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Brazil cancels US state dinner over spying, steps up surveillance at home (+video)

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(Read caption) Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, talks about Brazil in White House briefing.
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As Brazil fumes over allegations of US spying, with President Dilma Rousseff today officially canceling next month's state visit to Washington, the South American nation is simultaneously ratcheting up its own Big Brother surveillance program at home. 

Brazil launched its first-ever Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) this week, part of a major security initiative leading up to the 2014 World Cup that may also include the city deploying drones over event venues.

The CICC will not be monitoring personal communications of citizens like the US National Security Agency is alleged to have done. Reports indicating the US also spied on Rousseff’s communications led to the cancellation of her state visit to Washington next month, despite President Barack Obama speaking with her last night in an 11th hour call.

But the CICC will monitor a large portion of Rio de Janeiro, using input from 560 cameras citywide that is displayed in the control center on an 80-square-meter high-definition video wall, amid myriad other interactive geo-maps that track everything from ambulances to oncoming rainstorms. Over four floors custom-built by I.B.M. for up to 670 personnel from more than 30 agencies, the CICC will keep an eye on all roads, highways, and public centers in Rio. 

“Even in the US they don’t have anything like this,” says CICC Chief Edval Novaes, adding that only Mexico City and Istanbul have comparable security centers. 

Opened in April at a cost of $45.8 million, the CICC was tested during the Confederations Cup soccer tournament in June and yesterday began dispatching day-to-day municipal operations between four call centers for the departments of police, fire, ambulance, and highway patrol. It marks another milestone as Brazil steps up security for the World Cup next June, says Mr. Novaes. The CICC aims to be fully functional by year-end.

Stepped-up surveillance doesn’t end with the CICC, as the municipality is also pressing for Brazil’s federal aviation body to allow cities to deploy drones, Novaes says. The Brazilian Air Force already used two drones during the Confederations Cup in June, which was seen as a dry run for the World Cup. Novaes says the CICC wants its own eyes in the sky, too.

Legislation is pending, but if passed Rio would begin a public bidding process for the purchase of up to three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which would be unarmed and used solely for surveillance, said Novaes.

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While critics say public funds are being misplaced to create intensive monitoring of public spaces, Division General Mario Lucio Alves de Araujo, who is helping oversee World Cup security preparations, says the changing nature of warfare and terrorism requires the state to step up its surveillance tactics. While increased security measures – including the forced pacification of favelas – have contributed to a 50 percent decline in Rio’s homicide rate since 2005, the city is still rated “critical” by the US State Department for high levels of robbery, rape, fraud, and residential theft.

“Warfare increasingly takes place in social areas,” Mr. Araujo says. “We need to be present for our country at all times.”

He points to the use of cameras to solve the Boston Marathon bombings in April as an example of CCTV's utility. In the days after the race, the role of video surveillance drew worldwide attention as US authorities used public and private cameras to identify the suspected bombers.

Cameras are only as useful as what’s on screen, adds Araujo, which is why he says he supported the Rio state legislature’s recent passage of a new law outlawing masks in public demonstrations – a response to the masks worn during nationwide protests in June. Masks were also banned during Pope Francis’s mass in Rio in July.

The ban on masks drew criticism from some politicians and protesters, who attended the vote wearing – you guessed it – masks.

Meanwhile in international relations, Brazil is also pushing back hard against Washington's alleged spying program, which was publicized by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. Rousseff canceled what would have been the first state visit by a Brazilian president to the US since 1995. "Illegal practices, interception of communications and data of citizens, businesses and members of the Brazilian government are indeed a serious threat to the national sovereignty and individual rights, and are incompatible with democratic coexistence between friendly countries," she said, according to an official statement.


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