Transparent Cities Theory.
By Paolo Cirio. 2011.

The growing importance of networked media has altered the way surveillance is practised. Wireless devices are small, pervasive and ubiquitous, and can quickly spread sensitive data over popular platforms. [1]

Individuals and organizations are subject to increasing transparency as technologies get smaller, better at recording and more able to store and publish large quantities of indexed data on networks.

Transparency is not just a trend, it's a necessary part of a future in which citizens can access and gather information freely. Democracy requires a well-informed society, hence freedom can be measured by the ability to access and diffuse information.

However, there is still an asymmetry to information-power relationships that needs to be questioned and reversed. Authorities still have privileged access to a capillary-like network of devices for surveillance. "Britain is now the most intensely monitored country in the world, according to surveillance experts, with 4.2 million CCTV cameras installed, equivalent to one for every 14 people" [2] .

Combined with data aggregated by social networks that is linked with private and public databases of information about individual citizens, this creates a dangerous capacity for profiling individuals [3], who are increasingly subjected to diminishing personal freedoms and civil rights.

Undemocratic surveillance tactics do not just function to deter crime. They are also used as efficient methods of repression in the aftermath of outcries [4]. Such technologies can be used to monitor civic activism and punish those in opposition to the authorities. Transparent Cities uses surveillance technology for democratic purposes. It reverses the normal flow of information: accountable public officials and organizations are now the ones placed under public scrutiny.

The Transparent Cities program uses participative control over the controllers in order to re-democratise surveillance technology. CCTV cameras, for example, are used in conjunction with personal devices and social media tagging functionality to give citizens the chance to participate in the process of controlling their cities.

Social media endorses the democratization of monitoring practices, enabling a participatory surveillance based on voluntary engagement to emerge [5].

Peer-to-peer control is, however, difficult to enable. Elite groups dominate control over networks and urban spaces. Due consideration must be given to the danger of increased governmental surveillance over social networks, something which would boost the structure of the Panopticon and further skew the already asymmetrical control over surveillance. However, with the proliferation of networking technologies the Panoptic metaphor must be rethought in a positive light [6].

Transparent Cities not only discusses monitoring but is also interested in asymmetry in the obtaining of information. It presents a challenge to places like the UK, the European country with the largest number of restrictions on taking pictures and acquiring other forms of data about metropolitan areas.

Some UK locations (government buildings, trade and communication hubs) have specific bylaws forbidding photography without permission [7]. Many other public places have become private, with the selling of entire metropolitan areas to private corporations. The owners of such spaces often set restrictions on photography and access to other information.

Most freedom of information laws exclude the private sector from their jurisdiction. As a result, information held by the private sector cannot be accessed as a legal right [8]. This is the case in the L1 area of Liverpool - the first and biggest privately controlled open-air shopping centre - and many others. Even the City Hall of London and the surrounding area is owned by a private company [9].

Collecting information is often especially prohibited in places that deserve to be observed; those involved in the managing and operating of public interests, decision-making centres, and even places where people obtain common goods.

Thanks to the miniaturization and proliferation of cameras and networked devices, citizens are able to render their urban environments transparent, collecting data about their environment and spreading it through the networks. The public acquisition of data cannot be avoided and the tactics implemented by Transparent Cities constitute a major exposure of their power and functionality.

Transparent Cities proposes a substantial implementation of different tactics aimed at the possible formation of Counter Intelligence Units, an informal network specializing in video and audio monitoring through phone tapping, bugs, micro cameras and drones.

Informational asymmetry must fall apart in a participative way. Active citizens should be directly informed about the activities of politicians, police and army officers, journalists, and any profession concerned with public affairs.

Transparency empowers citizens by increasing access to and hence democratically controlling the management of society. "The point of open information is not merely to expose the world but to change it" [10]; through accountability that can be enabled only by providing full access to data. Equality is the basis of democracy. It requires knowledge of the activities of citizens, which proves again that the arrangement of information plays a major role in designing our society.

As with former projects of mine, this artwork focuses on information flow as a conceptual process that can create active and controversial data sculptures. In Transparent Cities, I acquire sensitive open data (in this case from physical public space) and automatically re-contextualize it in a different environment (social media).

Through this process, which shapes raw informational material in structured and classified data, I foster political influence and research a new processual informational aesthetics. The idea of process as information flow defines this art work.

It's about engineering art and social changes by capturing information, transmuting it through software and then storing and spreading it on crowded networks.

Anonymity in urban life has been lost; everyone is continuously tracked and monitored via data transmitted by the technology that we carry with us, and by own bodies, which are recognized and indexed by machines disseminated in the environment. This, combined with our own active participation in feeding the networks with personal data (and data about our close or accidental peers) generates an unavoidable loss of privacy.

Today cities are transparent. Data, images and voices flow in the networks, through concrete walls of tangled streets of decadent suburbs and shining skyscrapers. The network is the new space in which the cities live; a transparent space where everyone is bare. Naked, we can finally feel more equal. With our bodies exposed, we will discover we are all the same, just judged as human.


[1] "Participatory Panopticon" by David Brin and Jamais Cascio, Institute for the Future 2007.
"The Transparent Society" by David Brin, 1998.

[2] "Smile - you're on camera - Spy drones added to Britain's "surveillance society" - Reuters 2007

[3] "Police buy software to map suspects' digital movements" - The Guardian 2011.

[4] "London Is the Surveillance Society's Biggest Test Yet" by Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic 2011.

[5] "State of sousveillance" by Mark Pesce - ABC Australia 2011.

[6] "Deconstructing Bentham's Panopticon The New Metaphors of Surveillance in the Web 2.0 Environment" by Manuela Farinosi, ISSN 1726-670X, 2010.

[7] Movie "Sensitive buildings" by Caspar Below, 2004.
I'm a Photographer, not a Terrorist UK campaign.

[8] Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Wikipedia

[9] "Private Public Space at City Hall" by Spacehijackers

[10] "The open society" - The Economist 2010.

Home Sousveil Theory Hardware Diagram Press