The Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro, through the Secretary of State for Military Police (SEPM), implemented in 2019 a pilot project for video surveillance with facial recognition in Rio de Janeiro. The neighborhood of Copacabana was chosen for the initial test, during Carnival, and more cameras were placed around Maracanã Stadium and Santos Dumont Airport in the second half of that year.
The implementation of the project is surrounded by issues that have not been properly explained to the population, especially regarding the nebulous “Terms of Technical Cooperation” with large companies; bills of congressmen linked to the public security agenda; unclear operational procedures; lack of data transparency and promises of expansion of the technology that is presented as a kind of “solution” to fight crime in Rio de Janeiro. These promises are being made in a context where projects for the use of facial recognition by the police receive numerous criticisms due to operational errors, racial and gender biases and opaque budgets.
Choosing Copacabana for the project’s kick-off is deeply strategic, since the neighborhood occupies an important place in the symbolism and representation of Rio de Janeiro to the world. Understanding the intricacies not only of the choice of this neighborhood, but especially of the political strategies for the reorganization of the public security model in Rio de Janeiro becomes important in face of the failures and abuses of the public agents themselves, such as what happens not only in Copacabana, with the black and peripheral population that passes through there, but also what happens in Jacarezinho, for instance.
The Jacarezinho favela, in Rio’s North Zone, has been the scene of slaughters and, more recently, has been the laboratory of a new contradictory public security policy that has, among other objectives, the deployment of video surveillance cameras using facial recognition as a kind of political platform – similar to what has already happened in previous governments.
In this study, we seek to investigate how the Rio de Janeiro military police used facial recognition cameras in 2019, and their plan to use them again in 2022. These technologies not only bring risks of violating the rights of vulnerable populations, but also have no indication that they help reduce crime, nor that they improve the performance of daily policing. In addition to these reasons that should lead to a more critical stance towards facial recognition technology, there is also the concern with public spending, since states like Rio de Janeiro have a critical situation in relation to public accounts. This case study is based on public documents and on some requests for information to SEPM.