Security and Surveillance in Smart Cities

Welcome to Ubicity.

With debates over communications monitoring, privacy in social media and the spread of drones from battlefields to domestic airspace, public and policy attention is now focused on the movement towards ubiquitous surveillance societies. At the same time, both business and government are increasingly dependent upon the collection, analysis and application of ever-larger quantities of data, so called ‘big data’, in order to predict or anticipate opportunities and risks.

Big data has multiple uses at all scales from personal health monitoring combining data from multiple sources, through urban projects like smart cities, to planetary climate and disease monitoring. Surveillance, according to David Lyon, the “collection and processing of personal data, whether identifiable or not, for the purposes of influencing or managing those whose data have been garnered”, is deeply imbricated in big data, not just in the collection of information but in the kinds of affordances that big data offers for such monitoring by and of people and groups.

Confronted with smart cities, the implications for human rights are rarely considered in any critical sense. On the one hand, we have optimistic assertions on specific human rights issues, for example that ‘privacy is possible’ within smart cities, but on the other warnings of the acceleration of social inequality, exclusion and disempowerment from the automation of urban life. The Ubicity project is investigating the implications of big data-based surveillance systems for cities and for urban people and places, and will interview developers and conduct case studies of actual smart city initiatives in Canada, the USA and the UK.

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