The militarization of some major stations began in Italy in 2015 with the ‘Gate Project’: first Milan Central on the occasion of Expo, then Rome Termini and Florence Santa Maria Novella. The Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato [national railway] deployed officers of the ‘business protection unit’ (a structure that deals with anti-fraud and works in close contact with the police) along the umpteenth internal border: the access pathways to the platform the trains start off from. In the above stations it is by now consolidated practice to check tickets in an area presided over by the military and police situated between the station shopping area and the railway.
The pretext is that of making stations more secure against theft and terrorist attacks, but the goals achieved are quite different: on the one hand to clean the station (and the trains) from an excess of unproductive humanity that had been experimenting various forms of survival on the margins of daily businesses (a merchandise stall, a bench on which to rest, a spot to beg from); on the other hand to increase the profits of transport companies through stricter control of stations and trains. After all the link between access pathways and antiterrorism is obviously lacking, considering that access to the railway is granted to anyone who has a ticket. Even though there are no access gates yet, Turin, Bologna, Venice and Naples are also controlled by the business protection unit and the military are more and more frequent in these stations.
For about a month a novelty has been exciting the railway police, new technology added to the hundreds of CCTV cameras in stations and trains: the CAT S60 palmtop. It looks like a classic smartphone, it seems there are 800 of them around and its experimentation was entrusted to the railway police on duty in the stations of Milan and Rome, precisely to confirm the transformation of stations into conflict zones just like airports and the various internal borders. With this high-tech device, controls are carried out faster than ever: a policeman enters data or swipes the magnetic band of an electronic document on the screen of the palmtop. The latter is connected to the police database: in case of criminal precedents or police procedures in course, an acoustic signal resonates simultaneously in the railway police’s control room, and the latter get in touch with the patrol and give orders on what is to be done possibly sending back-up, something made even easier by GPS activated on the palmtop.
Access to the database and coordination with the control room are instantaneous making it possible for more and more people to be controlled. The new device is also equipped with software called ‘face control’, by which police can compare a photograph in the database with that on the document produced. Not only: a thermal camera makes it possible to identify people through the heat produced by the body up to a 10-metre distance, which will make darkness or an out-of-service toilet less useful.
Today controls with this new technology also began in Tiburtina station in Rome: a policeman holding a palmtop and two soldiers with guns on their shoulders were stopping young people with rucksacks and above all people with not typically western traits in a station that is becoming very much like a border commercial hub. Many shops, bars and salons are reserved for those who travel first-class on high speed trains, no public toilets or benches, so as to fend off those who have no destination or money to spend, military video cameras and policeman with weapons and new technologies who control and select those who have the right to move.