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Projects

FWO Smart Video Surveillance in Smart Cities: Deconstructing Security and Surveillance Discourses

Crime and Society Research Group (CRiS): https://cris.research.vub.be/en/home
Prof. Lucas Melgaço, Prof Rosamunde Van Brakel and Stephanie Garaglia
01/01/2021-31/12/2024

Description

The main objective of the research project is to analyse the discourses that surround the implementation of 'smart' video surveillance technologies, and their affordances in 'smart cities'. It intends to identify the main promises and drivers behind official discourses of smart city programmes in three Belgian cities: Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

Two hypotheses from the literature will be tested:

1) 'Surveillance theatre': that the concept of smart cities and the implementation of surveillance programmes have a 'performative' role;

2) Surveillance capitalism: that the main driver behind the implementation of the surveillance programmes is not security of citizens or reducing crime but is economic.

The hypotheses will be tested for the three cities through critical discourse analysis of policy documents, social media and interviews with the different stakeholders and confronting the found discourses with relevant literature. Despite abundant scholarship in surveillance, smart-cities, and security and the performative role of crime control, there are several gaps in the literature that this research intends to fill:
 

1) influence of surveillance capitalism on smart city policy making;

2) comparative research; and

3) analysis of the drivers of the technologies.

The research intends to advance theory within criminology, surveillance studies, urban governance and security studies and influence policy-making and public debate.
 

Future-proofing Human Rights. Developing thicker forms of accountability

Fundamental Rights Research Centre https://frc.research.vub.be/en/ 
Prof. Paul De Hert and Prof. Rosamunde Van Brakel
1/01/21 → 31/12/24  


Description
This is a multi-disciplinary and multi-method study that seeks to identify a variety of avenues for achieving better human rights protection that can provide the basis for a thicker conceptualization of the notion of (human rights) accountability. 

It seeks to strengthen human rights law by identifying means or mechanisms that ensure a thicker form of accountability. This project proposes to further develop the concept of accountability so that it can face up to current social challenges, such as COVID-19, corporate abuse or surveillance dilemmas. Our particular concern is with the disconnect between the formal legal system and the lived experiences of those who suffer harms that could logically be – but are not yet - understood as a human rights violation. 

Our overarching research question is: How can thicker accountability for human rights violations be achieved, so as to ensure better human rights protection in line with the everyday experience of rights holders? This question breaks down into three sub-questions: 

1. What counts/should count, as a human rights violation, i.e. what types of substantive wrongs (do not) trigger accountability in practice? 
2. Who can/should be held accountable (i.e. who is a duty-bearer), but now slips through the net? 
3. How can the human rights framework be altered to accommodate this, i.e. what are good practices? 

Within this overall projectt FRC is responsible for work package (WP) 3.3.. See for more information the whole the project desription here: https://hrc.ugent.be/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Project-description.pdf 
 

Reading Group - The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (Zuboff)

Zuboff’s book
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2019) has captivated and opened the minds of many people; it was even proposed as one of the books of the year by Barack Obama. By the term “Surveillance Capitalism” Zuboff referred to the new profitable business of surveillance, possible through new technologies, data collection and the interests of corporations, in which people are being observed and analyzed for profit (e.g., to sell more clothes or to influence voting decisions in politics), especially with big corporations like Google that use massive data collection to analyze users and predict their likes. The relation with power (social control), neoliberalism, psychology and free will, are discussed in this book, which has tremendous implications on how we see the world, and how powerful and dominant the ‘Big 5’ technical corporations are. 

However, this book has also received many critics, such as that Surveillance Capitalism is, after all “an enhanced returned to a capitalism in its most perverse moments”, and where similar examples can be found in non-digital technologies (Evangelista 2019, p.250). Other authors have claimed that Zuboff duplicates arguments of the field of surveillance studies by ignoring its existence, as well as the lack of acknowledgments to current fair information practices (Ball 2019). Similarly, Cohen (2019) gives a legal critique of this argument, arguing that Zuboff has missed the legal institutions that fight this pervasive targeting.   

Thus, given the influence of this book to understand current challenges in our society, and how frequent it is being used by surveillance and other scholars, we consider that it is important to bring it to debate with professionals working in this field, as it will become a recurrent argument and influence in our future work. In our department of Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS), but also with partners such as PROTECT grant, PhD students and professors from different backgrounds, from philosophy to law, have shown the interest to join this reading group, to discover the questions that it poses and to debate the characteristics of the New Age in which we live ­­­ – Surveillance Capitalism (or maybe not as such).