Russia plans surveillance for 2014 Olympics

The Russian government has made extensive modifications to the nation’s security surveillance system to keep an eye on the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics. According to The Guardian, Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan uncovered newly installed Wi-Fi and telephone surveillance systems installed in Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will take place this coming February.

The new network of supervision tools allows the Federal Security Service (FSB) to track and monitor data and telephone use in the region. Furthermore, it gives the FSB the capability of being able to search for sensitive words and phrases used in e-mails or on social media. This latest revelation in the monitoring of communications comes after calls for terrorist attacks and gay rights protests on the Olympics and has been met with criticism.

“Many in the West are concerned about the state of human rights and civil liberties in Russia, so measures like this, which have the potential for abuse, will be viewed with concern,” Erik Tillman, a political science professor at DePaul, said. Tillman added that similar criticisms of the Russian government from western nations have existed for years.

However, he said, the western world is careful to balance critical messages in an effort to maintain a strategic working relationship with Russia. In addition to Russia’s stance on human rights issues being criticized, the nation has also received threats of terrorist attacks.

“Russia is a society struggling for more than a decade with numerous cases of internal terrorism,” Dick Farkas of the political science department said. “With the media attention the games receive, it would be foolish to assume that terrorists and others with a singular objective would not use the Sochi events as a target.”

“The criticism launched now I think is misplaced,” Farkas said. “If the Russian government abuses the information they can gather, then I think the criticism would be warranted.”

A nation’s use of surveillance is certainly nothing new, considering the recent revelation of National Security Agency surveillance programs in the U.S. by Edward Snowden, who is now in Russia under temporary asylum.

“My sense is that these capabilities are commonplace both in Russian society and in American society,” Farkas said. “The key is not the mechanical capability but the government’s decisions about how and when to use the techniques and the information that renders.”

The FSB plans on monitoring both athletes and spectators, The Guardian reported. This program, entitled “Sorm” has received upgrades and improvements since 2010, when the FSB was assigned to security duties at the Olympics. For the 10-week period leading up to the Olympics, as well as during, protests have been banned in the city.

There will be more than 40,000 police on duty in Sochi. More than 5,000 surveillance cameras are in the process of being installed, and the city plans on having drones in the sky monitoring from overhead. These improvements to security are designed to protect what is being cited as the most expensive Olympics ever.

According to RT, a Russian news channel, the estimated cost is placed at $50 billion, far exceeding the $12 billion budget proposed by the city when they were elected as the host in 2007. In contrast, the Beijing Summer Olympics, which required a far greater amount of venues and infrastructure, cost $40 billion.

“Sochi is Russia ‘on display,’ and I would venture to say that the Russian government will be very careful to avoid scandal or the appearance of scandal during the games,” Farkas said.

Russia last hosted the Olympics in 1980. It was met with mass boycotts, including from the United States, and was the subject of criticism. Russia appears intent on showcasing their country in a new light.

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