The State of Security and Surveillance in Karachi

Video-based surveillance and security mechanisms have been in place in Karachi for quite some years now. The Command and Control Center was established in 2008 with a hundred cameras installed along two thoroughfares of the metropolis. Since then it has evolved to more than 1,200 cameras installed to cover most of the roads and public spaces of this prodigious city. The Command and Control Center, formed at Civic Center Karachi, is the centrally administrative location from where the overall assets and activities are monitored and managed.

A diversified IP-based network infrastructure has been deployed to seamlessly uphold the security and surveillance system. The infrastructure involves high speed fiber optics and wireless technologies which stream data to huge video walls in the heart of the Command and Control Center.

High definition fixed and PTZ IP cameras have been installed to obtain quality video stream round the clock. The PTZ cameras are capable of providing optical zoom up to 36x. The system has a dedicated Wimax frequency of 3.9 Gigahertz with a fiber optic back up. The facility has capacity to store clusters of several hundred terabytes of data for up to one year. The surveillance monitoring sites are continuously operational having eight-hour UPS power backup and emergency generator as well. Technical support and maintenance staff is deployed round the clock at the Command and Control Center to ensure high functionality of the system.

Besides helping in crime control, the center also assists concerned departments in times of emergency and law and order situations. Moreover, custom-built Incident Management ERP solution retains incident information and generates reports consisting of various statistical data.

The incumbent infrastructure has been in place for around 10 years. Karachi now demands a much greater and tech-enabled security and surveillance infrastructure. The security and surveillance system, which was initially launched by the city government in 2008, was taken over by Sindh police in 2013. Meanwhile, Sindh police also launched a separate video surveillance system for Karachi in 2010 with an initial estimated cost of Rs.500 million.

According to media reports, the project was further expanded in 2014 when the law enforcement agency announced another Rs.846 million project to install more surveillance cameras at important locations in the city in addition to the 1,000 cameras

The development was aimed at meeting the growing security challenges and help make the ongoing ‘targeted operation’ a success. Currently, the Sindh police operate nearly 2,000 CCTV cameras across the city. But the quality of equipment and cameras installed by police always remained in question, and now the law enforcement authorities are moving to improve the technology. They are planning to replace the currently installed two-megapixel cameras with the high-definition ones.

During the past 10 years, from when the system has been launched, there have been repeated instances where the system was found to be partially not working. Or more importantly, in case of any incident or mishap, it was later discovered that the surveillance cameras of that particular were not functioning properly. In 2016, the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights expressed disbelief when it was informed by then DIG Administration Karachi Police Ghulam Sarwar Jamali that “half of the 2,200 CCTV cameras installed in the city were not functioning properly”. The senior police official had admitted before the Senate body that irregularities were made during the procurement of CCTV cameras and quality was compromised.

Explaining the irregularities, DIG Jamali said that two-megapixel cameras were installed instead of eight-megapixel cameras which were actually required, “so that object recorded can be identified”. In addition to this, the record for the cameras was not maintained by concerned departments and cameras had been reported stolen.

Concerns about the utility of surveillance arise repeatedly, not only from the regular investigation arms of the Karachi police, but also from specialized units, which are mandated to investigate heinous crimes ranging from terrorist activities to killings and from extortion to kidnapping for ransom.

What is the Safe City Project?

The Safe City Project comprises a host of security features which converge to form a formidable technology-driven approach in assuring safety of a specific area, locality or city. The implementation of this project is made possible by streamlining data from various sources in order to verify the authentication of vehicles and individuals entering or leaving the premises guarded by the safe city project.

It makes use of Smart ID cards, Electronic RFID tags, Smart Vehicle Registration Cards and centralized databases i.e. NADRA Citizen Database and Centralized Vehicle Database. This whole network of technically crafted security structure is additionally supported by a myriad of surveillance cameras and CCTVs spread across the length and breadth of the city. Suspicious people and vehicles identified through the cameras are checked in the big data, and if suspects confirmed dangerous, the command center allocates police to the site in three minutes, to minimize the possible destruction caused by crimes and terrorist attacks.

The implementation of safe city project in Karachi was approved in 2016, but the project is still in doldrums due to controversies and alleged irregularities. Under the Karachi Safe City Project (KSCP) 100,000 closed-circuit television cameras were to be installed in the whole Sindh and 10,000 especially in Karachi to control unbridled street crimes. The National Account­ability Bureau (NAB) has ordered an inquiry into alleged irregularities and corruption in the award of much-awaited multi-billion rupees KSCP contract.

Islamabad was the first city in Pakistan where this safe city project was implemented three years back, while currently the project is under implementation phase in Lahore.

The safe city project offers following modern-day surveillance technologies:

Intelligent Video Surveillance
Through this technology the data streamed from surveillance cameras is integrated with centralized database to track any identified area and send an alert when the subject (humans/ vehicles) violates predefined rules. The expertise for this integration has been developed by NADRA which integrates Intelligent Video Surveillance and Behavioral Detection Systems with the video data feed. This customized system is programmed to analyze and assess video sequences on real-time basis without the need of human intervention.

The system has the ability to develop complex behavior of individuals, small groups, crowds and interactions of people and vehicles.

Vehicle Access Control
The multiple-pronged e-Vehicle Management system has been developed with the help of NADRA and it incorporates Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) technology through which vehicles are automatically identified as they pass through man and unmanned security checkposts. RFID passive contactless chips are placed on vehicles windshield that contain vehicles details, linked with the owners details at the database level. Designated Check Posts are equipped with cameras, RFID antennas, static scanners and magnetic loops that are able to read the RFID tags on passing vehicles.

These automated checkposts have been installed in Lahore and grant quick and secure access to the residents of that particular area.

Customized Security Apparatus
In addition to the generalized surveillance infrastructure which is implemented across the board, there is a provision for enforcing stricter security mechanism in specified places. This is made possible by altering the basic surveillance program and integrating more instruments to it according to the customized need of that locality.

This way the umbrella of security surveillance remains the same with customized implementation depending on the need.

Security Provision Defines Development Pace
Provision of security is termed the mother of all investments, and rightly so, since no company is willing to invest in an area where risks are high. Even before legislating favorable tax reforms to encourage local and international investor, the government has to ensure a safe and secure environment required for business growth and development.

It was due to the lack of security and adverse law and order situation that the massive textile industry of Karachi gradually shifted to Bangladesh. Same has been the case with mass transit projects envisioned for the metropolis, where international firms backed out only because they were not assured ample security and they felt their investment was at risk.

It will be safe to assume that had Karachi been a safe and peaceful city, by now its residents would have enjoyed facilities similar to any other metropolis in a developed country.

Even now, despite the tall claims made by the provincial and federal government about the return of investment and businesses to Karachi, its substantial and long-term effect is yet to be seen.
The city still remains vulnerable and in desperate need of robust security measures so it could breath with a sense of protection and explore new horizons of growth.

Efforts should not only focus on implementing a state-of-the-art safety and surveillance ecosystem but also making it secure from internal and external threats of hacking and data breach. Cyber security should also be a focus of the government as we have entered the age of data wars, and leaving one point vulnerable compromises the sanctity of the entire security ecosystem.

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