State Surveillance in Peru – Profiled or Profile Pic?

In Peru, they have a rather peculiar form of state surveillance. In the UK and in other Western countries, the state has deemed it appropriate and cost effective to erect CCTV cameras on the majority of streets in urban centres. In Peru, however, that would be an immense investment which is probably beyond their capacity, and therefore surveillance at bus stations and by the police takes on a more personal, DIY feel – digital cameras.

Upon boarding a bus, or when sat in your seat before departure, more often than not, a friendly bus attendant will ask you to look into a camera for a few seconds. The memory card is still recording when the next person in the line moves up, or the camera is shifted to the next seat.

When we were sat down on a beach having a small fire in Satipo, some bored police officers came over to find something wrong so that they could tell us off. We spoke to them in friendly tones and asked politely if we were breaking a law, and they admitted that we weren’t. But even so, the lead cop pulled out his camera to capture our faces and the fire. Perhaps it was cheeky of us to pose, but the flash wasn’t turned on, so he wouldn’t have been able to see anything. It is quite likely that this is why he came back with two more cars of bored police stationed in rural Peru, and insisted that we put out the fire. This time, the flash was on.

It feels more intrusive than state surveillance in the UK, but only because you can see the camera. The reality of living in even the smallest towns in Britain is that your route and habits are recorded on a daily basis.

Then, a strange thing happened. We were in Satipo town centre saying goodbye to Jose Luis, the man who had been our kind host at the legendary Camping Rock. He runs a rafting business and was advertising by the main plaza. He is there most days, but with his dreads, circle sun glasses and dramatic conversational gestures we weren’t surprised that there were some municipal security guards there. Taking photos.

We hugged Jose Luis goodbye, and just as we were setting off with our bags the two guards came over with their cameras in hand.

They wanted to take some photos.

They wanted to be in the photos with us.

We stood in a line, and the two men in uniform gathered photographic evidence for their Facebook profile pictures.

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