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.