||Friday, February 2|
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
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
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."