2012: Monitoring a Secure Olympics

Both Olympic organisers and government ministers have promised the 2012 Games will be the most inclusive. In terms of security it is certainly going to be the most expensive, and as a society we are going to be the most surveilled, monitored, recorded, scanned, photographed, searched and filmed for the duration of the event. And as has been noted elsewhere the Games will see the biggest mobilisation of military personnel on the streets of the UK since the Second World War.

It is this that gives us an insight into just how the Olympics is being viewed by the political class and government in power. Security systems brought in for the Olympics – scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints – will remain long after the last medal has been won. And all without question or protest.

Added to that the Ministry of Defence has admitted it is to provide 13,500 military personnel, more than is currently deployed in the occupation of Afghanistan, to support the police and other civil and Olympic authorities during the Games. Despite the government desperately trying to play down the presence of the armed forces by stating their responsibilities would be confined to “security of the venues”, it is still unclear just what the role the military will play on the streets during the Games especially in terms of responding to social unrest or political disruption.

If the real role of the military is to guard against terrorist threats then neither the games organisers nor the MoD are telling us. There has been very little in the way of press speculation either, perhaps on instruction, so as not to put off the lucrative overseas state visitors or corporate sponsors that the Games are really aimed at.

Equally the August riots and the police’s inability to adequately respond to mass social unrest left a very serious question mark over the capabilities of current policing measures that must have had both government and Olympics organisers looking for alternatives.

Perhaps the biggest winners of the 2012 Olympics though is the UK security industry itself. The Games is an opportunity to demonstrate the latest in surveillance tools and techniques from biotechnology to crowd control equipment to a captive global market. As one Whitehall official put it “The Olympics is a tremendous opportunity to showcase what the private sector can do in the security space. Not only do you have a UK security kitemark on the product but you’ve got an Olympic kitemark to boot.”

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