This case studies series is part of the research project Being Watched: Embedding Ethics in Public Cameras supported by Good Systems: A UT Grand Challenge. Two workshops that utilized the case studies have been presented by the TIPI team at ICEGOV 2022 and MozFest 2023. The vignette format was inspired by the AI and Ethics Case Studies at Princeton University.


Many cities around the world are increasingly turning to AI-based surveillance technologies to achieve a variety of public benefits, raising important questions regarding privacy, accountability, and ethical governance.

  • From CCTV cameras to environmental sensing systems, what does the use of smart technologies in urban environments entail?
  • How does the adoption of such technologies complicate our conceptualization of privacy?
  • How can we encourage meaningful public engagement and embed justice and accountability into these systems often criticized for their opacity?

Given the context-specific nature of privacy as a social value and informed by the Helen Nissenbaum’s concept of contextual integrity, we have devised three fictional vignettes based on a series of actual events and ask readers to reflect upon a series of ethical issues regarding the use of surveillance technologies in the urban environment.


  • Illuminate the multiple aspects of surveillance technologies and privacy.
  • Foreground the ethical issues surrounding the use of surveillance technologies.
  • Explore contextual differences when deploying surveillance systems and managing the data they generate.
  • Highlight public engagement strategies to establish good practices.
  • Brainstorm ways to safeguard privacy while using surveillance systems for social benefits.


We encourage readers to annotate the paragraphs or take notes as they read along and use the following questions to guide their reading and discussion of the three cases.


  • What is the problem in this case?
  • What solutions do the stakeholders come up with?


  • What are the potential risks of using technologies introduced in the case?
  • Are there communities that may be disproportionately affected?


  • Are there regulatory measures that ensure government accountability?
  • How are partnerships with technology companies managed?


  • How are local communities brought into the decision-making process?
  • What actions should/could citizens take to voice their concerns?