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

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