Cameras in Istanbul, sacrificing privacy for security Saturday

Surveillance cameras installed in many parts of Istanbul and recently on its ferries are reminiscent of scenes described in George Orwell's book, "1984." Although Istanbul became acquainted with the cameras of the Mobile Electronic System Integration Project (MOBESE) three years ago, the debate on the use of these cameras for security purposes resurfaced recently when it was reported that some of the suspects behind the recent spree of car torchings were identified through them.

The number of cameras has increased as Istanbul Sea buses and Fast Ferries Inc. (IDO), that operates the city's ferry routes, recently installed a total of 550 cameras on all of its 32 ferries and 35 terminals. Enes Savasci, IDO project manager, said the cameras will make it easier for the ferries to dock and will also assist in warning people when they try to disembark too soon.

Officials explained the necessity for these cameras citing the prevention of terrorist attacks, criminal acts as well as maintaining order inside the ferries as reasons. People who consume alcoholic beverages on the lower deck will be detected thanks to the cameras that can record in the dark too, Savasci told the Turkish Daily News.

But some passengers are unhappy with this practice. Burhan Yenerer said, "I used to drink beer on the lower deck at night and now they won't allow it any more."

Recent statements by police officials have promoted the cameras due to their capacity to improve security measures. Even movies influence and inform people about the existence and necessity of the cameras in Istanbul. MOBESE provides the opportunity to watch all the camera recordings in real time in the police department.

A group opposed to the project called NO-BESE came together spontaneously in 2005 when MOBESE was introduced in Istanbul. The group has a Web site called (we are being watched) where photos from protest meetings and ideas are exchanged. The group was influenced by the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) established in New York in 1996, which later extended to Italy, Sweden and Lithuania. NO-BESE activists stood in front of the cameras and displayed posters, which had slogans against surveillance in society. They have organized 13 protests since 2005. On March 19, 2006 there were simultaneous events in seven different countries such as Turkey, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. The activists in Istanbul tied themselves to a single chair and carried it through the street. The chair symbolized power that is meaningless without the support of officials who carry it.

"We looked at the cameras with binoculars to reverse the situation and show that the officials get annoyed when they are watched," said activist Burak Uzumcuoglu.

As terrorist attacks and crime increases in the city, the cameras are regarded as a necessity by more people. Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah said a total of 1,350 cameras installed in the streets helped police locate criminals who recently torched many cars in different districts of Istanbul. However, Uzumcuoglu claimed that those cameras, which identified the criminals, are private cameras not belonging to MOBESE but officials made them appear as MOBESE cameras in order to increase public consent for the cameras.

A significant economic dimension is also involved. Savasci said cameras installed on the ferries cost 320,000 euros and cameras installed on docking areas and those that photograph vehicle license plates cost 450,000 euros. "They (officials) import everything without consideration and the tender is usually in the interest of certain people," said Uzumcuoglu [...]

(Published 12 January 2008 in the Turkish Daily News.)

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