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Efficiency at What Cost? Smart Cities and the Surveillance Creep

by | Jun 27, 2024

Efficiency at What Cost? Smart Cities and the Surveillance Creep

by | Jun 27, 2024

smart city on smartphone.

In cities and towns across the nation, our communities are being transformed by the implementation of so-called “smart” technologies said to create more efficient, safe, and sustainable environments. These smart cities use a range of devices such as cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence to attempt central management of everything from traffic and public safety to environmental monitoring. It’s not something out of George Orwell’s daydreams; it’s happening now.

Proponents of smart cities will sing songs about their efficiency. Traffic lights adjust in real-time to traffic conditions, reducing congestion and shortening commutes. Smart waste management systems notify city services when trash bins are full, optimizing collection routes and frequencies. Public safety could be enhanced through the use of networked cameras and environmental sensors that can detect crimes or hazards as they occur.

But all this efficiency comes with an unwanted side of surveillance. You can’t even tiptoe through the tulips anymore without a drone noting your preference for floral routes. The city becomes a stage, and we’re all unwitting actors in a play where we didn’t audition, directed by Big Brother himself. They say it’s for safety and convenience, but there’s something profoundly unsettling about being watched every time you step out to buy milk.

Moreover, the control and ownership of this data resides predominantly in the hands of corporations that often have the privacy ethics of a peeping Tom. They hold the keys to our data and can share our personal habits with anyone from marketers to government agencies.

This new era of surveillance isn’t just about privacy. It’s a profound shift in the power dynamics between the state and the individual. It tips the balance overwhelmingly in favor of the observer. In a society where everyone is watched, the watched are not free. This surveillance creates a chilling effect on behavior, stifling dissent and discouraging participation in civil society.

If you think about it, it’s a strange trade-off. We’re bartering away bits of our privacy for the convenience of not having to flip a light switch or remember where we parked the car. And the lessons from history are clear. Surveillance technologies, once introduced, are rarely rolled back. They have a tendency to expand in scope and scale, often outstripping the original intentions behind their deployment.

So we need to ask: Are we building a smarter world or just a more surveilled one?

But all is not lost. There are steps that concerned citizens can take to challenge the rise of the surveillance city. Education and awareness are the first steps; understanding the technology and its implications is vital. Local communities can organize and advocate for transparency and restrictions on data collection and use. Legal avenues can also be explored to protect personal freedoms and ensure that these innovations do not come at the expense of fundamental rights.

For those looking to deepen their understanding of these issues, there’s a resource that cuts through the tech jargon and lays bare the realities of living in a digitized landscape. The documentary SMART: Coming to a City Near You offers an insightful exploration into the world of smart cities. It’s a must-see for anyone who wants to stay informed about the technologies that are reshaping our environments.

For the more action-oriented, there’s Banish Big Brother, an organization I am proud to be a part of. We are dedicated to ensuring that the integration of technology into our daily lives enhances rather than compromises our privacy. As cities across the globe adopt smarter technologies, our mission becomes more critical, advocating for safeguards that protect us from invasive surveillance. If you’re interested in these issues, come explore more about our work as we’re just getting started.

As we stand at the crossroads of technology and privacy, the choices we make today will define the legacy of our generation. It’s crucial that we strike a balance between leveraging technology for our own betterment and safeguarding the individual freedoms we hold so dear.

Zach Varnell

Zach Varnell

Zach Varnell is a cybersecurity expert and advocate for privacy and individual liberty. He is a founding member of Banish Big Brother, a nonprofit dedicated to combating invasive surveillance. His insights have been featured in publications like Infosecurity Magazine, Threatpost, ZDNET, and the Washington Examiner.

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