Week 2 – ‘Surveillance Is About Power’

Ongoing debates about all the (dis)advantages of smart cities indicate the importance of the fourth industrial revolution and the path of the future we are going in as a society. As indicated in ‘Entrepreneurial Data Citizenships, Open Data Movements, and Audit Culture’ (2021: p80), data-based cities are imagined as places where citizens can easier gather information, hold the government accountable and have a better quality of life in general, thanks to better transparency. ‘Celebrations of openness and transparency appear in policy discourse and also shape the frames for civic organizations and model the ways data advocates are expected to act as good citizens’ (Powell, 2021: p 106). Moreover, Kitchin et al., in The Right to a Smart City, argue that the right to a (smart) city exceeds individual rights to the collective one or common rights (Kitchin et al. 2019: p18 -19).

However, it is questionable whether democracy is even possible without individual rights and freedoms. Without privacy, there is no freedom, and modern technologies can cause privacy harm by sharing and mining data with third parties (Kitchin et al. 2019: p9). One of the biggest concerns is not just the fact that many governments in neoliberal capitalist societies worldwide merged with private stakeholders (Powell, 2021: p106) but the technocracy agenda and ‘the spectrum of control’ (Sadowski, 2015: p8), i.e. constant surveillance. And surveillance, as Edward Snowden warned in an interview in 2017, is all about control. Snowden also pointed out that the UK has the most extreme surveillance act in the history of western democracy, the so-called Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which, as he emphasises, is even more authoritarian than in Russia or China.

According to L.IBERTY, the EU Court of Justice ruled against the controversial UK Act, finding that mass data collection and retention practices should comply with EU privacy safeguards.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Powers Act is still in force in the UK and will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 9-11. May 2023, as stated in L.IBERTY. Meanwhile, without exception, every citizen of the United Kingdom can constantly be under surveillance.


‘Legal Challenge: Investigatory Powers’, L.IBERTY  [Online]. Available at: https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/issue/legal-challenge-investigatory-powers-act/  

Kitchin, R. Cardullo, P. and Di Feliciantonio, C. (eds.) (2019) ‘Citizenship, Justice, and the Right to the Smart City’. In The Right to The Smart City, pp.1-24. [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1108.978-1-78769-139-120191001

Powell, A.B. (2021). ‘Entrepreneurial Data Citizenships, Open Data Movements, and Audit Culture’. In Undoing Optimization: Civic Action in Smart Cities (pp. 80–107). Yale University Press. [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1k03g9s.8

Sadowski J., Pasquale F., (2015) ‘The Spectrum of Control: A Social Theory of the Smart City’ First Monday, vol. 20, no. 7 (July 2015). Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2545&context=fac_pubs


Learn Liberty (2017), Snowden: Surveillance Is about Power. 21.09. 2017, [Online]. Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSc_IlFBWkw

Week 3: From all sides, Smart Cities

For this blog I will exploring and critiquing the work of Anthony Townsend’s 2013 Smart Cities. Townsend’s introduction is quite an interested view on the history, the current state, and the future of so-called ‘Smart Cities’, from the viewpoint of the year 2013 that is. Townsend’s argument, for lack of a better word, is quite intricate: he explores both the positives and negatives of technological-enabled cities, but from multiple different perspectives. While multiple other studies in ‘Smart Cities’ have either argued for or against such ideas and the consequences of them, Townsend instead explores both sides of the arguments, not coming to a complete conclusion within this chapter. What I find most interesting from this chapter is the way in which Townsend went about exploring these topics: instead of focusing on a general aspect of how ‘Smart Cities’ could impact society, Townsend explores how technology has affected roles such as the policy, corporate and economic systems, as well as civilian lives. Not only does this reflect on the ways in which technology has changed the world, but it also highlights the fact that such changes did not begin in the 21st century with the internet.




Townsend, A.M. (2013) Smart Cities. New York: W.W.Norton & Company.

Week 2: The right to Smart Cities?

The work which I decided to reflex on during this blog is the work of Paolo Cardullo “The right to the smart city” (2019), particularly the first chapter entitled ‘Citizenship, Justice, and the Right to the Smart City’. While I wasn’t too sure what to aspect from this book, I found it extremely interesting and enlightening by the time I had finished my read. The idea of ‘Smart Cities’ is not a strange one to me, however I had never thought of it in such detail until beginning this module. Cardullo’s work only made me even more aware of the differences, dangers and the innovation which can – and have – come from Smart Cities. The issue of ethics stuck out to me: in the UK a lot of our lives are already online through smart phones, email and cloud sharing both in personal and professional working lives, and multiple social media platforms allowing for anyone to post almost every aspect of their lives to the whole world. This seems to be done by many millions of people a day without the thought of the consequences which could happen to the amount of information they give out. This can cause so many ethical problems for researchers of all types: what is and is not allowed to be used, where the line is crossed between public to private. It is clear that this is not yet understood, nor are all the guidelines around ethical online research, and with technology only moving forward it will be interesting to see how these two topics end up changing and shaping both the Smart world which we live in and Smart (online) research.



Cardullo, P. (2019) The right to the smart city. Emerald Publishing.


Week 3: Smart Cities and Digital Culture

In exploring how processes of digitalisation, global connectivity and urbanisation are coming together, Townsend (2013) comments on the ways in which ‘automatic electromechanical labourers toil at dumb and dirty jobs once done by people’ (p.xi). However, as part of the fourth industrial revolution, the information revolution, it is evident that ‘lately, these dumb contraptions are getting a lot smarter’ (Townsend, 2013, p.xi). Within the modern world we live in today, a synergistic relationship exists between our physical, tangible space and geographical location, and the realm of computational code represented by 1s and 0s. As smart cities are designed to ease problems within congested spaces and make daily processes more efficient (Glover, 2019), this is a relationship which relies on the participation of citizens. Technologies rely upon our information to respond in the ways it is designed to, and no matter how unwittingly, this is data we provide through our activity online and through technological products.

The ‘symbiosis of place and cyberspace’ (Townsend, 2013, p.6) is highly apparent in the case study of Seoul, South Korea, where the redevelopment in the post-war era of 1950s enabled them to modernise and adapt responsively (Glover, 2019). As part of the podcast, Dr. Ellie Cosgrave examines the importance of adaptive, democratic and accountable methods used in order to accommodate individuals within spaces, questioning also how inequality is increased or decreased as a result (Glover, 2019). An impressive 6,000 data sets are available within Seoul, one of which analyses 3 billion phone calls to inform public transport access. This is a prime example of where databases become ‘pervasive’ (Miller, 2011) in digital and physical cultures. While privacy is questioned, the analysis of this data enables city planners and the relevant algorithms to identify the amount of people gathered within certain locales, and to measure the traffic in specific areas. Through this, planners can ensure public transport is effectively placed to ensure greater accessibility to all, thereby promoting social mobility and greener methods of transport. In utilising data in this way, we see that arguably, databases may just be ‘the dominant cultural form of our times’ (Manovich, 2001: 128 in Miller, 2011).

Furthermore, data surrounding public transport benefits users as apps enable consumers to understand when the next bus will leave, its route, and how many seats are available (Glover, 2011). We therefore see a ‘move to media as process‘ as the previously ‘static role viewer [transforms] to a role as active’ based on user participation (Miller, 2011, p.31) that contributes to information on these apps. Consequentially, a more immersive experience transfigures. While this is a convenient and efficient, notably, there is a disparity in relation to how the elderly access such technologies. Miller (2011) explores notions of telepresence, whereby our presence is not merely where we are physically, but our presence in an environment as dictated by communication mediums. For those unable to access the technologies needed to understand bus routes, seating numbers, and other insights afforded by data collection, a sense of isolation can develop as citizens’ lack of presence online negatively impacts their security and sense of person within the real world. Glover (2019) questions this within the podcast, and identifies that even if such marginalisation was addressed, newer technologies will continue to develop. Therefore, there is arguably always going to be a problem of accessibility, though this does not mean that progress offered by smart cities should not be realised.



Glover, F. (2019) ‘The Smart City: Seoul, South Korea, [The Compass], 10 April 2019. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz41r (Accessed: 21 February, 2023)

Townsend, A.M., (2013). Smart Cities, New York: W. W. Norton & Company

Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. In: Miller, V. Key Elements of Digital Media. Sage: pp 12-21

Week 2: Governance and Resistance in The Digital City

Week 2

Reuploaded from discussion board.

According to Kitchen et al. (2019), ‘the smart city seeks to improve city life through the application of digital technologies to the management and delivery of city services and infrastructures’ (p.2). While they acknowledge the benefits that are brought about by the embedded technologies of day to day city life, they highlight the fact that cities are developed with the aim of enhancing the ‘profit-making capacities of capital’. Therefore, under capitalism, it is often only a small group of ‘elite actors’ who benefit (Kitchen et al. 2019, p.5). Consequentially, smart cities have significant potential to contribute to existing social disparities that will further disadvantage citizens.

Under the ideas of governance and resistance within the digital city, the question surrounding the ethics of surveillance was brought to mind. One of my first considerations, prompted by fictional media series ‘Captured’ (2019, 2020), which follows narratives surrounding conspiracies of false evidence and the use of deepfakes within surveillance footage, was to question potential for the corruption of footage. However, I thought it more important to explore real world experiences and attitudes surrounding the way in which CCTV and facial recognition softwares are being used to monitor city streets. While CCTV can be vital to ensuring the safety of our streets and an important tool in ensuring criminals are held accountable, the ambiguity surrounding ownership of these cameras and the collection of data is cause for concern. Heh and Wainwright (2022) define surveillance as a ‘tactic of control deployed by the state to monitor, quell, and, in some cases, punish dissent’. Given the scope for increasingly sophisticated cameras and tracking tools, we must recognise the ways in which certain social groups may be disproportionately disadvantaged by surveillance.

The Face, 2020

‘Democracy requires safe spaces, or commons, for people to organically and spontaneously convene regardless of their background or position to campaign for their causes, discuss politics, and protest’ (Williams, 2021, p.1), yet the opportunity for protest is diminishing as various policy makers in the UK and elsewhere seek to change rules. ‘Those attending protests around the world have – wittingly or unwittingly – put themselves squarely within the lens of a surveillance state’ (Stokel-Walker, 2020), one which is largely unregulated despite sophisticated use of facial recognition and artificial intelligence. The misuse of camera footage further contributes to this as Williams (2021) explores the way in which the San Diego Police Department used footage from smart streetlights to target Black Lives Matter protesters. ‘When you think about the locations where facial recognition is being deployed, it is disproportionately targeting people of colour’ in addition to ‘most-often poorer, working-class neighbourhoods’(Stokel-Walker, 2020) – historically, marginalised groups in society have been unfairly targeted by authorities and through this, there is an increased likelihood of inequalities being perpetuated even more so. Without clear regulation of surveillance softwares and technologies in relation to their use and the use of data, authorities and private companies may ‘codify and hose those structural societal problems behind the lens of false scientific technological neutrality in a way that legitimises them’ (Johansson, 2021).



Johansson, E. Face-off: Activists protest AI surveillance – verdict magazine: Issue 9: May 2021 (2021) Verdict Magazine | Issue 9 | May 2021. Available at: https://magazine.verdict.co.uk/verdict_magazine_may21/ai_surveillance (Accessed: February 14, 2023).

Heh, E. and Wainwright, J. (2022) “No privacy, no peace: Urban surveillance and the Movement for Black Lives,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity and the City, 3(2), pp. 121–141. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/26884674.2022.2061392.

Kitchin, R. Cardullo, P. and Di Feliciantonio, C. (2019) “Citizenship, justice, and the right to the smart ity’, The Right to The Smart City, pp.1-24. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1108.978-1-78769-139-120191001

Liberatore, S. (2020) “San Diego police accessed smart streetlights’ camera footage over 35 times to search for evidence of looting and vandalism during Black Lives Matter protests,” Daily Mail, 1 July. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-8479863/San-Diego-police-accessed-smart-streetlights-camera-footage-spy-Black-Lives-Matter-protests.html (Accessed: February 14, 2023).

Morning report: After protests, SDPD turned to streetlight cameras (2022) Voice of San Diego. Available at: https://voiceofsandiego.org/2020/06/30/morning-report-after-protests-sdpd-turned-to-streetlight-cameras/ (Accessed: February 14, 2023).

Stokel-Walker, C. (2020) The lasting effect of digital surveillance at black lives matter protestsThe Face. The Face. Available at: https://theface.com/society/black-lives-matter-facial-recognition-digital-surveillance-george-floyd (Accessed: February 14, 2023).

Williams, R. (2021) Whose Streets? Our Streets (Tech Edition). rep. Harvard Kennedy School. Available at: https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/2021-08/WhoseStreets.pdf (Accessed: January 14, 2023)