Authorities have begun to install 77 closed-circuit video cameras in and around Toronto's Financial District - temporarily boosting the police video-camera presence downtown by more than 400 per cent.
Police say the new cameras are necessary to deal with the security threat posed by thousands of anti-globalization protesters expected to descend upon Canada's largest city during the G20 summit starting June 25.
Only 18 such cameras are currently in use. And civil libertarians and privacy watchdogs have urged Toronto police to employ great restraint since police closed-circuit television programs (CCTV) began in 2007.
The new cameras, which began to be installed on Thursday, are to be switched on only in the days leading up to the summit and taken down afterward. But some activists are skeptical that the cameras will remain mothballed.
"No one invests that much money in security technology and lets it languish in a storage area," said Jonathan Goldsbie, who speaks for the Toronto Public Space Committee.
The group has a dozen core members who keep a mailing list running to hundreds of supporters, and have fought the encroachment of state surveillance programs for years. "I'm expecting the worst from the G20," Mr. Goldsbie said, "but I'm more concerned about leftover technology and leftover police infrastructure."
The 77 cameras are to be placed mostly just outside the fenced-in security zone centring on the Metro Convention Centre, where presidents and prime ministers will meet. Canadian officials will showcase the nearby bank towers as testament to Canada's fiscal prudence, but the same towers may make attractive targets for anti-capitalist forces.
Thousands of riot police will be on hand, and officers in an undisclosed location will monitor the TV screens scrolling the CCTV footage. Commanders will be able to instantly zoom in on troubled spots as they deploy squads.
The cameras may last only days, but the footage could survive for a very long time. "Any images depicting evidence have the potential to be used in court," said a police spokeswoman, Constable Wendy Drummond.
No facial-recognition software will be used.
CCTV programs are controversial in some quarters. Yet police routinely acquire and circulate footage from private-sector and mass-transit security cameras that happen to catch images of suspects at crime scenes.
The question for society is whether state surveillance is fundamentally different from the images gathered by random security cameras.
A decade ago, a federal privacy commissioner launched a suit claiming police CCTV programs were unconstitutional in Canada. The idea got some traction before the suit was dropped in 2002.
Since 2007, police video cameras have been set up in some Toronto neighbourhoods, such as the Entertainment District. Police take great pains to point out they rigorously abide by the guidelines suggested by Ontario's privacy watchdog.
Constable Drummond would not say how much taxpayers paid for the installation of the 77 new cameras, only that federal funds were involved.