Big City is Watching You

On July 20, 2016,  Quentin Hard wrote an interesting article in the New York Times about how technology is monitoring the urban landscape. He points out that “much of it involves the close monitoring of things and people, thanks to digital technology. To the extent that this makes people’s lives easier, the planners say, they will probably like it. But troubling and knotty questions of privacy and control remain.” Even though the benefits are there, as a White House report published in February, states: “advances in transportation, energy, and manufacturing, among other developments, that will bring on what it termed ‘a new era of change.”

He continues and writes:
Much of the change will also come from the private sector, which is moving faster to reach city dwellers, and is more skilled in collecting and responding to data. That is leading cities everywhere to work more closely than ever with private companies, which may have different priorities than the government.
This is actually the problem. Companies act only in the interest of their stakeholders, not in the interest of the public. What we need is an answer to the privacy issues that are connected with it. If the government uses more of these technologies, which most of them certainly do not understand, not only because it is proprietary, then this leads to the question if the sovereign in this case is still in control or did we sell our freedom to a handful of companies? Some of the negative consequences we can see when it comes to ‘smart’ policing like in New York City. On the surface, these techniques are a great help to reduce crime, but they are also massively biased. Are we really okay with throwing the achievements of the last century overboard for a bit more security? We need to invest in more public research on the consequences of these technologies and how they shape the society and a public discussion if we as a society are willing to accept them. Otherwise, we might run the risk of becoming a technocratic dictatorship.

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