NEWS

High-tech Olympic net

It could very well be a scene from science fiction: machines able to detect suspicious sounds or even abrupt changes in visual patterns and alert authorities. It’s real, though, and in place for the Athens Olympics. Recent leaps in technology have led to highly sophisticated software that can turn street surveillance cameras into a security guard with intelligence-gathering skills. «It is a very vast network and it is the first time that it is being operated on such a scale on 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 255 million euros and took up a sizable chunk of Athens’ record security budget of more than 1.2 billion euros. It includes real-time images, sound and information 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. «The advancement of technology is very important,» Ikonomou said. «The system 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.» Dionysios Dendrinos, general manager of One Siemens in Greece, one of the companies in the consortium, said the software on the surveillance cameras is designed to spot and rank possible risks to allow authorities to concentrate on the highest possible threats. «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 digitally save and analyze collected information, including images and data, that have been collected from the vast surveillance network. «The material from the closed-circuit cameras is kept for seven days,» Ikonomou said. «So the user can retrieve them, along with other material that is inside the system, and focus on a specific incident and make an in-depth analysis.» In April, SAIC signed a contract with the London-based software developer Autonomy Corp to purchase its software in order to enhance the surveillance capabilities of the Olympic security network. The software will be used to monitor communications traffic for words and phrases – both in English and Greek – that could indicate terrorist activity. In June, the government expanded surveillance powers to screen mobile and fixed-line telephone calls for the period of the Olympics. Companies in the SAIC consortium include Germany’s Siemens AG; General Dynamics and Honeywell International of the United States; and the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Several Greek companies also are participating. Moreover, a network of sensors that are designed to detect the presence of any chemical agents in the air have been deployed near Olympic venues and around the capital, including on the security blimp. But not everyone is excited about the authorities having computer-enhanced eyes and ears. Several groups have held dozens of protests in recent months against what they say is an invasion of their privacy, while some spray-painted many of the street cameras.