Olympic Surveillance

The CBC news has reported that Vancouver is in the process of installing hundreds of surveillance cameras in the downtown area in anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games. 900 cameras will be installed in the next week to monitor crowds for criminal activity or medical emergencies. The cameras will become active on February 1, and city officials indicate that they will be removed after the closing of the Paralympic Games on March 28. However, many are skeptical of the increased use of cameras. Some opponents would prefer more security personnel in place of the cameras. Others have no objections to the cameras during the Olympics, but worry that they will not be taken down as planned. Mayor Gregor Robertson said “there needs to be a lot more dialogue. People have to understand what the pros and cons are before we move forward on that.”

City of Vancouver

Image via Wikipedia

To me, this situation is quite reminiscent of the fall of 2008 when Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention. Part of the $50 million provided to the city for security purposes were used to install advanced surveillance cameras to be used during the convention. In addition, many private business owners installed their own cameras in preparation for possible civil unrest. Although intended for the duration of the convention, the cameras have remained in use since that time. With such a dramatic increase in the number of surveillance cameras in such a short time, and so many from private businesses, no one is sure just how many surveillance cameras are in the downtown areas.

As expected, there are both critics and supporters of the change. Police maintain that First and Fourth Amendment rights will not be violated, and that the cameras are “not an Orwellian type of thing…It’s a crime thing.”

Critics question the effectiveness of cameras and cite the London study showing how ineffectual cameras have been at reducing crime.

It seems, however, that the trend if increasing urban surveillance will not slow. At this point the public seems happy enough to hold onto the belief that the cameras are making them more secure. As this trend continues, I always find it interesting to sidestep the public/private/security debate and explore new media opportunities á la Manu Luksch, as well as the culture behind the growing trend.

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