More than 1,000 security cameras set up for Vancouver Olympic Games

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - A vast network of security cameras set up for the Winter Olympics doesn't go on line officially until Monday, but it's already nabbed its first miscreant.

The apprehension of the apparently hapless drunk has police crowing about the efficiency of the cameras.
But privacy watchdogs have been nervous about the unprecedented deployment of electronic surveillance in Canada and sought assurances the cameras will be gone as quickly as the athletes after the Games.
More than a thousand new closed-circuit cameras will be in place monitoring the boundaries of Olympic venues and spots in Vancouver and Whistler where crowds will gather.
That doesn't include existing cameras inside venues such as BC Place stadium and Canada Hockey Place, others already mounted in downtown buildings and a handful of cameras controlled by the B.C. government at their Robson Square celebration venue.
The sheer number of them pales in comparison to the thousands keeping an eye on British citizens, but it's by far the largest concentration of state-controlled cameras in any jurisdiction in Canada.
"I guess our concern has remained more the use of cameras after the Olympics rather than during the Olympics," says Jim Burrows, a spokesman for the B.C. Information and Privacy Commission.
"There certainly is this concern about this legacy of cameras and what plans for them will be."
But the networks' operators - there are two - have tried to reassure the B.C. commission and its federal counterpart that this isn't a back-door attempt to set up a British-style Big Brother system.
Chantel Bernier, assistant privacy commissioner of Canada, whose office has jurisdiction over the ISU cameras, says it's been promised the cameras will come down once the Games are over.
"Certainly we will ensure that does occur and we will continue the dialogue with them to ensure that does occur," she says.
Britain has thousands of government-controlled video cameras and access to images from an estimated four million private security cameras.
The figure is growing despite research indicating they do nothing to deter crime or significantly boost the police's ability to solve them. Critics argue the money spent to install and monitor the systems could be better used on other forms of policing.
Canadian civil liberties groups have successfully pinched off attempts at permanent surveillance networks but grudgingly accept them for special events such as the Olympics.
The ISU has set up more than 900 cameras, the majority aimed at perimeter fencing around Olympic venues, says RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer, head of the Integrated Security Unit overseeing the Games.
"What they're doing is identifying breaches to our security perimeter," he says. "The alternative, of course, is having way more police officers. For me it's just smart use of technology."
The ISU's Cpl. Joe Taplin says some of the cameras also can be used to screen crowds going in and out of venues if the on-site commander requires it.
The City of Vancouver has a separate array of about 100 cameras mainly covering downtown streets used for Olympic festivities, as well as two live entertainment sites.
"Each intersection has up to four cameras looking in each direction," says Kevin Wallinger, the city's director of emergency management.
"Primarily it's for situational awareness just to get an appreciation of crowd movement, traffic flow, any public-safety related incidents that might occur."
Surprisingly, the networks aren't all monitored from one location.
Each Olympic venue will have its own ISU control room in charge of its cameras and the ISU command centre will have the ability to tap into those feeds.
Vancouver's camera network will be monitored by a private security operator working from the city's E-Comm building, used as a command centre for disasters and other emergencies.
"We will continue to control the cameras and control the video that's being captured," says Wallinger.
Vancouver police will be able to see some of the footage in real time, but they won't have control over it, he says.
"If there's an area of interest or area of concern with any of those emergency personnel, they'll certainly be on the phone with Vancouver police specifically."
The permanent cameras inside Canada Hockey Place and BC Place are controlled by their own security personnel. There are no direct links to the ISU network, though Taplin says police can request footage if there's an incident being investigated.
Any recordings from the ISU cameras can be legally retained for up to two years, longer if they're evidence in a court case.
Mercer says the perimeter cameras won't be recording constantly - they'll turn on only when motion sensors detect a potential intrusion.
"If nobody touches the fence or comes near the fence there's no data to record or to keep," he says.
Wallinger says recordings from the city's street camera network can be kept for up to 30 days under provincial privacy guidelines. But they may be erased in as little as two weeks - unless they're part of an investigation - because of limited storage capacity, he says.
Neither network will utilize facial-recognition technology - known as analytics - though the feature is designed into the systems.
Just how effective all these electronic eyeballs will be in deterring trouble is unclear.
Officials say they'll help commanders decide what's needed in case of traffic accidents or medical emergencies.
But police won't rely on them if, for instance, a protest demonstration gets out of hand, preferring instead to rely on surveillance from helicopters.
Last week, one of the video cameras guarding a cruise ship being used to house visiting police officers in Vancouver's port area caught someone trying to breach the dockside perimeter.
It's unlikely police will feel the need to hang on to that tape.
"He had no evil intent," says Mercer. "I think he had too much to drink."

Organizations: Vancouver Olympic Games, B.C. Information and Privacy Commission, B.C. commission

Geographic location: Vancouver, Canada, Whistler BC Place stadium B.C. Robson Square Britain

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