Professor William Webster, Director Centre for Research into Information Surveillance & Privacy (CRISP), University of Stirling, spoke about surveillance and the built environment. He started off with a surveillance studies perspective, taking into account: how to get the most out of Big (Smart) Data; the implications of Big Data for the built environment; and, the changing nature of society, human relations and working practices emerging alongside the Big Data revolution.
Professor Webster explained that surveillance is ubiquitous; it is everywhere, a defining feature of modern society – “the surveillance society”. It is embedded in the information flows generated by new information and communication technologies. It is a normal, unsurprising, part of everyday life and incorporates the processing of vast quantities of personal data. Some surveillance practices/technologies are explicit, such as CCTV or Body Worn Video, others less so, such as tracking and profiling. Surveillance is, therefore, also subtle, discrete and hidden from sight; it taps into “human instinct”. He reminded the audience that one “leaves digital footprints everywhere we go” – from the use of credit cards and satnavs, mobile phones, passport information and social media. If we live in a modern society, one shouldn’t be shocked!
Regarding the surveillance perspective, Professor Webster explained that surveillance is often closely aligned to security. The surveillance society integrates many industrial sectors – sociologists call this the “industrial surveillance complex”. Surveillance impacts on our “life chances” and shapes our lives. Surveillance should not be assumed to be “good” or “bad”. The surveillance perspective is not anti-surveillance. It seeks to understand new power relationships, new working practices, evolving social norms, and human relations; the built environment is not immune from the surveillance revolution. It shapes our behaviour and how we understand it; it isn’t necessarily “good or bad”. A “bad” example could be when shopping habits are scruitinized – along with any traffic fines – including driving in bus lanes.
Concerning Big Data – (re)use of existing large data sets, often in the public domain to shape services and aid decision making can assist. This can include the integration of official data, privately owned data and data defining from social media and the internet; this relies on sophisticated algorithms and data matching. Professor Webster said that the Internet of Things involves more and more devices that are attached to the internet – where the internet interacts directly with the physical environment. Again social media is tracked; internet records are kept for a year by internet search providers. This is where the digital and physical world collides.
He raised the matter of emerging issues and asked: Where does all this information go and how is it used? Who decides what happens to our personal information? Can we influence what happens to our personal information? Are there safeguards to make sure it is not misused? How reliable and robust are Big Data processes? Will our data be held securely? Are such ‘privacy’ concerns such as these taken into account when commercial opportunities around Big Data are exploited? How does this impact on those responsible for building design, construction and management take account of these issues? Ultimately, how do they take account of security issues?
So what of the built environment – commercial and domestic – which is evolving to accommodate ‘surveillance’? Buildings to incorporate IT infrastructure and a plethora of ‘access’ points (broadband, fibre optic, wifi). Also, new sensory devises – watching, listening, and even smelling! The aim is to provide new ‘smart’ products – intelligent lighting, smart energy meters, remote security applications which is relevant to domestic property, critical infrastructure and civic engineering. And, last but not least, the emergence of Smart Cities. If this becomes a certainty, the world will need to get used to it!
Professor Webster went on to say that a new dependency on digital technologies in the built environment requires those responsible for planning and building design to have access to new skill sets – those associated with physical building and engineering, IT requirements and informational security requirements. The future of building design and engineering will need to blend these together and implies a high level of information sharing and a requirement to do so securely – to identify security threats to information.
He wrapped up by saying that the emergent surveillance society poses a number of challenges: “How should the build environment evolve to accommodate security and informational requirements? This should include cyber security and records management. To what extent should privacy concerns be considered? How is this knowledge acquired by those responsible for building design, construction and management? Security and privacy should not be after thoughts, they should be designed in from the start.”