– Transit ads encourage citizen surveillance

CBC News

March 20, 2009

An advertising campaign aimed at warning transit users to report suspicious activity was launched recently by TransLink in the lead-up to the Vancouver Olympic Games and as part of a broader program to improve transit security.

The print campaign, which features ads placed on transit sites, encourages citizens to keep tabs on each other by reporting potential security threats.

Using the catchphrase, “Report the suspicious, not the strange,” it was launched on Monday and is modelled after a program in the U.S. created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In one ad, a man is shown taking a photo of a transit security camera. Ken Hardie from TransLink said that example would be a cause for concern.

“They’re taking pictures of wiring, pipes, electrical panels. Well, I’m sorry, not many people go around doing that,” Hardie said.

How far should watchfulness go?

Richard Smith, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University, wonders if such public surveillance goes too far.

“You’re asking people to make judgments about others’ behaviour,” said Smith. “What makes something suspicious — is it the clothes I wear, the colour of my skin? How far do we go down that path?”

TransLink argues that, as previous attacks in London, Israel and Madrid illustrate, transit systems are vulnerable.

“Terrorism is fundamental. It’s the foundation issue that leads to this campaign,” Hardie said. “As we welcome the world, as we get that profile on the world stage, that will, in turn, attract malevolent people”

The ads will be posted until the end of April. A second phase will be rolled out in time for the Olympics, from September to December.

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