[News] Apartheid in the Shadows: the USA, IBM and South Africa’s Digital Police State

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 3 10:51:17 EDT 2017


  Apartheid in the Shadows: the USA, IBM and South Africa’s Digital
  Police State

by Michael Kwet <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/michael-kwet/> - May 
3, 2017

“Beggars and vagrants” are not welcome 
<http://www.parksec.co.za/crime-update-17-august-06-september-2015> in 
Parkhurst, a mostly white suburb of about 5,000 in Johannesburg, South 
Africa.  Criminals of “increasing sophistication and aggression” are on 
the prowl <https://archive.is/rh3qV>, residents claim.  To combat local 
crime, community members proposed a solution: put surveillance 
everywhere.  Their proposal, however, was not for “traditional” 
surveillance.  Thanks to the digital revolution, Parkhurst could now 
integrate facial recognition, thermal sensors, infrared tracking, and 
data analytics.  Armed with powerful new tech, poor black “vagrants” can 
be watched, flagged, policed, and intimidated into submission.

“Smart” surveillance systems are being assembled quietly inside the 
country.  The public has been kept uninformed.  This is the first 
in-depth exposé of smart policing in South Africa.

*A New “Revolution”*

Two years ago, Parkhurst became one of the first SA neighborhoods to 
embark on the installation of their own smart surveillance system.  This 
little community made national headlines as the first suburb in South 
Africa to get residential fiber Internet.  Media outlets whitewashed the 
surveillance component.

The Parkhurst Village Residents and Business Owners Association fought 
for “Fibre to the Home” Internet. Their primary motivation was “modern” 
digital surveillance only high-speed Internet could power, said the 
organization’s chair <https://youtu.be/qlTZetW1Sy8?t=2162>, Cheryl 
Labuschagne.  That residents now have fast Internet seems to be a 
secondary bonus.

A Vumatel employee, Giorgio Lovino, elaborates 
<https://youtu.be/qlTZetW1Sy8?t=1942>: the fiber “connects to the CCTV 
[surveillance] cameras…throughout the suburb and it transmits the video 
feed from those cameras…to a control point where their cameras can then 
be monitored off-site.  And it allows them to do number plate 
recognition, facial recognition, and all these types of surveillance 
activities.”  The CCTV system is being worked out so that it may be 
affordable to the community.

Parkhurst plans to install infrared and heat-source cameras to track 
body movements.  Labuschagne says they will use “GPS technology and so 
on to map where incidents occur” and determine “what movement is 
considered abnormal rather than typical movements in a neighborhood of 
people walking their dogs and so on.”

Labuschagne leaves unstated what constitutes “abnormal” movements.  
However, iSentry <http://www.csstactical.co.za/services#page64_image3>, 
the CCTV software Parkhurst seeks, makes it explicit. Their promotional 
video, titled “Unusual Behavior Detection 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rol-oeBvM0c>”, depicts a young, black 
“beggar”, flagged by iSentry’s artificial intelligence-based video 
analytics.  Within moments, he and an accomplice are brought to the 
ground by a gang of cops, semi-automatic gun pointed.

The scene appears to be staged for promotional filming as a “typical 
scenario” for how the system should work. That is to say, Parkhurst’s 
21^st century policing system is advertised to target poor black people.

The iSentry system, deployed by CSS Tactical, has been installed 
in nearby suburbs, and is spreading to others 

Parkview Police Station Commander, Colonel Moodley, supports 
<https://archive.is/OwtBK> the “refreshing” initiative 
“wholeheartedly”.  Labuschagne proclaims she is “really really hopeful 
that what we’ve started is a revolution” in South Africa.

*Smart Cities: Surveillance in the Shadows*

A revolution is a number of years in the making.  In 2011, the City of 
Johannesburg announced 
a draft /Growth and Development Strategy (GDS 2040)/ to convert 
Johannesburg into a “smart city” in cooperation with the private 
sector.  Digital technology would overhaul 
everything from public service delivery to crime management using “smart 
infrastructure” and “intelligent Video and Internet surveillance systems”.

Shortly thereafter, Johannesburg began implementing “smart policing” 
based on new surveillance cameras and centralized police data 
analytics.  Last year, then Mayor Parks Tau (ANC) attributed 
smart policing to a 22% crime reduction for 2014/15 in the wealthy 
central business district of Johannesburg – a whites-only area under 
apartheid.  Tau boasted 
his crime-fighting tools have “face recognition technologies, number 
plate recognition technologies and are able to detect or anticipate when 
a group of people are planning a smash and grab.”  The City of Cape Town 
is similarly 
following suit 

High-speed Internet is critical to smart video surveillance because it 
enables the transmission of high definition feeds.  Computers need 
richly detailed images to identify words, faces, and other attributes.  
Blurry images will not do.  Thus where there is high-speed Internet, 
there can also be smart surveillance.

At the helm of South Africa’s high-speed Internet roll-out is Siyabonga 
the former Minister of Intelligence (2008-09) and State Security 
(2009-14).  As SA’s former spy boss, Cwele supported the controversial 
Protection of State Information Bill which bolsters the protection of 
state secrets.

Cwele lists no formal credentials, industry experience or training in 
technology.  Nevertheless, President Jacob Zuma, himself a former 
intelligence chief, appointed Cwele as Minister of the Department of 
Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).  This puts a former spy 
minister in charge of South Africa’s Internet.

Speaking in the Western Cape, Cwele told South Africans 
they “must adapt” to a “change [in] our notions of privacy”.  The 
“fourth industrial revolution” – a term coined by World Economic Forum 
founder Klaus Schwab – is coming to South Africa.

*Smart Policing: United States, South Africa*

Across the Atlantic, smart policing is well under way. In 2016, a study 
published by /ProPublica/ found that software commonly used in the 
United States to predict “future criminals” is “biased against blacks”.  
Even though there were no racial categories programmed into the 
software, blacks were incorrectly ranked as “future criminals” at almost 
twice the rate of white defendants.  The racist ranking could not be 
explained by prior crimes or the type of crimes committed, the study found.

In US public spaces, aerial surveillance drones and smart sensors are 
being used for urban population control.  In 2015, the FBI disclosed 
it flew surveillance drones over Ferguson and Baltimore during 
BlackLivesMatter protests prompted by police murders of Michael Brown 
and Freddie Gray. Published documents 
reveal the FBI was utilizing infrared and night-vision cameras and 
keeping recordings of aerial drone surveillance footage.

Cell phones are also targeted by cops.  In 2015, Baltimore residents 
their city police department is systematically abusing 
“stingray” devices that trick cell phone owners into revealing their 
location. Evidence shows 
the stingray devices are overwhelmingly concentrated in poor black 
neighborhoods, with disproportionate impact on people of color. Half of 
all US adults 
are now in a law enforcement facial-recognition database.  One-fourth of 
the nation’s police departments have access to face-recognition databases.

Smart policing is a controversial new component of the digital era.  
Using smart surveillance, computers and sensors automatically detect and 
interpret video feeds and other data in real-time to facilitate 
ubiquitous policing.  As the cost of technology drops, corporate and 
state actors are littering cities with an array of sensors – microphones 
to detect gun-shots, hi-res video for face recognition, infrared and 
heat to evaluate bodily movements – and networking them with high-speed 
Internet to radically expand police power.

Utilizing advanced data analytics, those with access to the surveillance 
– corporations, police departments, private security firms, government 
spy agencies – sift through massive troves of data to hone in on groups 
and persons of interest.  Computer software is determining where to 
concentrate cops on patrol to prevent “future crime”, with potentially 
effects on civil rights.

The South African state is mirroring the US.  The government has 
“grabber” devices 
that pretend to be cell phone towers in order to “track [a] phone’s 
movements, pinpoint its location, intercept its calls, or eavesdrop on 
conversations” – without the cell phone owner ever knowing it.  
Protesters, when gathered in large groups, are highly vulnerable to 

Drone surveillance has also begun.  The City of Cape Town is 
experimenting with aerial drones to watch over citizens.  Their website 
even calls the program 
“Big Brother”.  A Pretoria-based company, Desert Wolf, developed a drone 
that can spray tear gas and fire rubber bullets at protesters.  An 
unnamed mining company ordered 25 units.

As I reported at Counterpunch 
in January, South Africa-based R&D organization, the Council for 
Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has quietly developed Cmore 
<http://cmore.co.za/site/>.  A new “Jason Bourne” type surveillance 
system, Cmore aggregates and analyzes data from drone footage, CCTVs, 
cell phone data, and other inputs for maritime, park, and border 
policing.  The CSIR considered Cmore “for police” and subsequently 
partnered with the South African Police Service (SAPS).  Experiments 
include “crowd-control concept demonstrations”.

Meanwhile, Johannesburg’s Intelligence Operations Centre (IOC) is now 
outfitted with 
“100 existing high impact cameras” enabled for software-based 
“Intelligent Video Analytics as an input into Intelligent Law 
Enforcement”.  The new anti-immigrant mayor 
of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba (DA), endorsed 
predictive policing in April 2016, months before his election victory.

Five years prior, IBM, the major computer and surveillance partner 
to the apartheid state, partnered 
with the City of Johannesburg to define a roadmap which includes crime 
prevention and investigative analytics.

*IBM Corporation: Apartheid Past and Present*

In 2002, South Africans brought a law suit against US corporations 
alleging direct support for human rights violations committed by the 
apartheid regime.  IBM, SA plaintiffs claimed, provided technology used 
to implement the apartheid-era racial classification system.

The USA continuously provides 
technology to oppressive foreign regimes.  In years past, multiple US 
corporations played a treacherous role assisting 
<http://allafrica.com/stories/200805130448.html> South African 
apartheid.  IBM has been among the worst offenders.

Beginning in the 1930s, IBM New York, under the direction of its 
president, Thomas Watson, Sr., supplied 
Hollerith punch card systems to their IBM Germany subsidiary for use by 
the Third Reich.  IBM machines were customized for the Nazis to 
efficiently track and sort groups targeted for persecution and genocide. 
Numbers tattooed on Auschwitz inmates began as IBM punch card system 
identification numbers.

During apartheid, with Thomas Watson, Jr. now president, IBM New York 
leased its IBM South Africa subsidiary with specialized technology 
tailored for the apartheid state.  In 1952, the apartheid regime ordered 
its first electronic tabulator to IBM South Africa. There is ample 
their technology was used to categorize, segregate and denationalize blacks.

In 1965, IBM lost a bid 
to produce passbooks targeting the black population.  However, they won 
the contract to build the eerie “Book of Life 
issued after 1970 – a surveillance project covering additional races 
(e.g., coloureds, Indians, and whites).

Computer automation of the population register helped streamline 
the infamous “reference book” system. The reference books (scorned as 
“dompas” or “dumb pass”) were designed to monitor and control blacks 
from a centralized location, the Central Reference Bureau in Pretoria.

As Keith Breckenridge’s /Biometric State/ (2014) details, police desired 
the ability to swiftly identify and locate “Natives” by their national 
ID or fingerprints contained in the passbooks.  It was “a single, 
cost-effective tool that would allow the police to track elusive African 

But this form of centralized surveillance had weaknesses – people would 
lose or burn their dompas or rip out or forge pages.  An unwieldy 
registration backlog quickly ballooned out of control.  The dystopian 
dream of panoptic population control by an all-seeing state failed, but 
the consequences were brutal. Apartheid cops used the passbook system to 
perpetrate mass violence and incarceration against blacks.

IBM New York, the central headquarters which provided technology and 
expertise to its SA subsidiary, has denied liability.  Last June, they 
successfully fought off 
the law suit brought to US courts by black South African plaintiffs 
representing victims of apartheid.  Plaintiffs included relatives of 
those tortured, raped, and murdered, in many instances in connection 
with passbook violations.

In 2011, the City of Johannesburg announced 
a partnership with IBM to conduct a “five-year public safety strategy in 
line with the city’s 2040 vision of a smart city”.  Unlike the “dumb” 
passbook system, IBM’s latest system is “smart”: it uses “integrated 
intelligence” for “crime prevention and investigation – including 
increased police presence and visibility, better coordination amongst 
agencies, and a data center with predictive analytics” as well as 
“intelligence sharing”.

IBM bases its innovations on its new “Watson 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_%28computer%29>” supercomputer 
system famous for surpassing humans in the quiz show Jeopardy.  Their 
Smart Vision Suite 
includes “moving object detection, tracking, object classification, 
color classification, and face tracking” as well as “large scale 
learning of vehicles and pedestrians”.  They have a ten-year partnership 
with South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology.

*SA in the 21^st Century: A Digital Police State*

South Africa’s smart policing movement has escaped public conversation.  
Media coverage has been mostly taken up by tech outlets that focus on 
individual technologies, and apparently see nothing wrong 
or even endorse 
this turn of events.

In March, hard-hitting investigative journalists at amaBhungane reported 
that the Free State issued and awarded a “One Stop ICT Fusion Centre” 
tender in violation of proper procurement procedures.  The fusion centre 
will apparently provide “an integrated ICT system for the entire 
provincial government”, including “security camera surveillance and 
traffic management” in a centralized control room. Indian corporation 
Tech Mahindra is “the solutions partner”.

There is another story here, aside from the tender: what is Tech 
Mahindra up to?  According to a Tech Mahindra brochure 
as a part of their “Smart City Solutions”, they provide “Smart Security 
Surveillance”, which includes license plate and facial recognition, 
behavior analysis, video analytics, and real-time monitoring.

Mahindra Defence Systems and US-based Cisco Systems have teamed up 
in Lucknow, India, to deploy 10,000 cameras. In April 2015, the Uttar 
Pradesh government’s “state police demonstrated drones that can be used 
to shower pepper powder on an unruly mob”.  Five of these “crowd 
control” drones were to be launched that month; they have a range of up 
to 600 meters.  The surveillance “will be very useful in managing 
traffic violations” as well.

Mahindra is based in India.  However 21^st century models and 
technologies of repression are distinctly Western.

This is the current path for South Africa, already begun.

Perhaps it is worth recalling a bit of history.  In 2016, a former 
(now-deceased) CIA operative, Donald Rickard, happily admitted 
he provided intelligence which led to Nelson Mandela’s 1962 arrest.  
Years later, Steve Biko was placed under a banning order by the state, 
which silenced his speech and restricted his movement.  Police detained 
and tortured him, leading to his tragic death. Apartheid cops murdered 
untold numbers 
through riot control, the “prevention of unrest”, and the policing of 
“public disorder”.

SA universities are spending millions on surveillance to quell 
#FeesMustFall protests.  In 2016, CCTVs at Rhodes University mushroomed 
to provide what seems like blanket coverage, even extending inside 
buildings. Management refuses 
<http://www.ru.ac.za/latestnews/safetyandsecurityoncampus.html> to 
disclose details.  Earlier this year, Wits University added new CCTVs 
and announced 
considerations for drone surveillance and biometrics on campus.  And in 
March, eNCA’s Checkpoint reported 
that the University of Johannesburg appointed a private security 
company, Bold Heart Group, that spies on students.

Outside of student spaces, service delivery protests abound.  From 
Vuwani to Cape Town, people are active in the streets.  In response to 
Zuma’s latest cabinet re-shuffle, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of 
people amassed in public to exercise their constitutionally protected 
right to protest.

On April 20, amaBhungane launched a challenge 
to the constitutionality of the Regulation of Interception of 
Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act 
(Rica).  The challenge focuses on bulk communications interceptions.  
There could be no better time to also challenge the legality and ethics 
of smart policing.

It is essential to note that both major political parties – the ANC and 
the DA – are assembling the smart surveillance state.  It remains to be 
seen what smaller parties like the EFF and UDM have to say – and what 
the public will say itself.

Two decades after apartheid, half the population 
lives on $2 (R26) or less per day, while the majority are getting poorer 
Serious plans for large scale wealth redistribution remain off the 
table.  In the shadows, the state – and some wealthy citizens – are 
teaming up with corporations to unleash Western policing 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zt7bl5Z_oA> for population control.

/Michael Kwet is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University 
Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR). He studies the digital revolution in 
South Africa, with a focus on basic education./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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