Big Brother At The Big Game

Actor Ashton Kutcher hugs his wife, actress Demi Moore, upon their arrival at the Prada party in Valencia, Spain, Sunday, April 15, 2007. AP

Using cutting-edge technology at Super Bowl XXXV, police scanned the faces of tens of thousands of fans passing through the turnstiles of Raymond James Stadium. They were looking for known criminals and terrorists.

The surveillance raised serious questions about possible violations of the fans' constitutional right to freedom from "unreasonable searches and seizures," the ACLU said in a letter Thursday to Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. The group has dubbed the Super Bowl, the "Snooper Bowl."

The American Civil Liberties Union demanded Tampa city officials hold public hearings to answer questions about the use of the surveillance equipment, which scanned images of fans' faces as they entered the stadium and checked them against a computer database of known offenders.

But police said the goal was to stop trouble before it started, not to invade privacy.

"I don't think there is a legal issue. I don't think the issue of privacy is in question," Tampa Police spokesman Joe Durkin said. Tampa Police also said there were signs outside the stadium warning fans they were under video surveillance. "If this tool could prevent a terrorist act or something else, I think the tool will be priceless," he said.

Big Brother Is Watching
Click here to see a report by CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips on how Britain uses closed circuit cameras as security measures in public places.
But the test of surveillance equipment at the Super Bowl, long considered a prime target for terrorists because of its global visibility and particularly American flavor, also evoked Orwellian images of Big Brother for some people.

CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports that some fans not only accepted the new technology, but welcomed it.

"I think it's a good idea. If you can catch a guy that's out hurting people or stealing things or whatever, more power to 'em," said Super Bowl fan Doug Jansen.

Like surveillance cameras in convenience stores, at ATMs, and on street corners, the cameras installed for the Super Bowl captured images of people in a public place. But unlike most video surveillance systems, which store the imges on tape, the cameras were connected by cable to computers that scanned the images, instantly dissecting facial features and comparing them to a digital database of known criminals and terrorists.

Police added that images captured by the cameras at the Super Bowl are discarded if a match is not made.

Representatives of the Utah Olympic Planning Security Command watched the system in action at the Super Bowl. No decision has been made, but the security planners for the 2002 Winter Games liked what they saw. "It certainly has value," said Christopher Kramer, UOPSC spokesman. "It could be a preventative measure to stop terrorism."

Durkin encouraged Olympic planners to consider the system. "At any international event the potential for a terrorist event is much greater. We were impressed; the system makes a match within seconds."

The project compared images from the video cameras to a relatively small database of about 1,700 faces assembled from FBI and police files and included crooks ranging from pickpockets to domestic terrorists.

Police said the system was capable of matching images within seconds, allowing police to identify suspicious characters and watch them with video cameras until officers could respond and intercept them. They said for the week the system was in place, 19 matches were made, but none of the people identified committed crimes that warranted arrest.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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