Mass Surveillance: A Newly Formed Olympic Discipline Preceding Paris 2024

As French deputies examine the Olympic bill, which includes the authorization of algorithmic surveillance, a look back at the security context of the Games of the modern era.

Faster, higher, stronger.” At the Games, athletes are not the only ones trying to apply the Olympic motto. In terms of safety, too, the objective of overtaking is verified over the Olympics. For five decades, the Olympic Games have no longer been reduced to a gigantic barnum, but also a very handsome bunker, with its procession of gadgets and repressive laws. Last episode with Paris 2024, while the deputies are considering the Olympic law, Monday March 20, to authorize among other things an unprecedented technology in France, algorithmic surveillance, criticized by its opponents such as the Squaring the Net.

“Securing the Olympics, a nightmare? Almost. I would say that it is above all a challenge.” It has been more than twenty years since Mark Camillo had the difficult task of coordinating the security of the Salt Lake City Games (2002), just a few months after the attacks of September 11. “Every day, I was on the go. A new crisis could happen.” Anxiety that dates back to 1968 at the Mexico Games where the myth of the famous “Olympic truce” was shattered for the first time. Ten days before the opening ceremony, the government had violently repressed demonstrations by students, disgusted by the “mismanagement” of money poured out for the Olympics. And we will have to wait until the 2000s for this scandal be made public.

A safe shallot race

Hosting the Games is not just about the big bucks. It is also a question of image. In addition to the brand new or renovated enclosures, the whole host city wants to appear in its best light. Shortly before the Los Angeles Games (1984), the municipality had enacted a law prohibiting sleeping on the street and the police were urged to arrest all offenders en masse. In 1996, in Atlanta, a law had been passed to prohibit crossing a parking lot if his car was not parked there. In Rio, in 2016, all the homeless had been parked for two weeks in the suburbs, before being allowed to return once the flame was extinguished.

Read more:  A Civil Guard dog locates an old missing woman in Carral | Radio Coruña

Safety is both know-how and know-how. In this field, gold medal to the British deputies who had voted in 2012 a law authorizing the installation of missiles on the buildings adjoining the Olympic Stadium, ignoring the fears of local residents. On the podium, Rio and his spy balloons, first designed for the war in Iraq, which wander for two weeks over the Brazilian city. Their images – and many more – landed in a control room reminiscent of the lair of a James Bond villain.

Not an ear sticking out? That’s the idea. Mike Wells, pillar of the association of opponents Games Monitorcan testify to this since the London Games. “All I did was film an excavator operating in the middle of people, a few steps from the Olympic Park”, he says. In this spring of 2012, the expropriated or exasperated residents of the Stratford district then led a rebellion against the authorities, who hastily finished the work on the enclosures. “Not one, not two, six security guards fall on me. The police arrive, with three cars, sirens blaring, and a helicopter in support in the sky.”

At the station, he claims to have had no chance of having his version of the facts heard. “The security guards swear that it was me who attacked them. They stuck me in pre-trial detention. They tried to leave me in the shade until the end of the Games”, plague Mike Wells. In the end, he only spent a week behind bars, but received a distancing measure: a ban on approaching within 100 m of the Olympic Park. All for pulling out a camera, according to his account.

The local residents concerned are also paying for the growing level of threat to the Games. After the attack in Munich against the Israeli delegation in 1972, within the Olympic village itself, the IOC decided to entrust the host countries with responsibility for the security of the sites. Difficult task. “In 1984, Turkey was the most exposed delegationremembers William Rathburn, then in charge of the Games for the Los Angeles police. The city had a strong Armenian community and two Turkish consuls had been murdered in ten years.”

At night, the athletes stayed on the campus from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), “where the dormitories were farthest from the fence of security. If there was a breach in our system, we had time to intervene.” At the time, the university was surrounded by a barrier sensor which prevented any attempt at intrusion. A revolutionary device for the time, which seems derisory today.

A technological triple leap

Since then, technology has made giant leaps and the Olympic Games have also taken the leap of the digital, algorithmic and artificial intelligence revolution. In Beijing in 2008, the VisioWare system, installed in thousands of cameras, enabled the Chinese authorities to detect suspicious behavior. Or not. A passerby running down a street triggered, for example, an alert relayed to the monitoring PC, describes the New York Times. In Sochi, in 2014, the VibraImage software detected the mood of each person in a crowd using facial recognition. In Athens, in 2004, the Greek government, under pressure from the United States and the IOC, had decided on the sly and without referring to Parliament, to install a “SuperPanopticon”. A super industrial accident, above all, denounces the researcher Minas Samatas, specialist in mass surveillance and author of several tries on this Orwellian project.

On paper, it was a system analyzing data from cameras in the Greek capital and listening to everything said, in a dozen languages, from Greek to English to Farsi, as described by the Christian Science Monitor. In the facts, “Security companies wanted to use the Games as a show house to sell the system to many countriesnamed Minas Samatas. But the overall software never worked and Greece handled the security of the Games the old-fashioned way with police forces.” The country has never seen the color of the billion euros paid in vain. “It is the fear of all security managers, analyse Mark Camillo. In Salt Lake City, we preferred less state-of-the-art systems, but more proven, more reliable.”

A pylon covered with surveillance cameras, Tian'anmen Square, during the Olympic Games in Beijing (China), August 4, 2008. (JONATHAN FERREY / GETTY IMAGES ASIAPAC)

If the Greek example is caricatural, the systems installed for major events are rarely dismantled once the athletes have returned to their homes. “The only example that comes to mind is the city of Basel, which rented surveillance cameras for Euro 2008 football and dismantled them after the competition”advances the Swiss academic Francisco Klauser, a specialist in monitoring major sporting events. two decades After the exploits of Cathy Freeman in Sydney, the police still benefit from additional powers resulting from a law passed a few months before the Games. And this, while the government archives, opened in 2021, show that the threat level was quite low.

An ever-present threat

Other official documents opened to the public later, in South Korea this time, make it possible to qualify this observation: who has heard of the planned Molotov cocktail attack on disgruntled Korean students? against the 1988 Olympic marathon ? “Never underestimate the level of threat, with a guard Austin Duckworth, author d’a book on securing games. The students were arrested before they could carry out the project. If they had succeeded, there might not be an Olympic marathon open to the public for free.”

And all those security layers don’t prevent the unthinkable from happening. William Rathburn, who also served as security in Atlanta in 1996, remains bruised by the memory of the Centennial Park attack, in an Olympic park open to the four winds, without entry control “by political decision of the mayor”. Since then, the cordoned-off fan-zone with body scanner at the entrance has become a classic feature of host cities. Just like the “protest-zone” for opponents, an enclosed place where demonstrations are organized (for example at Sotchi, beijing or Rio).

“Even if we had cordoned off the park, the terrorist could have detonated his bomb in the street, in a place passingargues the former American police officer. He acted alone, without referring to anyone.” He later claimed responsibility for the attacks on a lesbian bar and an abortion clinic in early 1997. “He was a lone wolf who was hostile to abortion and socialismlamentation of William Rathburn. He had nothing against the Games as such. He was not on the threat list. You could have deployed all the spyware you wanted, I’m really not sure you would have stopped it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent News

Editor's Pick