By the end of 2016, Beirutis’ driving and other public activities will be the target of mass municipal surveillance, thanks to a new $36 million system of networked cameras and control rooms, according to a June article in the trade publication Inavate. Approved by the municipality since February 28, 2014, the Beirut Surveillance Project, awarded to Guardia Systems, comprises the installation of about 1,850 cameras to monitor vehicles and people at 350 surveillance points around the city.
The municipality asserts that the surveillance system is needed to fight crime and terrorist attacks. But privacy advocates, including SMEX, are concerned that the system has been installed without a clear mandate or legal framework in place and could be abused to violate the privacy of residents and visitors to Lebanon. Part of the threat stems from the fact that “the constitution in Lebanon does not explicitly protect the right to privacy as only the inviolability of the home is protected under its article 14,” according to “The Right to Privacy in Lebanon” report produced by SMEX and APC.
The cameras, which include fixed devices and cameras that can rotate 360° with high zooming capabilities, will allow authorities to collect data about traffic and pedestrian flow, traveling speed, and direction, in addition to number plates and vehicle models. They will transmit high-resolution video footage connected via live feeds to two control rooms, one central control room and another crisis control room. The central control room will be run by the municipality, and the crisis control room will be managed by the Ministry of the Interior. Two data centers connected to the control rooms—which will be staffed by 50 operators—can store up to 5 petabytes of data.
In addition to the privacy concerns raised, there have been questions about the legitimacy of the project’s bidding process. The initial project bid, which involved five companies, was rejected by the court of audit, but the project was then consensually awarded to Guardia Systems, according to the municipality.