Brazil’s World Cup surveillance operation
The programme for policing this summer's tournament could have serious consequences for civil liberties, Simone Marques reports
11 Mar 14

Image: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock

Image: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock

Image: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock

Brazil’s government and security forces have put themselves on a war footing ahead of this summer’s FIFA World Cup, hosted by the South American country.

The security apparratus designed to stop demonstrations from disrupting the tournament consists of a set of procedures for general intelligence and data surveillance during the conduct of major sporting events – both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Rio. It is a strategically integrated operation involving the Ministries of Defence and Justice, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), the Armed Forces, the Metropolitan Polices, the Federal Police and the Highway Police. In addition to high-tech security equipment, the security plan could see state agents embedded in demonstrations.

The monitoring of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube is one of the main means of surveillance, and is already in operation. The focus is not only on profiles of members or supporters of the Black Blocs: any citizen can be targeted for investigation. Someone that likes a post in Facebook about violence in protests, for example, may be viewed as a suspect.

Advanced technology is being used to locate computers, access communications, collect data and emails and control electronic activities. Special departments have been created for this with extraordinary budgets.

The Special Secretariat for Large Events Security (SESGE, in Portuguese), of the Ministry of Justice, was created by decree in 2011 with the purpose of driving, planning, coordinating and evaluating the security actions for the major sporting events. The Core Cyber Defence Centre, a kind of “crisis room”, related to the Army and the Ministry of Defence, was also created in order to control actions of cyberterrorism, a concept that opens space for electronic surveillance of any person.

“Brazil is a winner Country and its people, their city mayors and their state governments participate in this journey of victory”, said President Dilma Rousseff, announcing the 14 command centre units in the Brazilian cities that will host World Cup games.

The command centres are built like bunkers, able to withstand explosions. The monitoring structure, equipped with cameras and 360° videowall, allows to identify people in detail, and share information. The centres also come equipped with bomb disposal kits, high observation decks, trucks for capturing images and aerial imaging systems.

The public safety plan for the World Cup will cost R$ 1.170 billion (about £ 300 million). “Most of the amount was invested in equipment that will be a legacy for the states”, explained the secretary Andrei Rodrigues, of the SESGE.

The legacy is doubtful. According to the strategic security plan, the operation has strict goals of protecting interests of the makers of the sporting events. What will remain will be equipment, technology and also laws. Thus, there is a possibility that the legacy will be a strong apparatus to spy on Internet communications, legitimised by laws enacted for the safety of the events, but generalized to contain demonstrations.

The SESGE already is monitoring news “misleading or distorted content”; if something of this nature is identified, the news will be “promptly rectified by the publisher”. However, such activity directly attacks the freedom of the press and of expression, besides and configuring censorship.

It is noteworthy that the issue is not approached by the Brazilian press, who benefit from advertising revenue from the government and FIFA.

The Brazilian full security plan ignores the rights to privacy and presumption of innocence. Its definitions of public disorder, of who can be considered suspicious and of which are the laws by which citizens are detained and criminalized are open to abuse.

This article was posted on 11 March, 2014 at

By Simone Marques

Simone Marques is a Brazilian journalist, translator and writer. Marques has been published by Deutsche Welle and contributes to nonprofit organizations in the area of human rights.