Are Safe City Projects making the cities safe? Insaf Blog | Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf


In my view they are not. 

The SAFE CITY PROJECTS being promoted in Pakistan are being managed and run by inexperienced and under-qualified mostly non-IT background people. 

Safe City is not a Police Project - instead it is a sophisticated information technology and systems project. It is in fact more refined and even more innovative than Banking Systems and Large REP Systems. Unfortunately law makers and Police in Pakistan just don't know the difference. They are treating this project very casually.  

The Police should be just a 'Consumer' of information generated by the installed Safe City Systems and the Police should be intensively trained to act promptly on that information (emergency calls and video alarms etc). The Police should not have direct control, access and custody of the systems that generate and store this information. Giving direct control to the Police is a violation of the FIRST RULE OF SEPERATION OF duties. 

In a country like Pakistan where the powerful and the corrupt rule, the Safe City concept is a near "death warrant" for honest citizens. The Police can manipulate this data and videos  at will to entrap anyone they are ordered to do so. In the wrong persons hand these systems can enable the "Perfect Crimes" and create sufficient evidence to entrap innocent, honest people.

The correct way to manage and run such sensitive projects is by developing a mature and competent IT professional Department that has police representation as well as citizens representation. That department must be 'Independent of the Police'. The Department should have a strong Information Security force as well as an independent Video Storage Vault Archive that is NOT IN THE CONTROL OF POLICE.

An Audit Report must be published quarterly to highlight and fix all violations and flaws. Furthermore, foreign companies should have no role in the operations of the systems or operations and I don't need to elaborate on the reasons for this. 

Just one recent example of misuse that has been raised over the Safe City scheme after reports that video and still images had been leaked and circulated via social media earlier this year showing couples travelling together in their vehicles. People then pointed out that "the police seemed more concerned with moral policing rather than finding something actually dangerous."

After the above incident a Pakistani lawyer & internet activist Ms Nighat Dad commented on Twitter that " Safe or smart cities require comprehensive data protection policies following international best standards."

Another example is the case in Islamabad where a Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Tahir Khan was abducted by armed men in the federal capital and was murdered right under the presence of cameras. Were cameras intentionally shut down at the incident spot? Were the cameras out of order and if so Why? Who audited the cameras? All these issues are just tip of the iceberg.

Pakistani's must be aware of the potential threats & danger posed by unchecked surveillance cameras coming under the control of corrupt officers of law enforcement officers and power hungry politicians. Together they pose a "clear and present danger" to naïve citizens. Instead of providing security, these systems only give an illusion of security but in effect can actually be used for selective "controlling", "espionage" and "blackmailing" - all very likelihood events in Pakistan's climate of nepotism, corruption and horse trading culture.

Bottom line is that Police Officers are not qualified nor can they be trusted to manage and run such sophisticated projects - just as even the best IT professionals are not qualified to run Law Enforcement Operations. Someone needs to guide the Punjab Government to get IT professionals and citizen's involved in the Governance of these so labelled 'Safe City' Projects and initiatives or total chaos is inevitable. 

These Systems are not for surveillance but are rather for proactive alerts and response to emergency incidents. The amount of money spent in Lahore Safe City was not to merely place thousands of expensive cameras on the streets and purchase expensive hardware -but it was to create a "Force Multiplier" for the Police - so that a few well trained Police Officers could be augmented with intelligent software and systems to enable effectiveness and efficiency in the Police Force. 

Fact remains that today in Lahore policing continues to remain as ineffective and unaccountable as before. Lahore was supposed to be transformed into a 'Safe City' with a highly trained and effective police force augmented with a "Technology Force Multiplier" instead of the current thousands of over-armed police force with untrained and irresponsible, trigger-happy jawans. 

Lastly, I would strongly recommend that until a thorough 'Technology Audit' of Islamabad and Lahore Safe City implementation and a thorough GAP ANALYSIS of these two projects is performed, additional Safe City projects must be paused.  It does not make sense to repeat the problems and cracks discovered in Islamabad and Lahore throughout Pakistan. This gap analysis is also extremely important before proceeding with additional similar projects to avoid fraud and prevent theft in software since software is not a 'physical asset' and hence is not visible.  In casual walkthroughs of a facility, the absence of software is rarely highlighted. Millions of dollars in software could be absent from a system and you would never know.

Safe Cities are emerging all over the world and it is likely that in the next decade or perhaps 20+ years Safe City projects may emerge in Pakistan as our population is growing and effective Law Enforcement can only be sustained through the implementation of Information Technology that is effective and produces results - otherwise we will end up replicating the flaws and errors in Lahore and Islamabad Safe City.

A Team of professionals can be tasked (compromising of IT Specialists in Wireless and Terrestrial Networks, Video Streaming and Storage, Information Security and Forensics) as well comprising of Police Officials to compare the implementation and outcome of the existing Safe City Projects with that of the RFP and the desired Concept of Operations stated initially. This will bring to surface problems and expose the gaps which then must be fixed before proceeding to other cities. Personally I will not be surprised if some key software was never installed - because it is software that makes the intelligence in systems. Only a GAP analysis will be able to determine the missing components that make up a SAFE CITY.