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Biometrics plan for London Olympic builders

Police push for 500,000 CCTV network

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Biometric screening - featuring palm and facial recognition - will be used to guard building sites for the London Olympics.

Building workers must pass through a two-tier biometric access system featuring palm and facial recognition to gain access to sites for the 2012 Olympics. At the peak of construction in 2010, the system will be process up to 10,000 people, as they pass through barriers like those on London Underground.

Over the length of the massive construction project as many as 100,000 builders might be processed. As part of the plan the plywood perimeter hoarding around the Olympics site will be replaced with a 3.5-metre-high steel-mesh fence.

The biometric screening system, described as Britain's largest and most expensive security operation, may serve as a model for controlling access to ticket holders to stadiums once the games begin, The Times reports.

The use of palm (instead of fingerprint) recognition is probably down to the well-understood problem of builders' fingerprints becoming worn as they work. It's unclear how the system will cope with hands covered with plaster, paint or sawdust.

Organisers of the recent World Cup in Germany said the use of RFID chips and other technologies would mean that only those whose name appeared on a ticket would gain entry into stadiums. In practice, tickets were checked only for validity, not against the name of the fan hoping to enter a ground. Biometrics including facial recognition technology were touted as a means to identify potential trouble makers at Germany 2006, possibly as a tactic designed to discourage potential hooligans. Facial recognition is best used to confirm identity in controlled environments rather than scanning crowds for troublemakers.

Any system the London Olympics team come up with will have to be quick and easy to use or else it will create unacceptable delays and fall into disuse. Protesters and journalists have often found their way around supposedly secure access systems into sensitive areas (Parliament, Heathrow Airport etc.). We can expect that such well publicised breaches will be repeated in the case of the Olympics project.

Plans to introduce biometric screening on Olympic building sites were disclosed by Tarique Ghaffur, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner in charge of Games security, during a security conference in Abu Dhabi. The deployment of biometrics is part of a £354m strategy to secure the 500-acre Olympic site.

Union officials such as Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, the construction union, said that they would not raise objections, so long as biometric data is not shared with third parties and wiped when the project ends. However, the Olympic Delivery Authority has not ruled out the sharing of information with other government agencies, such as the Home Office.

The ODA is concerned that sabotage could disrupt tight construction deadlines. Guarding against this may involve screening building workers against criminal databases held by the Home Office.

Minority report

Ghaffur also revealed that 500,000 CCTV cameras are needed to police the event, or one camera for every four spectators. This eyes-on-the-ground plan calls for the Met’s own CCTV camera network to be supplemented by CCTV camera "outside supermarkets, in local businesses, at traffic lights and across the transport network and passed to a single surveillance centre," The Times reports.

London already has more CCTV cameras per head than any other city in the world. Connecting up all these cameras to a central hub seems like an idea lifted from the Waterloo surveillance scene in last year's Bourne Ultimatum. We think the police are likely resist any attempt to dismantle the system.

Meanwhile, the cost of patrolling the East London site until 2011 is estimated to exceed £100m, During the games, 8,000 private security guards will be needed at a cost of £30m.

The security budget for the London Olympics, estimated at £200m in 2005 bid documents, has already increased to £1.2bn and may increase before the games begin, The Times adds. ®

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