Privacy SOS

Surveillance and policing expected to cost over $1b for 2024 Olympics

Last week, the US Olympic Committee announced they had selected Boston as the American city to submit to the International Olympic Committee for the 2024 summer games. A few minutes after the announcement, The Guardian published an opinion piece I co-authored with my boss, Carol Rose. We warned about how the games in Boston would impact civil rights and civil liberties—not just during the Olympics themselves, but forever afterward. At a time when our city is grappling with serious civil rights and economic justice issues, the Olympics could be a dangerous distraction.

Boston, like the rest of the nation, is struggling with issues of public safety and community concern: police militarization from the wars on drugs and terror; the disproportionate targeting of black and brown youth for harassment and arrest; and the trickle-down of “national security” warrantless surveillance to the state and local level. When communities of color are calling on police departments to reform stop-and-frisk policies and demilitarize their forces, the prospect of turning our local police departments over to even less-accountable federal agencies is worrisome.

Today, the Boston Globe reported that if Boston is selected as the 2024 host city, the federal government would be expected to pay out over one billion dollars just for surveillance and policing—what some people call 'security'. Isn't there a better way we could spend one billion dollars? Do we really want one billion dollars injected into our city to beef up our spy infrastructure?

When London hosted the games in 2012, the city spent twice what it initially budgeted for policing and surveillance. Here in Massachusetts, according to the Globe, Boston's Mayor Walsh has already "texted back and forth" with federal Representative Steven Lynch about "the whole security apparatus that would be necessary."

Don't forget: That "whole security apparatus" would be made up of lots of expensive and rights-infringing surveillance technologies that would remain in Boston long after the last Olympic medals are handed out. Drones, stingrays, license plate readers, facial recognition systems, enhanced local access to federal surveillance databases, you name it. If they buy it for 2024, it's going to stick around. Buyers beware: It's all fun and games until your city turns into a police state.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.