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Security and Surveillance in the Athens 2004 Olympics: Some Lessons From a Troubled Story

NCJ Number
International Criminal Justice Review Volume: 17 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2007 Pages: 220-238
Minas Samatas
Date Published
September 2007
19 pages
The article discusses the operation of a “superpanopticon” at the Athens 2004 Olympics, the first Summer Olympic Games after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Examining the case of the Athens 2004 Surveillance System, the article suggests that applications of new technologies depend on how they fit in with existing organizational, cultural, and political practices in different locales and institutional settings. The latest antiterrorist “superpanoptic” technology, the central surveillance integration security system (C41), planned by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), could not be implemented on time for the Athens 2004 Olympics games, forcing the security operations to use conventional security methods. The lesson from the C41’s technical dysfunction is that human interfaces between electronic subsystems are still more important than software interfaces. Greece committed to the very expensive security surveillance system to pacify the international community’s post-9/11 panic, to make security partners with the Americans and seven of their powerful allies thereby building an international security consortium for the Olympics, and to procure a system for post-Olympic use in matters of policing, traffic control, and antiterrorism. Technical challenges and Greek bureaucratic problems prevented SAIC from meeting its deadline to provide an acceptably tested security system for the Athens 2004 Olympics. Olympic security in cooperation with Greek media successfully managed to keep both the public and potential terrorists ignorant of C41’s failure during the games. The fact that expedient political-economic governmental and corporate interests, expressed by the “security and surveillance industrial complex,” promoted advanced surveillance systems that proved to be inefficient calls for a more substantial response to the roots of terrorism beyond the self-serving myths of guaranteed security or risk proof surveillance. Table, notes, references