Efficiency at What Cost? Smart Cities and the Surveillance Creep

By Zach Varnell, The Libertarian Institute

In cities and towns across the nation, our communities are being transformed by the implementation of so-called “smart” technologies said to create more efficient, safe, and sustainable environments. These smart cities use a range of devices such as cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence to attempt central management of everything from traffic and public safety to environmental monitoring. It’s not something out of George Orwell’s daydreams; it’s happening now.

Proponents of smart cities will sing songs about their efficiency. Traffic lights adjust in real-time to traffic conditions, reducing congestion and shortening commutes. Smart waste management systems notify city services when trash bins are full, optimizing collection routes and frequencies. Public safety could be enhanced through the use of networked cameras and environmental sensors that can detect crimes or hazards as they occur.

But all this efficiency comes with an unwanted side of surveillance. You can’t even tiptoe through the tulips anymore without a drone noting your preference for floral routes. The city becomes a stage, and we’re all unwitting actors in a play where we didn’t audition, directed by Big Brother himself. They say it’s for safety and convenience, but there’s something profoundly unsettling about being watched every time you step out to buy milk.

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