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Workshop on Privacy, Security and the 2010 Olympics—Program Report

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Adam Molnar, PhD Student
Department of Political Science, University of Victoria

Workshop sponsored by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and event organized by the Department of Political Science of the University of Victoria

June 2009

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.


In February 2010, Canada will host the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. These Games constitute a unique event from a privacy perspective, presenting a range of technological and institutional pressures and producing extraordinary security challenges while also raising questions related to personal privacy and other civil liberties. On February 2nd 2009, experts from academia, civil society, the private sector and government gathered at a “Workshop on Privacy, Security and the 2010 Olympics” to discuss the privacy and security implications of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Speakers addressed the extent to which public and private officials involved in security and critical infrastructure protection have taken privacy protection into account.  Academic experts and civil society groups also addressed the historical institutional legacies of the new security and surveillance apparatuses applied in Canada, and locally in Vancouver and Whistler, for the privacy rights of citizens. The following report summarizes the presentations and discussions that emerged from the workshop. 

Representatives of the RCMP Vancouver 2010 Olympics Integrated Security Unit (VISU), which is responsible for planning and managing overall security for the Games, were invited to participate as panelists at the workshop.  Regrettably, the RCMP’s VISU declined the invitation, indicating to us that they were conducting a major security exercise in anticipation of the Games during the week of the workshop.

Opening Remarks by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart provided a brief introduction to the workshop, highlighting the importance of security and privacy issues as falling under one of the four main policy priorities of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC).  Acknowledging that the Olympic Games represent a unique opportunity for Canada to showcase the natural environment of British Columbia and warmth of its citizens, Ms. Stoddart also recognized the notable security challenges presented to security and law enforcement agencies. 

In historical terms, Ms. Stoddart discussed how the Olympic Games pose difficult challenges from a public safety and security perspective.  The tragic events of the Munich Games of 1972, where terrorists killed 11 people, and the more recent Atlanta 1996 Games, with two people killed and more than 100 injured, have contributed to an Olympic legacy influencing the development of security policy.

However, beyond these historical circumstances and the demands of large-scale public security challenges, the Olympic Games present a further and often unacknowledged opportunity for the host location.  Ms. Stoddart emphasized that hosting the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games will allow Canada to showcase the core values that define who we are and how our citizens relate to one another, our government, and the world.

In this context, one important value to be communicated and upheld is the right to privacy.   Accordingly, Ms. Stoddart raised the question to workshop participants: How can we balance the need for security and privacy?

The duty to provide security and protect mega-events, Ms. Stoddart noted, should be tempered by the values of our society in order to uphold the privacy rights of citizens.  This is why the right to privacy must be upheld, particularly when the security threat is higher than usual as is the case during mega-events like the Olympic Games.  Ms. Stoddart recognized that there may be some instances where privacy protections must give way to protect a greater good, such as public health, consumer safety or national security.  However, Ms. Stoddart stressed that citizens should only be asked to make this sacrifice when it is clear that the promised outcome will actually be achieved.  Equally as important, this question should only present itself if no alternative, less privacy-invasive, option exists that would reach the same goal.

Ms. Stoddart opened the workshop by referring to the “legacy” of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, which was also a theme taken up by the final panel.  Historical experience has shown that the Olympic Games and mega-events often leave behind a legacy of large-scale security surveillance systems which remain after the event is over.  Detailing the case of the security legacy of Athens 2004, Ms. Stoddart highlighted the diverging interests between two public organizations: on the one hand, the Greek Data Protection Authority who ruled that Olympic CCTV cameras could be used after the games for the purposes of monitoring traffic and on the other, law enforcement who wanted to use the 350 CCTV camera installments in much broader terms that included the monitoring of citizens, most notably during public gatherings and demonstrations.

Drawing to a close, Ms. Stoddart quoted from the most recent Privacy Act annual report prepared by her Office, which states that “in our democracy, benevolent intentions appear to be pushing us towards a surveillance society.” Ms. Stoddart underscored the necessity of ensuring that security at the Vancouver Olympic Games—however important—does not take us down this path.  

In her final statement, Ms. Stoddart emphasized that it is events such as the Privacy, Security and Vancouver 2010 workshop that will ensure that the Games reflect not only Canadian athletic prowess and organizational know-how, but also policy innovations that encapsulate democratic values in a secure setting.

Panel 1: Security, Privacy and Mega-Events—Vancouver 2010

As moderator of the first panel, Assistant Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier’s presentation stated the legal parameters applicable to the balance between security and privacy, as established by the Supreme Court of Canada. First, the right to security may trump the right to privacy, but only under certain conditions. These conditions include the nature of the perceived risk, the potential consequences of not taking any action, the availability of alternative measures and the likelihood of the contemplated danger actually existing. Second, the invasion of privacy must be justified against valid objectives that should be assessed against reasonable expectations of privacy.  Third, reasonable expectations of privacy vary according to context.

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics and concerns surrounding security and privacy take on a novel significance due to context. Accounting for privacy concerns in conjunction with security provisions for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics involves asking a series of questions on both governance issues and security provisions. 

On governance:

  • What privacy framework has been developed in relation to the information gathered around the Olympics?
  • How does the RCMP train officers on privacy and how will it avoid creating precedents based on an exceptional circumstance such as the Olympic Games?
  • Who will (private?) information be shared with? Foreign governments? Private security contractors?
  • According to what protocols will information be shared?

On security:

  • What methods of information gathering are planned?
  • What type of information will be collected?
  • On what individuals or groups will information be collected?
  • How will privacy expectations be managed?

Before opening the floor to the first panel of presenters, Assistant Commissioner Bernier concluded by emphasizing the role played by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in relation to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games as one that keeps government authorities accountable while acknowledging the public safety challenges at hand. 

Opening the first panel, BC Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis emphasized some of the key challenges facing institutions dealing with both security and privacy concerns in the context of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Mr. Loukidelis acknowledged that these challenges are equally faced by law enforcement and privacy commissioners’ offices, and are especially unique due to their time sensitivity before, during, and after the 2010 mega-event.  For law enforcement, Mr. Loukidelis stressed the importance of adhering to a privacy management framework in the realms of both policy and practices. For the OPC specifically, Mr. Loukidelis notes that the inter-jurisdictional nature of security and privacy surrounding 2010 inevitably leads to challenges for institutional collaboration and oversight concerning privacy issues and the Games. For example, an integrated approach to security operations that spans local, provincial and federal jurisdictions (which is now a core element of national security strategy) simultaneously requires a series of comprehensive institutional mechanisms to protect the privacy rights of citizens. On this basis, Mr. Loukidelis stressed the need for various agencies to coordinate oversight mechanisms in a time-sensitive framework that can account for the relation between secrecy and transparency. That is, effective inter-jurisdictional oversight should be established prior to, during, and after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.  Concluding his panel presentation, Mr. Loukidelis highlighted concern for privacy after the Games have ended, stressing that “ordinary rules apply” with regards to any ongoing existence of security and surveillance technology, such as CCTV cameras, after the Games have ended.

Claire de Grasse discussed the role of Bell Canada in providing security services for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. These services are comprised of two main initiatives regarding data-sharing mechanisms that enable critical infrastructure owners to share information with first-responder organizations. Bell provides IT solutions at the governmental level and also with the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (VISU), linking various first responders in order to assist critical infrastructure protection practices. 

Ms. de Grasse emphasized that all Bell employees maintain privacy and confidentiality codes that adhere to the common rules of data sharing. For example, the data sharing models provided by Bell Canada involve logging/signing restrictions relating to storage, access and security clearance. All data records are to be destroyed after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games have ended, even though Ms. de Grasse noted that Bell Canada does not explicitly deal with citizen data. Bell Canada’s review of the IT network deployed at the Games will be used to assist first responders and other public agencies dealing with critical infrastructure protection strategies in the future.

Concluding the first panel was Micheal Vonn, policy director from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).  Ms. Vonn’s presentation addressed a series of privacy concerns for citizens and visitors to the Lower Mainland in the context of security and the Vancouver 2010 Games.

First, Ms. Vonn called attention to the reconfiguration of public space during mega-events through the establishment and hyper-regulation of newly designated “security zones”. Citing the Vancouver Police Department’s 2009 Annual Business plan, Ms. Vonn called attention to the possibility of increased “consent searches” that include both vehicle stops and street checks of citizens in public spaces. Ms. Vonn noted that many who volunteer for a “consent search” might not be aware of their rights when being subject to such practices.  The issue was raised as to whether the searches conducted will be so-called “consent searches” or whether they will be less “voluntary”. Ms. Vonn raised concerns about the lack of clarity regarding what authority the police could use to conduct mandatory vehicle and citizen searches, how the searches will be conducted, and if the searches will be conducted solely on the basis of where vehicles and pedestrians are moving rather than on more commonly recognized legal grounds. 

In this context, Ms. Vonn noted that one of the practical strategies set out by the Vancouver Police Department includes a re-focusing of the Beat Enforcement Teams (BETs) to ensure a high-visibility presence of officers and a law enforcement focus on disorder issues. In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the hyper-regulation of public space/security zones has a clear intersection with privacy interests of the local population. Ms. Vonn particularly stressed that privacy invasive tactics will have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable populations in the area, many of whom hold fears about displacement in the lead-up to the Games. Also directly affected are patrons of safe-injection sites who will be carrying street-purchased drugs to the facility in order to inject safely under medical supervision. 

Finally, Ms. Vonn brought attention to the many members of Vancouver’s Britannia community who are concerned about how security measures around the 2010 Olympics are going to impact their families and community.  Many of the approximately 400 people who signed the “No to the Olympics at Britannia” petition cited privacy related concerns, highlighting just how prominent apprehensions of security and surveillance measures are in local communities. This concern is similarly shared by “any and all groups who are critical of the Games”, who Ms. Vonn noted, are “intending to do nothing more dastardly than exercising their constitutional right to express an opinion”. Ms. Vonn concluded by emphasizing that to the extent that the security and surveillance apparatus appears to be widely cast, it should be noted as a central privacy issue of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.

Concerns raised in light of Ms. Vonn’s presentation, and the first panel more generally, include a “grey zone” in law that refers to random searches in designated “exclusion zones” associated with mega-events. It was acknowledged that there is no explicit statutory authority for search powers by law enforcement under such conditions, and further, that case law is grey on the extent to which such searches could be said to be authorized under ancillary police powers. This murkiness is further complicated when the line between coercion and voluntary compliance to such searches has the potential to become blurred.  For instance, the exactness and breadth of what constitutes voluntary searches was raised, with one workshop participant noting that searching contact lists inside cell phones is not an unprecedented law enforcement practice. It was also subsequently suggested that one possible approach for dealing with “exclusion zones”, or “spaces of exception”, regarding potential subjection search procedures would be for law enforcement officials to publicize the areas under increased surveillance. 

In a similar discussion, representatives from Pivot Legal Society were concerned that the lack of formal consultations between law enforcement officials and civil society has led to an increase in distrust between community groups and law enforcement and security officials. It was suggested that the informal approaches of law enforcement agents in contacting civil society groups were interpreted more as infiltrative techniques, rather than a professional attempt to arrange a formal consultation process. Finally, concerns were raised regarding adequate accountability mechanisms in place for the many private security companies under contract to provide security for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.

Panel 2: Critical Infrastructure Protection and the Legacies of Mega-Events

The second panel focused on “Critical Infrastructure Protection and the Legacies of Mega-Events.” After a brief introduction with panel moderator Dr. Colin Bennett, presentations followed by Dr. Kevin Haggerty, Dr. Chris Shaw and Dr. Harry Hiller. 

Opening the second panel, Dr. Kevin Haggerty noted that comparing the relation between security and mega-events across contexts is sometimes difficult; however, upon closer examination we are able to recognize and identify several commonalities. Dr. Haggerty’s discussion focused on four main themes: 1) mega-events in a post 9/11 logic of security, 2) mega-events and the security industrial complex, 3) crafting domestic security and surveillance policy in the context of mega-events, and 4) the importance of policy learning in the context of mega-events.

First, Dr. Haggerty emphasized that security, surveillance and mega-events can be usefully understood in the post 9/11 “logic” of security. This logic is characterized by a move toward “intelligence led-policing” which involves the anticipation (by means of threat/risk assessments) of any potential catastrophic event that has not yet occurred, and might never do so. In this context, security planning for mega-events involves “multiple contingency planning”, otherwise understood as an infinite scope on planning. Thinking the unthinkable, and planning accordingly, represents serious challenges for security officials. Often times, Dr. Haggerty noted, such an infinite scope on planning is only ever constrained by the amount of available finances. 

Second, Dr. Haggerty highlighted what he calls the “security-industrial complex”.  In past cases of mega-events, there has been a notable surge in security and surveillance technologies that often serve as a precursor for the transformation of domestic security and law enforcement institutions.  The Vancouver 2010 Games in particular serve as a point of convergence for major technology and security firms to “show off their wares”. Dr. Haggerty noted that such technologies include CCTV, biometric technologies, satellite tracking, x-ray body scanning, RFID, real-time integrated databases, private security firms, as well as military equipment. Dr. Haggerty also emphasized that new uses are often found for these technologies after mega-events have ended. For example, he noted how the Athens police services acquired a fully operational IT network and advanced technical security operations training after the 2004 Games. 

Third, Dr. Haggerty discussed how mega-events can shape the formation of domestic security and law enforcement policy.  Using an example from Great Britain, Dr. Haggerty noted that UK government documents have shown how government officials understand that public opposition to security and surveillance infrastructure and practices in their community might be reduced under certain conditions of exception, such as large scaled mega-events. That is, the Olympic Games tend to reduce anxieties toward privacy intrusions, providing the justificatory and normalizing basis necessary for the routinized surveillance of everyday life.

Finally, and in a related point, Dr. Haggerty noted that policy regarding security and surveillance in the context of mega-events holds significant implications for the legacy of future policy development. Previous instances of securitizing mega-events has led to what can be understood as a global network of experts that deal specifically with developing security and surveillance strategies for mega-events. Such policy legacies become the “gold standard” for mega-event security provisions, providing templates for other host cities dealing with mega-events.

Dr. Chris Shaw’s presentation started by noting the absence from the workshop of both RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer, the head of the Vancouver Olympics Integrated Security Unit, and Jim Chu, of the Vancouver Police Department. Dr. Shaw recognized that the implications of this were that workshop participants and reporters could not ask them about 2010 security costs or issues related to security preparations for civil liberties and privacy. This in turn, Dr. Shaw recognized, reduces the amount of available options for reporters or the public seeking information on such issues, with interviews and/or Access to Information requests being the final option.

Dr. Shaw went on to further discuss the challenges associated with submitting Access to Information requests based his recent experiences with delays, fees and redacted material. Dr. Shaw concluded that such obstacles suggest that these information tools are less effective in showing the workings of government than one would hope.

In the absence of full accountability and transparency, Dr. Shaw raised concerns about the implications on civil liberties. In particular, Dr. Shaw expressed concern that those who are politically active in opposing the Olympics have encountered unwanted “harassment”. One possibility for avoiding such encounters that promote distrust amongst groups would be to hold a forum on themes relevant to the groups involved. 

Furthermore, Dr. Shaw expressed concern that the marginalized and poor on the Downtown Eastside face a disproportionate burden of security and surveillance activities in the lead-up to the 2010 Games. In addition Dr. Shaw discussed how signage laws to be enacted in Vancouver during the Games are more concerned with enforcing VANOC/IOC marketing “rights” than the Charter Rights of the public. It was noted that bylaws preventing the posting of signage in public spaces during the Vancouver 2010 Games circumvent the civil liberties of Canadians. Like many of the participants involved in the workshop, Dr. Shaw also expressed concern in regard to the legacy of the security and surveillance infrastructure after the Games have ended. In light of these concerns, Dr. Shaw concluded his talk by noting that our government representatives and citizens should demand greater accountability and assurance of respect for the rights of individuals from government and law enforcement agencies.

The final presenter on the second panel, Dr. Harry Hiller, raised an approach to understanding the impacts of mega-events that allow us to view security and privacy through a different prism than the previous discussants. Emphasizing the urban and commercial dynamics associated with security, privacy and mega-events, Dr. Hiller noted how the Olympics seem to separate its advocates and opponents in what he calls “the Olympic divide”. 

The Olympic divide involves a polarization of groups who both support and oppose the Games.  Often this polarization leads to antagonism and conflict as both advocate groups and those who oppose the Games sometimes engage in stereotypes and generalization.  Others are apathetic or unsure and easily swayed by one side or the other depending on the news item of the day.  Dr. Hiller argued that, in both cases, the Olympics become a symbol of more broadly contentious issues.  

It is here that Dr. Hiller noted how high profile events like the Vancouver 2010 Games re-prioritize urban agendas, create post-event usage debates, often stimulate urban redevelopment, and are instruments of “boosterist” ideologies promoting economic growth. For example, the internationalization of capital witnesses the emergence of mega-event as a form of “place marketing” for inward investment, tourism and entrepreneurialism. Viewing securitization, surveillance and privacy through this frame reveals how there is a powerful incentive to show the Games as a harmonious occasion.  A successful Games allows both the commercial goal to be reached, as well as reflecting an overall positive image of the host city and host country.

Considering the “Olympic divide” through the frame of “place based marketing”, mega-events become sites for advocacy on several fronts – from private enterprise to sport, arts, and cultural and social justice. For example, mega-events are particularly useful to those urban boosters who advocate pro-growth strategies for economic development and job creation on the one hand. Here, protests will be minimized to encourage the interests of private industry and the smooth functioning of commercialized urban space. On the other hand, groups will seek to increase protests on basis of “place-based marketing” in order to enhance visibility of social justice causes. The Olympics serve as a pivotal opportunity for conflict over competing objectives, which have intense security implications.  Each angle highlights the complex relationship between security and privacy politics with economic policy and private business interests, or in other words, the relationships between securitization, privacy and the branding of high visibility space.

Conclusion: Addressing the Multiple Points of Intersection Between Security and Privacy

The workshop concluded with a discussion that pointed toward the need to address the multiple points of intersection between security and privacy rights surrounding the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. It was raised that one possible direction for future action should involve generating a list of questions for further exploration by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. With the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games now less than one-year away, the many issues and concerns raised in this report are deserving of immediate attention.

In summary, the Security, Privacy and Vancouver 2010 Workshop successfully brought together ground-level experiences of those who are encountering and researching security and surveillance for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. This conversation involved a broad range of government officials, civil society groups, private-sector representatives and academics. Issues that once separated institutions were approached through a collaborative focus, shedding new light on the many challenges and concerns of security and privacy in the context of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. As stated above, however, regrettably representatives of the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies declined to participate as panelists in the workshop. At the close of the workshop, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart reemphasized the importance of continuing productive collaboration on security, privacy and the Vancouver 2010 Games in light of the many positive outcomes of the workshop.

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