COTS Vs MOT: How protestors are using easy technologies to disrupt surveillance equipment and avoiding police

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Updated: November 19, 2019 6:48:02 PM

The governmental agencies around the world are looking for new non-lethal weapons but more effective means to keep the protestors in check.

cot. mot, protestsA demonstrator jumps over a burning barricade during a protest in Santiago, Chile. (File photo: Reuters)

New commercially available technologies, different phone apps or low-powered laser presentation tool are among some of the weapons of choice for protesters who try to either disable surveillance tech or to avoid the riot police.

In a recent protest on the streets of Chile, laser pointers were used to bring down drones and mess up with other surveillance technologies that security forces use to watch the crowd. And the same laser pointer technologies are being used by the protestors in Hong Kong to disable the facial recognition and other systems being used. However, in Quito, Ecuador, protestors stuck to wooden shields, sticks, rocks, spears, and Molotov cocktails (petrol bomb glass bottles) to fight off the police and surveillance machinery.

With the advent of COTS (Commercial-off-the-shelf) equipment with their own advantages like lower prices and successful trials and used by millions of users etc., have found an entry in Defence and Police agencies. However, MOTS (Modified-Off-the-Shelf) technologies are the way ahead for the uniformed services since such equipment are generally hardened form of COTS equipment and are less expensive than Military Standard (MIL-STD) products.

The governmental agencies around the world are looking for new non-lethal weapons but more effective means to keep the protestors in check and have been experimenting with various solutions like drones, dazzlers etc., every riot police force use specialised riot gear for crowd control while protecting themselves against aggression from the crowd.

According to security experts who wished to remain anonymous, the standard riot gear is personal body armour worn over the uniform, baton, rifles for firing rubber bullets, water jet cannons mounted on trucks and tear gas canisters. Dogs and policemen mounted on horsebacks are also often used for crowd control.

Other specialized technology focussed equipment like Dazzlers with noise and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) are also being tried out. LRAD is acoustic hailing devices which emit sound in a focussed acoustic beam shape at specific frequencies to pass clear instruction to protestors (unaware of intent or disturbance surrounding them). Use of lethal means by protestors like Molotov cocktail (petrol bomb glass bottles) and Bow/arrow is no rocket science but are ingenious and successful means to create a counter against Law and Order agencies.

Drones for Crowd Monitoring & Control

Drones provide a bird’s eye view of any protest to help police to evaluate the situation spread and assess the crowd numbers. This information is critical to implement the crowd control techniques like placement of barricades, streets to be monitored etc. However, recently by using the Laser pointer (the ones commercially available for Boardroom presentations) in Chile and Hong Kong has been effectively used to either saturate the navigation camera of the drone or confuse its IR sensor used for the landing of a drone.

Technology Shortcomings of COTS

Counter to some of the latest technologies like drones is possible since the protestors too are technically skilled and people forming part of protestors too are aware of the internal working of such advanced technologies. The basic cause of such disruption of police technology is directly attributable to the use of COTS (Commercial-off-the-shelf) technology. Usually, military equipment follows a well laid down Military Standard (MIL-STD) to achieve hardening of equipment and software (ported on to it) defined as a design feature. Such systems are definitely more expensive as are tailor-made for meeting specific requirements and have a longer developmental cycle.

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Apart from hardening of hardware and Software, Environmental protection specs etc. and Reliability calculations are meticulously carried out by Defence Quality Assurance. The Testing & Trials cycle and creation of numerous documents make these systems costly since each component has to meet the most stringent conditions. The paradigm of Reliability Engineering here is that ‘chain is as strong as the weakest link’ and individual parts are verified against tough MIL-STD before forming part of the larger system, and this assembled system too is further tested against another stringent standard.

Care is taken regarding electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) standard during the manufacturing process and tested against MIL-STD 461E/F by a dedicated Agency. Minimum physical ruggedisation standard for being MIL grade is tested and where ever the individual component has chances of failure, these are encased into hardened enclosure.

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