Olympics planners consider surveillance used at Super Bowl
 

ACLU raises 'Big Brother' issues


MIAMI – Thousands of Super Bowl fans were subjected to a "computerized police lineup" at America's biggest sporting event last weekend as police used cutting-edge technology to scan the crowd for pickpockets and terrorists, civil libertarians said on Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union demanded Tampa city officials hold public hearings to answer questions about the use of "bio-metric" anti-crime surveillance equipment that scanned images of Super Bowl fans through a computer database as they passed through turnstiles at Raymond James Stadium.

The surveillance raised serious questions about possible violations of the fans' constitutional right to freedom from "unreasonable searches and seizures," the ACLU said in a letter Thursday to Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

"This was essentially a computerized police lineup. For the price of admission, unbeknownst to them, they were placed in a police lineup," Florida ACLU director Howard Simon said.

But police said the goal was to stop trouble before it started, not to invade privacy.

"I don't think there is a legal issue. I don't think the issue of privacy is in question," Tampa Police spokesman Joe Durkin said. "Clearly the courts have ruled that there is no expectation of privacy in a public setting like this."

The test of surveillance equipment at the Super Bowl, long considered a prime target for terrorists because of its global visibility and particularly American flavor, evoked Orwellian images of Big Brother for some people.

Like surveillance cameras in convenience stores, at cash-dispensing machines, or ATMs, and on street corners, the cameras installed for the Super Bowl U.S. football matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants captured images of people in a public place.

But unlike most video surveillance systems, which store the images on tape, the cameras were connected by cable to computers that scanned the images, instantly dissecting facial features and comparing them to a digital database of known criminals and terrorists.

Signs outside the stadium warned fans they were under video surveillance, police said.

The system was capable of matching images within seconds, allowing police to identify suspicious characters and watch them with video cameras until officers could respond and intercept them, Durkin said.

Police said the video/computer scanning system, used at the nearby Ybor City entertainment district as well as the stadium, made 19 matches during Super Bowl week but none of those identified had committed crimes that warranted arrest.

"If this tool could prevent a terrorist act or something else, I think the tool will be priceless," he said. "The vast majority of visitors to Raymond James would applaud our efforts to keep it safe for everyone."

But the ACLU demands that Tampa officials hold hearings to reveal who authorized the program, what crime databases were used, what actions would have been taken against anyone identified from a database and how the captured images were destroyed.

The video system, using bio-metric technology to compare facial features such as the size of a nose, the set of a brow or the cut of a jaw, was offered to the Tampa Police Department by Graphco Technologies Inc., a Pennsylvania-based database and "knowledge management" firm.

The test project compared images from the video cameras to a relatively small database of about 1,700 faces assembled from FBI and police files and including crooks ranging from pickpockets to domestic terrorists.

Future uses would hopefully include larger databases of tens of thousands of criminals, officials said.

Steven Rehfeldt, the Super Bowl project manager for Graphco, said the system is less intrusive than normal convenience store video surveillance, which captures and keeps the images of mostly innocent people.

"This is a higher degree of privacy than regular taping because taping keeps a record. In our case we may keep the record for two seconds and then it's dumped if it's not a match," he said. "To me this is a great application of technology to preserve freedom and liberty. It allows you to focus on the criminal rather than everybody else."


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