The idea of total surveillance centralization is older than sophisticated computer systems and originates from the new prison design proposal dating back to the end of the 18th century. According to the same design, the daily life of prisoners is monitored from the central tower, from which someone can but does not have to be watching them. The very idea that they can be spotted at any point drastically changes prisoners’ behaviour.
A city that treats its citizens as a prison colony is not secure but totalitarian. Freedom is restricted owing to potential offences, while the ones who observe us gain too much uncontrolled power.
It is true that there is a risk that someone may cross the street during red light or rob a kiosk and get away with it because the government tries to save money on the number of police staff and their salaries. However, how does that risk compare to the risks of technology abuse that makes it possible for all citizens in public places to be under constant surveillance?
From what Edward Snowden and other reports revealed, we found out that even the most expensive systems in the countries with the most developed surveillance technologies were abused for private conflicts between competitors, blackmail of former friends and stalking of ex-spouses. States abuse surveillance systems to control political opponents at home and against foreign governments with whom they are in conflict. Companies abuse them to produce large datasets to further commercialise our interests and online behaviour.
There are still some unresolved issues related to the abuse of some less advanced technologies. The police and secret services directly access retained metadata of digital communications of citizens of Serbia thousands of times per year, only through one mobile operator, which the Commissioner and the Ombudsman have already warned about.
The countries with longer experience with smart surveillance constantly warn about the following: the fake positive results of comparison of faces recorded in the street with the faces from the register of convicts and suspects, as well as the high degree of wrong facial identification of women and minority community members, can severely affect the personal rights of citizens. A professor from Argentina was once wrongly identified as a suspect for an armed robbery that had taken place over 15 years ago. He was recorded by smart cameras in the station where he was waiting for the metro, after which he ended up in the police station.