The folks in charge of designing Mexico City’s urban surveillance system don’t even try to hide that they’re watching you. In fact, the building holding the headquarters for the Distrito Federál’s Ciudad Segura (Safe City) program goes so far as to resemble a three-story-tall row of cameras focused outward, aimed directly at its citizens.
The foundation for this magnificent panopticon edifice is, of course, a concrete bunker. Surrounded by a high perimeter fence, passers-by can only see the camera-like uppermost floors of the building peering back at them. Designed by Telmex (Mexico’s national telecommunications company) and Thales, a French multinational military contractor, the building opened in 2011. With such huge names behind the design and implementation, you can be certain they knew exactly the message they were sending. Unlike most urban surveillance centers, C5 doesn’t try to disguise its militaristic origins; the name itself even derives from the Spanish for “Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, Integration, Information, and Investigation.”
But unlike a true panopticon, the façade of C5 isn’t doing all the heavy lifting; it’s what’s inside that gets spooky. The central nervous system of what experts rank among the most advanced surveillance and intelligence gathering centers in the world lies inside the walls of C5’s high-security bunker. It is the convergence of 47 independent local government agencies, collating the digital, photographic, and aural footprints of Mexico City’s residents. This hive mind is set to record anything deemed “anomalous” via a system of mobile surveillance units, street police, environmental sensors, panic buttons, and an estimated 13,000 street-mounted cameras positioned throughout the megalopolis.
All of this “data” pours into a three-story-tall, cylindrical control room filled with hundreds of real humans charged with keeping an eye on the happenings of the people. Screens with live feeds tuned to areas of interest cover one whole face of the control center, while the other floors are floor-to-ceiling one-way glass, behind which lie the offices of supervisors and the administration, all of whom could be, at any given time, monitoring those lower-level officiants tasked with monitoring the rest of the proletariat, none of whom would be the wiser.
Given the doom-laden nature of this spectacle, it’s not hard to imagine the impish spirit of Michel Foucault doing a weird little tap dance somewhere in the afterlife.