The Vancouver Statement on the 2010 Winter Olympics

Following recent discussion, a number of leading surveillance researchers have signed and issued the following ‘Vancouver Statement’ of which I did the first draft (followed by multiple revisions from many hands!). If you are a researcher who has done any work on mega-event security and surveillance, and agree with the statement, you are encouraged to send your name and affiliation to Adam Molnar at UVic. It is being press-released and hopefully discussed in the BC Legislative Assembly.

The Vancouver Statement of Surveillance, Security and Privacy Researchers about the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games

As researchers from Canada and the wider world, who are conducting research on the global security dynamics of mega-events, we agree:

  • that the Olympic Games should be a celebration of human achievement, friendship and trust between people and nations.

However, having analysed past and planned Olympics and other mega events, from a variety of historical and international perspectives, we recognise:

  • that recent Games have increasingly taken place in and contributed to a climate of fear, heightened security and surveillance; and
  • that this has often been to the detriment of democracy, transparency and human rights, with serious implications for international, national and local norms and laws.

Therefore, we ask the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada:

  • to moderate the escalation of security measures for Vancouver 2010 and to strive to respect the true spirit of the event;
  • to be as open as possible about the necessary security and surveillance practices and rationales;
  • to withdraw temporary bylaws that restrict Charter rights of freedom of speech and assembly;
  • to work constructively with the Provincial and Federal Privacy Commissioners;
  • to respect the rights of all individuals and groups, whether they be local people or visitors, and pay particular attention to the impacts on vulnerable people;
  • to conduct a full, independent public assessment of the security and surveillance measures, once the Games are over, addressing their costs (financial and otherwise), their effectiveness, and lessons to be learned for future mega-events;
  • not to assume a permanent legacy of increased video surveillance and hardened security measures in the Vancouver/Whistler area, and to have full and open public discussion on any such proposed legacy.

We hope that these recommendations will contribute to a unique and positive Olympic legacy by which Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada will be remembered for setting the highest ethical standards.

For further information, contact:

Richard Smith, tel: 778-782-5116; or Colin Bennett

And there’s now more on Richard’s blog!

Rio gets the Olympics – and now the poor will suffer

Most people will probably have heard the announcement that Rio de Janeiro has been awarded the 2016 Olympic Games. While I am pleased that Brazil has beaten the USA in particular in this race in the sense that it shows a slight shift in global power balances towards the global south, I am very concerned as to how the current right-wing administration of both the city and region of Rio will deal with the ‘security’ issues around this mega-event. The Pan-American Games, which Rio hosted in 2007 led to the violent occupation by military police of several particularly troubled favelas (informal settlements), and the new administration has already shown its authoritarian tendencies with the Giuliani- wannabe ‘choque de ordem’ (shock of order) policies that involve building demolition, crackdowns on illegal street vendors (i.e. the poor) and more recently, the building of walls around certain favelas, and most recently the unwelcome ¬†imposition of CCTV cameras on favelas that were just starting to enjoy improvements in trust between police and community. The favelas that line the main highways into the city from the international airport were already slated for such ghettoization, and the Olympics will only make this more likely to happen and more quickly – just as has happened in South Africa, similarly afflicted by race and class-based social conflict, during the various international meetings and summits there in recent years. Foreign delegates and tourists don’t like to see all that nasty poverty, do they?

I will write more on this later (I am on the road right now…).

India plans ‘world class’ electronic surveillance for Commonwealth Games

The Times of India reports on the Indian government’s plans to implement comprehensive surveillance for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. One aim seems to be to create the kind of ‘island security’ with which we have become so familiar at these kinds of mega-events: vehicle check-points with automatic license-plate recording and recognition; x-ray machines and other scanners for vehicles (and perhaps people too). They will also massively expand CCTV systems and not just in the actual Games area, but throughout the city of Delhi.There are also, as usual plans to use more experimental surveillance and control techniques (as with the use of sub-lethal sonic weapons in Pittsburgh the other day), in this case a drone surveillance airship,” capable of taking and transmitting high-density visual images of the entire city.”

However, this is not just about the temporary security of the games. As with many other such mega-events, the Indian government appears to be planning to use the Delhi games as a kind of Trojan Horse for the rolling out of similar and more permanent measures in big cities across the country. The Times article claims that the Ministry of Home Affairs intends to expand the measures and “soon the same model is planned to be replicated across the country,” and in particular on use of airships, “similar airships would be launched in other big and vulnerable cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai.” And there will be an infrastructure too, apparently “the IB [Intelligence Bureau] is silently working to create a command center to monitor all-India intelligence and surveillance.”

Of course the threat of ‘terror groups’ is the justification, and there’s no doubt there is a threat to Indian cities from such groups, particularly those based in Pakistan. However, the Indian public shouldn’t assume that anything done in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’ will: 1. actually work (in the sense of preventing terrorism); or 2. be used for those purposes anyway. This same trend happened¬† in the UK during the early 1990s, when the threat of the Provisional IRA was the justification, and before most people in Britain had even noticed, a massive (and it seems ever-expanding) patchwork of CCTV camera systems had been created, which were joined by further repressive measures even before 9/11. And did this massive number of cameras stop London being attacked by terrorists? No, it didn’t.¬† 7/7 still happened. But of course we had lots of good pictures after the event for the media… and they are very expensive and don’t even do much to stop regular crime, as a recent meta-study has shown. What would be more effective would be peace and co-operation with Pakistan, a move away from both chauvinistic Hindu and Muslim nationalisms and extremisms which only generate resentment and hatred, and old-fashioned targeted intelligence work on those very few people who are actually planning terrorism – not mass surveillance and the gradual erosion of civil liberties of the entire population based on state fears that some of them might be guilty.

Finally, this is about globalization. The whole way this is promoted by the Indian government is as if there is some international competition to install as much CCTV and security as possible. But the global spread of the surveillance standards and expectations of the rich western elite is a self-fulfilling logic that benefits only the massive global security-industrial complex.

Pittsburgh police use sub-lethal weapons against protestors

LRAD being used by the US Navy (ATC)
LRAD being used by the US Navy (ATC)

Mega-events are often the time for some surveillance / control / security innovation and experimentation by states. In what seems to be a rather unwelcome first, the Pittsburgh police have used a military sonic canon to clear protestors off the streets at the G20 summit. These devices are among many so-called ‘sub-lethal weapons’ (see the article by Steve Wright here) that have been gradually migrating from military to civilian use for a number of years – see for example the ongoing debate over the use in the UK of the ultrasonic ‘Mosquito’ device, which is supposed to target young people; its makers rather cynically advertise it as ‘so effective that they tried to ban it’.

The particular weapon used by the Pittsburgh police is the Long Range Accoustic Device (LRAD) made by the American Technology Corporation, which generates a piercing noise that is not only extremely unpleasant, it can damage eardrums and cause heart problems. It was rather eeriely appropriate to see them being used (as you can on The Guardian‘s website) on the same day that TNI / Statewatch released their report on the security-industrial complex and a reminder that this is a global phenomenon.

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ in Chiyoda-ku
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ in Chiyoda-ku

We had an enlightening interview, which will give me much to analyse later, with three senior officers from the Seikatsu Anzen Bu (literally, ‘Everyday Life Safety Division’) of the Keisicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police). Interestingly, this division that was created as a result of the Seikatsu Anzen Jourei (Governor Ishihara’s 2003 Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance) and which deals with all the community security and safety initiatives, including CCTV, is separate from the Chiki Bu (the community division) that is responsible for the koban neighbourhood police box system.

Like almost everyone in authority we have met here, the police were convinced that they were not doing surveillance in using the cameras. They also confirmed that almost all of the CCTV systems operated by shoutenkai (shopkeepers’ associations) are not monitored and are simply recorded. They also stressed their deep concern for privacy and the rights of citizens and said that data from the police-operated cameras – of which there are around 150 in Shinjuku (the largest system with 50 cameras in the Kabukicho entertainment district), Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Roppongi and Ueno – was only kept for 7 days unless there was a specific reason to retain it. This is a legal requirement not just a police guideline. The police cameras are monitored both in local stations and in a central control room, but we were told that it was strictly forbidden for us to visit (unlike every other city in which I have done research) as everyone who enters has to be pre-enrolled in the police iris-scan security database.

We talked a lot about the history of the development of CCTV and of community safety initiatives in Tokyo, and Governor Ishihara’s absolutely central role in backing video surveillance became very clear (it’s a shame he has so far refused an interview with us!). What was also particularly interesting was that the police themselves did not think that apparently obvious ‘trigger events’ were as important as it might seem. For example, they claim that the police only really began considering the use of CCTV cameras not after the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo underground but because of the influence of G8 summit security. One officer specifically mentioned the Gleneagles summit (which was just starting when terrorists attacked the London transport system), but this was in 2005, well after the TMG had already introduced CCTV, and after which the Tokyo police have not introduced a lot more cameras. So I don’t quite understand their point. It may become clearer once I have the complete transcripts… They also claimed that it was the Tokyo police rather than Japan Railways themselves or the Tokyo Metro authority who insisted on installing CCTV in the Tokyo transport network after the Aum attacks.

The officers talked a lot about community involvement. They dismissed the objections to their public space CCTV systems for several reasons, not least as I have already mentioned that they were not doing ‘surveillance’, but more importantly because they claimed to have done extensive consultation with local community groups, businesses etc. The claimed that they could not do anything without this support. This may have been true for Kabukicho, which was undoubtedly afflicted by an influx of Chinese gangs in the 1990s, but we heard from the local government of another ward that is being lined up for one of the new volunteer-based child safety camera systems being introduced from 2010 that they were given no choice by the police, and that local people were not happy about it. The problem is that this local authority don’t want to be interviewed further about this as they are in a rather delicate position over this new system.

(Thank-you very much to the officers from the Seikatsu Anzen Bu for giving us their time)