analysis or use. The secret police in DDR empoyed 500,000 agents. 10,000 were fully employed listening in on conversations and writing them down. Today, this can be done with computers.

The Information highway also provides new possibilities for collecting information. Everywhere you "go" on the Net, you leave your digital "fingerprints" behind. Studies and documents from the Pentagon and others, show how seriously authorities are taking the new channels of communication.

Thailand is using new technology to build itself a brand new id-system. All inhabitants will be issued a special id-card. This card contains digitalized pictures and information. The system is connected to most official databases in the country and can come up with all the necessary information in just a few seconds. The society is turning transparent. Where is the democratic opposition to hide?



Amnesty International, Privacy International and several others, are warning against exporting such technology to non-democratic regimes. But in an exclusive interview from his cell in Indonesia last year, East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao gloomily noted that modern day mercantilism is replacing respect for human rights and humanistic values in international relations. He was commenting on the Norwegian Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia and the trade deals made during the visit.

If Xanana Gusmao is right, there is no reason for optimism on behalf of those who oppose the generals in Jakarta.