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)

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