U.K. to emulate some of China's Olympic security practices

Published 8 June 2009

The British police wants to implement during the 2012 London Olympic Games some of the security practices employed by the Chinese during the 2008 Beijing Games — some, but not all: A Scotland Yard report says that a “balance must be maintained between the use of technology to support security requirements and individual rights to privacy” (the Chinese were less concerned with that balance)

The U.K. police believes it has something to learn from the way the Chinese authorities handled security during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. The British police is now studying Chinese-style surveillance tactics as it prepares the security arrangements for the 2012 London Olympics, a leaked Scotland Yard report has revealed. The Times’s David Leppard writes that the report, marked “restricted,” reveals that among the surveillance tactics deployed at last summer’s Beijing Games was the installation of miniature microphones in thousands of taxis. The bugs transmitted passengers’ conversations to a police control room. There, officers could activate disabling devices to stop the cabs if they suspected criminal activity.

In another operation, athletes, visitors, and journalists were believed to have been tracked by tiny microchips on their tickets and passes.

Software linked to Beijing’s 300,000 CCTV cameras was capable of recognizing known criminals and terrorist suspects.

The 44-page police report says there are “lessons to be learnt” from China’s use of digital surveillance. It warns, though, that “The fine balance between the use of technology to support security requirements and individual rights to privacy will be an open debate in the U.K. for 2012.”

The study was prepared after a trip to the Beijing Olympics by Tarique Ghaffur, a former assistant commissioner. Ghaffur chaired the police committee on Olympic security. He completed the study last October before he was forced to step down following a dispute with the then Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.

It has been circulated to chief constables, MI5, and senior Whitehall officials as they draw up the £600 million security plan for 2012.

Ghaffur last week declined to comment. Alan Campbell, the Home Office minister, has revealed, however, that the Home Office is investigating technology that would allow police to halt a vehicle remotely.