Olympics snooping

Eric Murray ericm at lne.com
Mon Aug 9 13:22:23 PDT 2004


Unprecedented electronic net over the Olympics

By MIRON VAROUHAKIS, Associated Press Writer

August 9, 2004

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- If you're going to the Olympics, you'd better be
careful what you say and do in public.

Software will be watching and listening.

Recent leaps in technology have paired highly sophisticated software
with street surveillance cameras to create digital security guards with
intelligence-gathering skills.

`It is a very vast network and it is the first time it is being done
on such a scale at an international level,'' Greek police spokesman
Col. Lefteris Ikonomou told The Associated Press.

The system -- developed by a consortium led by San Diego-based Science
Applications International Corp., or SAIC -- cost about $312 million
and took up a sizable chunk of Athens' record security budget of more
than $1.5 billion.

It gathers images and audio from an electronic web of over 1,000
high-resolution and infrared cameras, 12 patrol boats, 4,000 vehicles,
nine helicopters, a sensor-laden blimp and four mobile command centers.

Spoken words collected by the cameras with speech-recognition software
are transcribed into text that is then searched for patterns along
with other electronic communications entering and leaving the area --
including e-mail and image files.

The system, which includes components already used by U.S. and British
government intelligence agencies, covers all of greater Athens, nine
ports, airports and all other Olympic cities.

Ikonomou said it ``allows the users to manage a critical incident in
the best way possible and in the shortest time possible because they
have all the information in front of them.''

The software used for surveillance camera recordings is designed to spot
and rank possible risks, said Dionysios Dendrinos, general manager of
One Siemens in Greece, one of the companies in the consortium.

``They can distinguish the sound of a flat tire from an explosion or
a gunshot and inform the user at the command center of the incident,''
he said. ``This is also the case with any anomaly in the picture, such
as a traffic jam.''

Technology also allows the users of the system at the main command center
to save and analyze data from the surveillance network and beyond. And
the material from the closed circuit cameras is kept for seven days,
Ikonomou said, so specific incidents can be analyzed in depth.

Much of that analysis is enabled by software from London-based Autonomy
Corp., whose clients include the U.S. National Security Agency, that
parses words and phrases collected by surveillance cameras and in
communications traffic.

In June, the Greek government expanded surveillance powers to screen
mobile and fixed-line telephone calls during the Olympics.

``It listens, reads and watches,'' Dominic Johnson, Autonomy's
chief marketing officer, said of his company's software. Then it
synthesizes. Beyond Greek and English the software understands Arabic,
Farsi and all major European languages, Johnson said.

Other companies in the SAIC consortium include Germany's Siemens AG;
General Dynamics Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. of the United
States; and the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Several Greek companies
also are participating.

According to the contract, the system was to be delivered by May 28,
but due to construction delays at some Olympic venues -- such as the
main Olympic stadium -- it was delivered just weeks before the opening

Nevertheless, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis declared last
week that all the security systems were in full deployment and working

There'll be other sniffing going on, of course.

A network of sensors designed to detect chemical agents has also been
deployed near Olympic venues and around the capital, including on the
security blimp.

Advanced technology is also used in the creation of the Olympic
credentials, which use such security features as holograms. All cardholder
information, such as a person's photo and passport number, are printed
on a very thin film designed to make the cards impossible to forge.

The digitally enhanced surveillance net may provide comfort to Olympics
attendees, but not everyone is happy at authorities' computer-aided eyes
and ears.

Several groups have held protests in recent months against what they say
is an invasion of their privacy, and some demonstrators have spray-painted
street cameras, seeking to blind them.

``The Olympic Games are accompanied with extended security measures
that are unprecedented for Greece,'' six human rights groups said in a
protest letter to Greek Parliament in July. ``Although the state's right
to take all necessary measures that it deems necessary is recognized,
there is fear that these measures will have a negative impact on basic
human rights.''

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