Note — Nov 17, 2019

The Captured City

Seen in → No.103

Source →

Jathan Sadowski at Real Life magazine coining the term Captured City to reframe the smart city. He argues that the smart city should be seen as a “socio-technical imaginary,” a form of fiction meant to wrap a positive vision of the city over a particular model of municipal development and governance. The author goes over some of the examples and articles about failures and excesses of smart cities, covers the Domain Awareness System (a joint venture between the New York Police Department and Microsoft), and Amazon’s Ring cameras installed with the collaboration of police forces. Overall, an interesting read and very valid points and worries about the model. I reckon though that even though the endpoint of military-like surveillance is correct, Sadowski makes it sound like a grand plan of transforming cities into militarized compounds. I think it is providers injecting tech everywhere to optimize cities and capture revenue streams… which happens to provide a panopticon useful for the military and/or authoritarians.

They are also selling the ideological backdrop that justifies them. This entails constructing a narrative — simultaneously aimed at convincing planners, politicians, and the public — about the crises that cities face, the changes that are necessary, and the benefits that will come by letting corporations take the reins. […]

These technologies treated the city like a battlespace, redeploying information systems originally created for military purposes for urban policing. Sensors, cameras, and other networked surveillance systems gather intelligence through quasi-militaristic methods to feed another set of systems capable of deploying resources in response. […]

The captured city, as this suite of surveillance and analytics suggests, is captured in two interrelated senses: as data and territory. The web of surveillance systems built and operated by the military-industrial complex accomplish the data capture, which enables the police to better capture the city’s territory, maintaining a data dragnet across the city and keeping tabs on targeted groups. The goal is to enmesh the city so tightly in these systems, to make them such a critical part of the urban infrastructure, that the two can never be disentangled. […]

Escaping the captured city will require a similar siege of resistance to dismantle the many layers of technological and ideological infrastructure. It will require us to target with ruthless criticism the producers and users of surveillance systems, the supply and demand for urban control. It will require us to know our enemies and name them as such.

Also → Not that I’m doubting the military will be using every possible means to collect biometric data. To wit: This Is How the U.S. Military’s Massive Facial Recognition System Works.

That weapon is a vast database, packed with millions of images of faces, irises, fingerprints, and DNA data — a biometric dragnet of anyone who has come in contact with the U.S. military abroad. The 7.4 million identities in the database range from suspected terrorists in active military zones to allied soldiers training with U.S. forces.