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Quo Vadis Smart Surveillance? How Smart Technologies Combine and Challenge Democratic Oversight

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“Smart” seems to have become the new standard for surveillance technology. Smart surveillance promises fewer human resources, larger coverage, and higher detection rates. This article examines the roots of this development through the lens of current and emerging technologies. Based on the review and analysis of academic articles, policy documents and reports, press stories and research projects, we identify the different kinds of surveillance technologies prevalent in our society today and those that are emerging in the near future. Our analysis highlights the ways in which both current and emerging technologies are increasingly being organized into assemblages—“smart surveillance” systems where individual surveillance technologies and local systems are becoming integrated, multi-modal, automated, ubiquitous and increasingly accepted by the public. In the process, they challenge notions of consent and democratic oversight.

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  1. 1.

    Haggerty and Ericson 2000, pp. 605–622.

  2. 2.

    An example for the automation of data collection is given by Diffie and Susan (2009) for the surveillance of communications. The pervasiveness and automation of data analysis can be observed, for example, by means of the profiling technique, which is enabled by data mining: Hildebrandt (2008).

  3. 3.

    Wright et al. (2010).

  4. 4.

    Figueiras and Frattasi (2010).

  5. 5.


  6. 6.

    Lee (2010).

  7. 7.

    Naraine (2007).

  8. 8.

    Haggerty and Ericson (2000).

  9. 9.

    Goodchild, Sophie, “Britain becoming a Big Brother society, says data watchdog”, The Independent, 29 April 2007. These numbers have been widely and frequently quoted, however, there has been some controversy about just how many CCTV cameras there are in the UK and how many times a day on average a person in London is caught by CCTV cameras (see Aaronovitch 2009). The source of these “statistics” appears to be Norris and Armstrong (1999).However, Norris and Armstrong say that their numbers are “guesstimates”.

  10. 10.

    Transportation Security Administration, “Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT)”, 2011. US airports have installed both millimetre wave and backscatter x-ray scanners. In early 2013, the TSA decided to remove the backscatter scanners, which some had described as equivalent to a strip search. Plungis (2013)

  11. 11.

    Lyon (2008).

  12. 12.

    GeneWatch UK.

  13. 13.

    Polgreen (2011).

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    Clarke (1988).

  15. 15.

    Clarke (2003).

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    Want (2009).

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    Langheinrich (2009).

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    Coroama (2006).

  19. 19.

    Wright et al., op. cit., 2010.

  20. 20.

    Cited from Haggerty and Ericson, op. cit., 2000, p. 606.

  21. 21.

    Bauman (2013).

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    Marx (2002).

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    Mathiesen (1997).

  24. 24.

    Nouwt et al. (2005).

  25. 25.

    Webster and William (2009).

  26. 26.

    Quoted from Aviation Safety Unmanned Aircraft Programme Office, 2008, in McBride (2009).

  27. 27.

    McBride, op. cit., 2009, p. 629. See also Directorate of Airspace Policy (2010).

  28. 28.

    Britannica (2011).

  29. 29.

    Diffie and Landau, op. cit., 2009.

  30. 30.

    Diffie and Landau, op. cit., 2009.

  31. 31.

    These come in numerous flavours, from rather home-brewed devices that can only be used in pairs by both parties and that use unknown, possibly unsafe algorithms (e.g., to enterprise-scale devices that use state-of-the-art encryption algorithms with a new key for every conversation (e.g.,

  32. 32.

    Prevelakis and Spinellis (2007).

  33. 33.

    Petersen (2007).

  34. 34.

    Gardner and Bartlett (1999).

  35. 35.

    McElroy (2011).

  36. 36.

    Wolfe (2010).

  37. 37.

    Wei and Dongge (2006).

  38. 38.

    Stefani (2006).

  39. 39.

    See Zureik and Hindle (2004); Introna (2009).

  40. 40.

    Wei and Li, op. cit., 2006.

  41. 41.

    Adkins (2007).

  42. 42.

    Wei and Li, op. cit., 2006.

  43. 43.

    The Times, “Joyrider, 14, is first tagging guinea pig”, 17 July 2001.

  44. 44.

    Fay (2005).

  45. 45.

    Wei and Li, op. cit., 2006.

  46. 46.

    Strictly speaking, “triangulation” denotes the AOA technique, which measures the angles between the unknown location and several points of reference. Using distances would thus be called ‘trilateration’. The term “triangulation”, however, is commonly used to denote either of the two methods.

  47. 47.

    ShotSpotter, “The ShotSpotter Gunshot Location System”.

  48. 48.

    Clarke (1988).

  49. 49.

    Clarke (2003).

  50. 50.

    Clarke, op. cit., 1988.

  51. 51.


  52. 52.

    Frawley et al. (1992).

  53. 53.

    Hildebrandt (2008).

  54. 54.

    Hildebrandt, op. cit., 2008.

  55. 55.

    Clarke (1993). A closely related term is “social sorting”. Lyon comments that surveillance is “a means of social sorting. It classifies and categorizes relentlessly, on the basis of various—clear or occluded criteria. It is often, but not always, accomplished by means of remote networked databases whose algorithms enable digital discrimination to take place”. Lyon (2003).

  56. 56.

    The remit of the Article 29 WP is to provide expert advice to policy-makers in relation to data protection in Europe.

  57. 57.

    Lyon, op. cit., 2007.

  58. 58.

    See, for example, Liberty, Liberty’s Evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the Government’s Identity Card Proposals, Dec 2003.

  59. 59.

    Zureik and Hindle, op. cit., 2004.

  60. 60.

    Zureik and Hindle, op. cit., 2004, p. 123.

  61. 61.

    Rothstein and Talbott (2006).

  62. 62.

    Wei and Li, op. cit., 2006.

  63. 63.

    McCahill (2002).

  64. 64.

    Zureik and Hindle, op. cit., 2004, p. 121.

  65. 65.

    Webster and William (2009).

  66. 66.

    Council of the European Union (2010).

  67. 67.

    Zureik and Hindle, op. cit., 2004.

  68. 68.

    Lyon, op. cit., 2008, p. 503.

  69. 69.

    McCahill, op. cit., 2002.

  70. 70.

    Jones (2010).

  71. 71.

    The complete list of projects funded under the theme security is available at

  72. 72.

    See the FP7 projects dynamic database developed by the HIDE project and available on the HIDE website at

  73. 73.

    Information taken from DARPA Financial Year 2012 Budget Estimates, available on the DARPA website.

  74. 74.

    See Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) (2009).

  75. 75.

    Wikipedia explains that the Tooth to Tail Ratio is a military term that refers to the amount of military personnel (“tail”) it takes to supply and support each combat soldier (“tooth”). One of the stated goals of DARPA is increasing the tooth to tail ratio (reducing the amount of logistics and support personnel necessary in proportion to combat personnel without reducing combat effectiveness).

  76. 76.

    E.g., Changing landscape of European liberty and security (CHALLENGE), a project which took place from 2004 to 2008; European liberty and security (ELISE), 2004–2008; Bioethical Implications of Globalisation (BIG), 2002–2006.

  77. 77.

    European Security Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF) (2009).

  78. 78.

    Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, “DARPA’s S&T Privacy Principles”.

  79. 79.


  80. 80.

    For examples of how law enforcement authorities are using drones, see Finn and Wright (2012).

  81. 81.

    See, for example, Recon Robotics.

  82. 82.

    Andrejevic (2005).

  83. 83.

    See, for example, the videos of the “Team Black Sheep”.

  84. 84.

    Flacy (2011).

  85. 85.

    TomTom, “Real-time traffic information”.

  86. 86.

    European Parliament, “Report on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) (2001/2098(INI))”, Rapporteur: Gerhard Schmid, A5–0264/2001, 11 July 2001. See also Bamford (2009).

  87. 87.

    European Parliament, op. cit.

  88. 88.

    Even so, politicians and law enforcement authorities are pushing the new Internet companies to “co-operate” so that digital communications can be intercepted. See, for example, Savage (2010).

  89. 89.

    As, for example, the organisers of an illegal party recently did in Zurich. See Schindler (2011).

  90. 90.

    Several Home Office studies have found evidence of strong public support for surveillance cameras. One found that “the level of support for CCTV remained high at over 70 % of the sample in all but one area” of the 13 schemes the study had assessed. Other research found that “levels of support for CCTV are high, although it was not clear that respondents were fully informed about how it functioned”. House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (2007–2008). As evidence, the report cites Gill and Spriggs (2005) Assessing the impact of CCTV (London: Home Office Research, Developments and Statistics Directorate, 2005), p. ix; Spriggs, Argomaniz et al (2006).

  91. 91.

    Wright et al., op. cit., 2010, p. 344, n. 3.

  92. 92.

    Goold (2009).

  93. 93.

    The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that “society has come to realize that privacy is at the heart of liberty in a modern state … Grounded in man’s physical and moral autonomy, privacy is essential for the well-being of the individual”. R. v. Dyment (188), 55 D.L.R. (4th) 503 at 513 (S.C.C.).

  94. 94.

    Rule (2007).

  95. 95.


  96. 96.

    Ibid., p. 196.


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This paper has been prepared based in part on research undertaken in the context of the SAPIENT project (Project number: 261698), funded by the European Commission’s Directorate General Enterprise. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone and are in no way intended to reflect those of the European Commission.

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Correspondence to Marc Langheinrich .

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Langheinrich, M., Finn, R., Coroama, V., Wright, D. (2014). Quo Vadis Smart Surveillance? How Smart Technologies Combine and Challenge Democratic Oversight. In: Gutwirth, S., Leenes, R., De Hert, P. (eds) Reloading Data Protection. Springer, Dordrecht.

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