Vancouver Olympic surveillance legacies

A city worker installs video surveillance cameras outside GM Place in downtown Vancouver. (CBC)

As the CCTV cameras are going up, Vancouverites are starting to become more concerned now about what the legacy of increased security and surveillance will be after the Olympics. Although the initial promises were that the cameras would be taken down afterwards, with the money that has been put into building a swish new control room, it seems unlikely that the authorities will want to ‘waste’ this investment. As we warned in our Vancouver Statement in November, it seems as if the Games have become a globe-trotting Trojan horse for the video surveillance industry.

Meet Rio’s new security advisor…

if this appointment is any sign of what is to come… this is going to be war on the favelas.

So, with Rio de Janeiro now hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, and a huge set of social problems providing big obstacles to a PR success and the place climbing the world rankings of ‘global cities’, who have the right-wing administration of Governor Sergio Cabral and Mayor Eduardo Paes appointed to advise them on security?

Rudy Giuliani

Well, it’s none other than Mr Zero Tolerance himself, the ex-Mayor of New York and failed presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

As I’ve argued before, Giuliani’s macho urban politics have inspired the new tough choque de ordem (shock of order) approach that has flourished under Paes undermining the previous progressive social measures of former Mayor Cesar Maia, in particular the Favela Bairro program that attempted to make the illegal settlements in which the excluded minority of Rio’s population live, into normal functioning neighbourhoods. Cabral and Paes have turned this back into an ongoing confrontation, which is costing lives and livelihoods, and if this appointment is any sign of what is to come, the World Cup and the Olympics are going to mean more than just the usual high security and surveillance exhibition that these mega-events have become – this is going to be war on the favelas and war on the poor.

(As ever, thanks to my eyes in Rio, Paola Baretto Leblanc, for the link).

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!

Olympic surveillance legacies

David Loukidelis, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia´╗┐, speaking today at The Surveillance Games workshop, has made it quite clear that his office does not want the Winter Games to leave a legacy of securitization in the city or indeed, fear (as the Assistant Federal Privacy Commissioner, Chantal Bernier, put it), in the consciousness of its residents. In particular he argued that the 600 (yes, 600) cameras that are being installed at the Olympic venues and beyond should not be allowed to remain after the games. I hope that his office is able to deliver on this view, but I doubt that it will. As Kevin Haggerty and Phil Boyle have noted, security architecture is now an actual deliverable of the Olympics, and as many other researchers have shown, such architecture, including in particular CCTV but also adjusted local or national laws on the thematic and spatial limits of protest and freedom of expression (which, as Michael Vonn of the BCCLA and Chris Shaw, a leading anti-games activist, are describing at this very moment in the conference, are themselves often illegal and unconstitutional) tends not only to persist but to act as a kind of Trojan Horse for an expanded surveillance. And as Vonn’s group has also shown – the city is building a permanent CCTV control centre as part of the security architecture for the Games, and you don’t do that for cameras that are going to be removed.

The Surveillance Games

I’ll be off the next few days at ‘The Surveillance Games’ conference in Vancouver.

Coincidentally, the local police have recently announce that they will be buying the same kind of sonic weapons we saw being used against protestors at the Pittsburgh G8 meeting. Except they want us to call them ‘megaphones’ and claim they won’t use them aggressively*. I think we still need to call a weapon a weapon. Just think, with such rebranding the police could get over their recent little problem with tasers too: just call them ‘joy-buzzers’ (just with a whole lot more ‘joy’...). The urban arms race that such mega-events always spark off as manufacturers push their latest toys to anxious governments, of course just adds another layer of bitter irony to the fact that Canada also intends to ignore its own call for global truce during the Games… it seems that you don’t even need the actual gesture for gesture politics these days.

*Even if these devices were just megaphones, this purchase would in any case be rather ironic given that Vancouver city has banned protestors from using any amplification devices by amending their bylaws in July 2009.