nav search
Data Center Software Security Transformation DevOps Business Personal Tech Science Emergent Tech Bootnotes BOFH

back to article
Smart cities? Tell it like it is, they're surveillance cities

Silver badge

Cough

"Security-focused people will say that increased surveillance is necessary to combat terrorism. "

And yet, London, with more cameras than anywhere else in the world, other than Beijing which has roughly double the population, unfortunately still gets attacked.

Surveillance only works if you are looking in the right place, at the right people.

34
1
Silver badge

Re: Cough

Ah! But AI........

My feeling is that no amount of privacy invasion can be a good thing, government should be there for the benefit of the people not the other way around. IoT may make the authorities' job easier but it must be balanced by the the genuine advantages to the people. If the overall quality of life and freedom of the people is not significantly improved it has no place.

21
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Cough

Let's not forget that terrorists can use surveillance data too.

24
0

Re: Cough

@AA

Let's not forget that terrorists do use surveillance data too. FTFY.

They call it intelligence gathering as they walk or drive the area looking for and often photographing weak points, perhaps pretending to be tourists.

Tracking them and tracing them is where the security can and does sometimes fail, (perhaps too often?).

2
0
Silver badge

Re: Cough

London, with more cameras than anywhere else in the world [..] unfortunately still gets attacked.

Surveillance only works if you are looking in the right place, at the right people.

During the June London Bridge attack, armed police were dispatched before the first 999 call came in because of CCTV monitoring, which probably saved lives.

9
2

Re: Cough

If you took the entire cost of the the London CCTV infrastructure and staffing and invested it in the NHS you'd probably save far more lives. It's not about whether it saves lives, it's about the opportunity cost of what else you could do with the money.

18
0

Re: Cough

There being around 9 million terrorists and potential terrorists in London, the surveyance and video cameras are entirely justified.

8
7
Silver badge

Re: Cough

And yet, London, with more cameras than anywhere else in the world, other than Beijing which has roughly double the population, unfortunately still gets attacked.

see also cars, fitted with brakes , still have accidents , so lets get rid of cars

email is sometimes used by terrorists , so lets get rid of it

sometimes people on boats , fitted with liferafts , drown at sea , so liferafts are evil.

hitler had a brown coat , therefore all men with brown coats are evil

Isnt there a name for this kind of 2+2 = 5 thinking?

5
7
Bronze badge

Re: Cough

>Let's not forget that terrorists do use surveillance data too

Do you have any evidence of that?

2
3
Bronze badge

Re: Cough

>It's not about whether it saves lives

But most of London's CCTV has many other purposes - monitoring traffic congestion, deterring (ordinary) crime etc.

2
5
Silver badge

Re: Cough

If you took the entire cost of the the London CCTV infrastructure and staffing and invested it in the NHS you'd probably save far more lives.

Maybe. Maybe not. What would be certain however is that after the next terrorist attack, we wouldn't know what happened, where it happened, and we'd have scared tooled up cops running around confused about what to do and where to go.

As someone who lives, works and socialises in places terrorists seem determined to attack, I'm OK with a little video action. No, its not going to stop the attacks, but it might minimise the effects and prevent another Bataclan.

2
7

Re: Cough

OMG!!! How has humanity survived for all these thousands of years without CCTV, and being able to watch it all on the 10pm news afterwards?

Funnily enough, good security does not, and never has, come from treating everyone as criminals that just haven't been caught yet, nor from spying upon the everyday activities of as many people as possible.

'Terrorism' is a miserable fact of human life, and always has been. The whole point of 'terrorism' is to become the focus of attention; to become the tail that wags the dog; to terrify 'the people' and 'the leadership' into the naive belief that they can 'stop terrorism', if they just try a bit harder, pry a bit more closely, lock down a bit more tightly, become just a little bit more like the monsters they are frightened of, then it will all be okay---no more people will die. It's a lie.

And meanwhile, hundreds and thousands die premature deaths by other means, but that's okay, we can live with that.

15
0
Silver badge
Big Brother

Re: Cough

If you took the entire cost of the the London CCTV infrastructure and staffing and invested it in the NHS you'd probably save far more lives.

Actually you'd probably get several more layers of management.

4
0
Silver badge

Re: Cough

"

During the June London Bridge attack, armed police were dispatched before the first 999 call came in because of CCTV monitoring, which probably saved lives.

"

IIUC the guy was brought down by a minister's bodyguard before the first armed officer arrived, so not sure how it saved lives in that case, but I concede that it could do so. Whether saving a few lives in such relatively rare situations is worth giving the government the tools to oppress its citizens is debatable. It should never be assumed that any government is, or will remain benevolent.

5
0
Silver badge

Re: Cough

@ Tom38

In that area, I am sure the standing police presence was enough to ensure that 999 was redundant and that at least one cop was reporting before anyone could discern what was happening via CCTV.

Once a report was received then I am sure the relevant camera output was being studied but I really doubt that there are enough staff to view even high risk London sites in real time, if somebody was watching at that moment it was coincidence.

As for using 'AI' algorithms maybe soon but not quite yet.

3
0
Silver badge

Re: Cough

Mr Jeltz. Isn't there a name for your response?

Overeaction, I think.Nobody is suggesting that all CCTV cameras should go, only that there are too many of them and there is an over-reliance and an attitude that CCTV is some kind fo public cure all, along with facial recognition etc.

2
1
Silver badge

Re: Cough

"armed police were dispatched before the first 999 call came in because of CCTV monitoring"

Might be true, but can't find anyone from the Met saying that. It would explain the very quick response.

"IIUC the guy was brought down by a minister's bodyguard before"

Again, can't find any evidence of this. PC Charlie Guenigault was an off-duty unarmed response officer - what most of you would consider a normal policeman - and something of a hero.

"standing police presence was enough to ensure that 999 was redundant"

This is definitely wrong. Granted Police presence is much higher than you'd find most other places in the UK but there is no standing presence on Borough High St or Borough Market. Nor indeed was there any at the time of these attacks.

0
1
Silver badge

Re: Isnt there a name for this kind of 2+2 = 5 thinking?

Amber Rudd

4
0

Re: Cough

"Stupidity".

The UK is rife with it. Millions of people who do not understand technology have vast numbers of opinions and know that they must be correct since they thought of the opinion.

0
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Silver badge

Surveillance only works if you are looking in the right place, at the right people.

A I recall, the vast majority of UK terror attacks in the past decade or so were perpetrated by individuals "known to the security services". Lets be clear, this has NOTHING to do with the security of the public, and EVERYTHING to do with the inherent control-freakery of bureaucracies everywhere.

We've already seen the roll out of nationwide ANPR with no debate or public mandate - and that extends to ANPR connections to traffic management or security cameras operated by third parties. We know that the Met have been playing around with face recognitions, so that'll be added as a software overlay on the feed of every camera connected to the network. We've seen the abuse of surveillance powers by the gits of local government to enforce trivia, so we can expect automatic penalties for dog fouling, leaving your bin out on the wrong day,

As for the claimed benefits, pure tosh unless you manage people's behaviout to suit the infrastructure. The "smart city" is a grim, dystopian vision, usually led by unproven claims about "saving energy" and "reducing emissions". Our best hope is that it won't ever work.

52
2

@Ledswinger

Absolutely spot on!

I'd only like to add one thing: You don't need to ponder "smart" control of resources, while hundreds of tons of water are wasted in London every year due to mains pipes that leak. Don't know about other countries, but this one has to get the basics sorted first. In the meantime I'll keep the little privacy I've got left, thank you very much.

19
0
Silver badge

Re: @Ledswinger

hundreds of tons of water are wasted in London every year due to mains pipes that leak

Its a bit more than that. Thames Water (primarily London) had leakage volumes of 35 megalitres a day (so 35,000 tonnes of water a day). Let's guess that half of that is London, so 17,500 tonnes a day, and I conclude that annual water leakage in London is around 6.4 million tonnes of treated water each year.

Water companies were early adopters of GIS and "asset management" approaches to infrastructure, but the problem is that this is very granular at the asset level, but doesn't have any matching performance data, in particular leakage. So they know what's in the ground, they don't know where the many leaks are. To give Thames Water their due, although the regulator fines them for this level of leakage, the same regulator doesn't give them the funding to go and dig up all of London's ageing water mains. And, as road users in London will agree, digging up roads in congested cities is not a popular activity even if the money were provided. It's also harder to spot leaks in busy urban locations - most leaks don't reach the road surface, and one of the main techniques for finding those is listening using a listening stick. With the tube, incessant traffic, aircraft, and all the other ghastly hubub of London, its an expensive late night job to find them - and still the problem of digging up the road. For emergencies the water company can just go and close the road and fix the fault. But for non-emergencies, they need the approval of the local authority, which often takes forever, and may even be withheld. I've worked for the water industry many, many years ago, and its a thankless job running a water system.

12
0
Bronze badge

>As for the claimed benefits, pure tosh

Except that Transport for London can demonstrate actual benefits from their 'smart' systems. I know that won't fit your ideology, but, hey...

2
7
Bronze badge

Re: @Ledswinger

>You don't need to ponder "smart" control of resources, while hundreds of tons of water are wasted in London every year due to mains pipes that leak.

You don't think that, maybe, a bit of tech might help with that problem? That's 'smart city' stuff. You're throwing out baby with the bathwater.

2
6
Silver badge

Re: @strum

You don't think that, maybe, a bit of tech might help with that problem?

Err, no, technology doesn't help. Thames Water (a company I have no links with now or past) have ponied up around £200m in fines and "settlements" over drinking water leakage. As noted above, finding the leaks is old-tech, more reliant on meatsack ears than computers. Do you really think that all involved have their heads in the sand, and there's some piss-easy (or even constipation hard) technological solution that everybody is missing? The essential problem with leakage is that it has one correlation: Age of the pipes. There's no technology solution to that, just the onerous job of replacing tens of thousands of miles of water pipe under the busy streets of London, and the equally onerous job of finding the worse leaks and patching them until the entire water main can be replaced.

That's 'smart city' stuff.

You're right on that. Smart cities are a classic case of over-promise and under-delivery. You can splash millions with the vendors of smart city stuff, and you'd still be reliant on navvies digging out pipes to replace them, and blokes with listening sticks trying to find the worst of the leaks. Smart cities are the local government equivalent of the Internet of Tat: A vast and expensive promise that will certainly not be kept.

10
1
Silver badge

@strum

The problem is never what technology comes in to fix. That is generally clearly established and controlled, and generates clear benefits.

The problem is how the technology can be perverted to fulfill a paranoiacs' dream.

The telephone is the best example. It allowed people to communicate over vast distances in the blink of an eye, bringing families together in ways a piece of paper (aka letter) could never hope to achieve.

That was good.

Then the government came along and hooked into all that, then computers came into the picture and the NSA was born. That is the perversion of a perfectly good piece of tech that nobody could have foreseen.

That is exactly the problem that awaits us with "smart" cities, and the fact that these structures will be able to collect data on each of us in ways that Google would give its left nut to obtain should be a major warning to all of us.

Not to mention the fact that anything with "smart" in the name these days is a piece of shit tech that calls the mothership with your life's details, whether you like it or not.

5
0
Thumb Up

"so we can expect automatic penalties for dog fouling"

sign me up. Where I live would be a lot less shit if this happened. Can you get it to throw the poo at them too?

0
1
Silver badge

Come with me if you want to live.

Fab pics in that story, like the original terminator looking for Sarah Connor.

2
0

Re: Come with me if you want to live.

Looks more like Person of Interest imo.

6
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Come with me if you want to live.

"Person of Interest" assume actual AI. Not cloud based automation, that everyone assumes to be "Artificial Intelligence. And this article mentions Shanghai. Isn't that in China? Of course THEY want Smart Cities and it has nothing to do with what the Citizens want or need or any "personal freedoms".

7
0
Ogi
Bronze badge

citizen infractions of rules can be prevented?

> citizen infractions of rules can be prevented

If I am honest (and I suspect if most people are honest with themselves) we infract against rules multiple times a day, every day.

Hell, it is what keeps me sane quite frankly. If I had to actually follow every single silly rule on the books, put in place by busybodies with nothing better to do over the course of decades, I would have become suicidal years ago.

There has to be a certain level of "slack" in rule enforcement in order for society to function. Up until recently, it was up to a human police officer's discretion as to whether a rule was applied to you or not, given the circumstances, situation, etc...

With automation, that human decision making is slowly being removed. A Police officer can exercise discretion with regards to jaywalking for example, however a machine is very strict, a rule was violated, so you get a penalty.

Another thing they talk about is "prevention". So, how would that work? Some sort of "pre-crime" detection? Will the AI make guesses based on what inputs it gets as to how likely you are to commit a crime? What then? Preemptive arrest? Extra invasive surveillance "just in case"?

A core tenet of law is not that it prevents you from doing something illegal, but that if you do something illegal, you face the consequences. The choice of breaking the law is still up to you, which is why you can be held accountable for your actions in a court of law. And then you argue your case for why you decided to ignore that law to do what you did, sometimes the court agrees with you, sometimes not.

If we want 100% rule enforcement, 100% of the time, I suspect society will have serious issues. Either rules will have to be watered down or scrapped, or these "smart cities" would become nothing more than massive virtual prisons for the masses.

Much as I believe people should be free to live in such prisons if they want ( I sure would not live in a city if it wasn't for the fact all the work is here, and the transport links out of the city are too awful for commuting) my worry is that once all the cities become like this, they will push the same systems out into the countryside, getting rid of those little pockets of freedom that resisted.

40
0
Silver badge

Re: citizen infractions of rules can be prevented?

>> citizen infractions of rules can be prevented

>There has to be a certain level of "slack" in rule enforcement in order for society to function.

>Another thing they talk about is "prevention". So, how would that work?

There doesn't actually - the rules just need to be well designed (a task I'd say is beyond the capacity of our legislative system most of the time).

Surveillance that can track, for instance, cars can be used to provide sane enforcement of various rules of the road which are there mostly for the safety of others (because drivers kill more non drivers than drivers - 44% of road deaths were vehicle occupants, some of whom will not have been driving (UK 2015))

That means that we could rigorously enforce appropriate speed limits, and traffic light violations, and tailgating, and mobile phone usage.

At the point where the risk of being caught engaging in a risky behaviour becomes significant... people stop doing it. So the system prevents the behaviour, by making people aware that they will be penalised for it.

This would then improve general road safety, and reduce the number of incidents where 'but for the grace of god' defences are rolled out in court. The penalties for the risky behaviour don't need to be high, but they ought to be progressive (so first offence is relatively 'cheap', but repeat offences become increasing 'expensive'*).

The key in terms of privacy is not to store the data on vehicles that are being well driven beyond the (short) time required to identify such behaviour [the only one that should need any storage is average speed detection].

* Not necessarily financially - maybe start with points/fine, then a 1 week ban, then 2,4,8...

1
12
Silver badge
Thumb Down

Re: citizen infractions of rules can be prevented?

Something that weirds me out is that politicians have a desperate authoritarian hunger for data about all their citizens, but they resentfully reject the outcomes of any research performed on their behalf. How will they react when their systems start giving them the same suggestions that their data scientists have been doing for the last fifty years?

3
0

Perhaps an intelligent toilet is not such a bad idea

may have helped this person out!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-41167296

0
0
Bronze badge
Trollface

Re: Perhaps an intelligent toilet is not such a bad idea

I'm thinking intelligent maintenance would have helped her out more...

2
0
Gold badge
Gimp

"the city administrator's interests are not necessarily the same as the citizens' interests."

And probably never will be. They want orderly, regulated behavior at all times forever. Normal humans doing this job know this is impossible, but the can bet the job will attract the more "neurodiverse" who (literally) don't get it.

The obvious question IMHO is how much of this is personally identifiable, and why do you "need " it to be so.

My instinct is a lot of the time you need flow data, but you don't actually need to be able to trace every single persons ID (and make no mistake if you're carrying a mobile phone or other wireless device you're pretty easy to tag).

But since collecting that ID data is so easy why not?

Why was ANPR rolled out in the UK?

Simple.

Because they could and no one stopped them.

22
0
Silver badge
Meh

Re: "the city administrator's interests are not necessarily the same as the citizens' interests."

And probably never will be. They want orderly, regulated behavior at all times forever. Normal humans doing this job know this is impossible, but the can bet the job will attract the more "neurodiverse" who (literally) don't get it.

They also want to stay in power, and mass surveillance is an essential tool for identifying, tracking and containing the people who oppose them. The connected cities conference in Shanghai is particularly pertinent as the Communist Party of China rules the country precisely because they can do that. Mass surveillance isn't so much the enemy of liberty, as the article suggests, but the enemy of democracy.

10
1
Bronze badge

Re: "the city administrator's interests are not necessarily the same as the citizens' interests."

>They want orderly, regulated behavior at all times forever.

Sez who? Dearie me - this is a ridiculous piece of nonsense.

Most of 'them' just want to do their job properly; get the buses to their destination in good time, fix the broken streetlamps, fill the pot-holes. They don't give a toss about you or your face.

1
7
Bronze badge

Re: "the city administrator's interests are not necessarily the same as the citizens' interests."

>Why was ANPR rolled out in the UK?

Because it was a damn sight cheaper than paying enough policemen, traffic wardens and parting attendants to continue doing what ANPR could do on the cheap (and what those in various uniforms had done before ANPR existed).

I take it you would be quite happy to pay more taxes for a more personal policing experience?

0
12
Silver badge

My dear sir, if taxes are your biggest issue I have a solution for you. There is place where you pay no taxes, are fed and clothed and bedded every day.

It's called prison.

I'm sure you can find your way there.

6
1

This post has been deleted by its author

Anonymous Coward

Re: "the city administrator's interests are not necessarily the same as the citizens' interests."

"They want orderly, regulated behavior at all times forever"

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." - George Orwell

4
0

"Security-focused people will say that increased surveillance is necessary to combat terrorism."

Presumably this was an abbreviation, but did you mean 'Security service-focused people', or 'Security theatre-focused people'

As for smart toilets, Israel found polio in the sewage in Rahat in 2013, mass-vacinated, and manage to avoid any cases of paralytic polio. I'm happy with sewage being monitored in sewage works, but not with having it monitored on the way out of me.

14
0
Bronze badge

Re: As for smart toilets

Agreed. I fail to see how an internet connected toilet could possibly make waste disposal more efficient when all you need is gravity.

0
0
Silver badge

Welcome

to Mega City One.

6
0
Silver badge

Re: Welcome

"Block war!"

6
0

There is Money to be made?

With all the follow people, identify people technology deployed surely somebody will need to cover the costs of the tech and this will fall back on giving external companies access to the data. So here is a thought. Have you ever been annoyed by the targeted adverts that pop up curtesy of cookies, you know .. you've browsed amazon, and the next thing you are getting popups for similar stuff for sale?, imagine the intelligent city, your face is known, your eating habits are known, you are going to lunch and bingo the sign next to you lights up with an advert from whoever pays the most money to point you at food source x/y.. maybe not a bad thing?.. but could it get worse ?

5
0
Bronze badge

>A smart city is, inherently, a surveillance city,

False premise.

A 'smart' city isn't interested in individuals. It's interested in traffic flows, congestion, breakdowns, in patterns of energy consumption. In short, it's interested in generalisations of activity.

Of course, it's technology _could_ be misused to target individuals (or restive groups). Maybe even _would_ be so used.

But to suggest that this is inherent in the concept is misleading and invalidates the rest of your argument.

0
12
Silver badge

A smart city is, inherently, a surveillance city,

False premise.

But given the current trend the last few years (and barring some unlikely 'enlightenment' on the part of the politbeaurocracy) it seems exceedingly likely Smart will either be unwritten in from the start or co-opted for surveillance purposes.

7
0

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing