Ethics, Society & Politics
Towards A Global Network Of Neighbourhoods And Cities Rejecting Surveillance
Cities are emerging as a space for local action and local change but also as dangerous spaces where social engineering, exclusion by design and privatised policing take place rapidly, without adequate frames to catch up and assure fundamental rights. Is the city the answer to a new digital ecosystem, with effective mechanisms to enforce it, in the local government powers?
Sophisticated surveillance systems are approved by, funded by and deployed by local authorities, Cities are emerging as the spaces where everything is controlled by invisible technology, almost imperceptible in daily life. Those surveillance cameras now visible on street corners are replaced by systems of constant monitoring integrated in the landscape. Cities of sensors collecting our data all day long, where each movement is registered and stored, where decisions are automated and dehumanised. Monetised to optimise consumption, predict behaviour. Control people and the local and micro local level.
But cities are also the spaces where a different form of politics is emerging, from Rome to Barcelona, from Madrid to Paris, citizens are taking back the domestic infrastructure. Is there the answer for digital sovereignty?
Today, cities of sensors collecting our data all day long, where each movement is registered and stored, where decisions are automated and dehumanised. Monetised to optimise consumption, predict behaviour. Control people. The benefits of not knowing who decides and why, stand to be gained by the same conglomerate who bets on this vision. A few companies developing software, hardware and capacities in countries that can be counted on one hand. A market of US$8 billion, which is expected to grow tenfold by the year 2020.
Although discourses keep feeding the imaginary, descriptions of cameras detecting pickpockets, this is something radically different. Matrices that combine lots of data in real-time. This vision for the city of the future, promoted by a small group of technology conglomerates, is one where quality of life is directly proportional to the predictability and homogeneity of its inhabitants, clashing with the struggle for diversity and diverse behaviors. To achieve this vision, much more is sacrificed than privacy. We pawn off our security to those in the sealed-off control room. It is to sacrifice the purest form of democracy we have, our right to protest freely and anonymously in the town square.
The talk will explore how local surveillance systems are rapidly expanding across Latin America and Asia. Much earlier and faster than the regulatory frameworks for adequate protection of privacy and personal data. Without democratic mechanisms, community or neighbourhood consultations to determine their necessity or appropriateness.
The talk will also look into the public policy and budgetary implications of the surveillance city, when contracts that are signed tie the hands of more than one public institution, borrowing from future municipal budgets, with a coordinated marketing and data machinery that does not offer solid evidence to prove effectiveness. Public authorities assure us that cameras, scenario modelling and mass surveillance will eliminate the problem of insecurity, advancing these over other public policies meant to attack extreme poverty and inequality of access to basic services, as well as the recovery of public space. The studies that vouch for the effectiveness of surveillance as a crime reduction measure are incomplete; they do not take local internal and external factors into account, and cannot be applied to different contexts.
The talk will also look into current efforts to reverse the smart city model into a humane city and how the local power could be the formula to challenge the surveillance space and take back our fundamental rights.