Access any of the Boston 2024 community meetings, press conferences, bid presentations, or media sound bites, and the word “legacy” will ring in your ears. Of all the things the Olympics can bring to the Bay State, it’s what will possibly be left behind that has so many people excited: new infrastructure, housing, and other expansion that, without the Games, may take years to complete (if they are built at all). But there’s another legacy to which the Olympics open the door: the bolstering of our surveillance state.
In 2004, Boston hosted the Democratic National Convention, which brought us innumerable security measures that are still around today. According to Kade Crockford of the ACLU Massachusetts, who spoke about Olympics security at the Community Church of Boston on Sunday, prior to the DNC there were no bag checks on public transit in Boston. Inspired by their implementation during the convention, in 2006 Governor Mitt Romney restored the searches. Nearly a decade later, such intrusions remain common at T stops throughout Greater Boston— all part of the DNC legacy.
In addition to bag checks, Boston has millions of dollars worth of security cameras that were set up in 2004. This surveillance framework is alive today, peeking out at the city from ominous black orbs. These and a number of other toys (cell phone data-capturing stingrays, paramilitary riot gear) will no doubt be among the purchases made with the estimated $1 billion-plus in federal money that is projected to be spent on Boston Olympics security alone. The amount of surveillance leading up to the event is alarming enough; but when the athletes go home, these technologies will remain in the state’s arsenal.
The price tag of these ventures, no matter how you tally the components, adds insult to injury. To illustrate that point, Crockford has a favorite anecdote about the fiscal cost of the modern police state: At the Downtown Crossing T stop, garbage bins sit below leaks in the ceiling. Right next to them are security cameras, devices she says have been updated several times in the past few years —billions spent to “watch our infrastructure rot.” A world class legacy indeed.