Being Watched: Embedding Ethics in Public Cameras

Project Description

‘Smart cities’ infrastructures have won fans among many officials, city planners, and infrastructure manufacturers. A collection of hardware devices such as cameras, sensors, and controllers linked to software-driven intelligence—often with an Internet, grid or network element and deployed at scale—these systems promise cities, regions and even nations better services, improved management capabilities and sometimes lower costs. Increasingly, the voluminous and diverse data they produce will be analyzed by AI or machine-learning routines, raising questions regarding how those machine-based procedures operate and the ethical systems undergirding their analyses.

As more of such city-based infrastructures move toward automated and algorithmically-optimized capabilities, the human and broader machine and platform environments present legal, ethical and accountability issues. These affect the strata of planners and managers in cities, the technologists producing (and selling) the software and hardware systems and companies, as well as citizens living and working with these systems. Our project will seek to build technical, legal and social approaches to maximize the trusted use of public camera-generated video data.

Research Questions

  • How do citizens and city management conceptualize privacy in the smart city context?
  • What data management practices are appropriate for ethical algorithmically-derived data in the smart city context?
  • How can AI for camera systems be designed to embody important values and apply to use cases?
  • How can we identify and assess best practices for cultivating citizenry awareness of and engagement with smart cities technologies?

Scope of Work

  • Conduct focus groups and surveys to assess local attitudes toward city-deployed cameras, particularly traffic cameras
  • Investigate the concrete requirements for public camera data currently used across different institutional units to define relevant data management practices and issues
  • Build and test differential access models that allow camera-generated visual data to be used productively
  • Design and test public literacy trainings, and initiate policy and public engagement efforts

For the most recent updates on this project, check out the following blog posts.

TIPI Research Talk Hosted by EFF-Austin

On June 13, 2023, Dr. Sharon Strover presented a research talk titled “City Surveillance, Trust, and Public Engagement.” Organized by EFF-Austin, the local chapter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the event was generously sponsored by and hosted at Capital...

Being Watched | Preliminary Results of Expert Survey

As part of the Being Watched research project, we have invited experts in law, technology, and public policy, civil rights advocates, as well as local government representatives to participate in our expert survey. In this post, we share some of the preliminary...

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