ICT, Datafication, Covid-19, Social Listening and AI Technology in Development
How private is your privacy – you are surveilled!

How private is your privacy – you are surveilled!


How private is your privacy – you are surveilled!  

image courtesy: Unsplash


Working in the office, doing your house chores, walking with your pet outside or picking up our kids from the school; imagine being watched and spied at every step of your daily life. Horrifying, right – unfortunately its true and most shockingly, it’s happening! 

The ai integrated cameras at the Kumbh mela, FRT usage at the Delhi riots and drones at the 2029-2020 farm law protest, in India nothing remains private anymore. Surveillance law of the country is heavily jeopardized and people are scrutinized on the basis of machine-driven results. Frt which has a very low-level accuracy rate, was being used and on its basis almost 2000 people were arrested at the Delhi riots 2020. Relying completely on technology and targeting people is unethical in all aspects. Face can mis-matched which leads to false recognition and thus a human being’s life can be in danger. False accusation is so heavily detrimental to the society.  

Image courtesy : Unsplash


In order to Keep a tight vigilance over the public at 2021 Kumbh mela, ai enabled cameras were used to zoom-in on faces. Keeping the track of people not adhering to covid-19 protocols, the mechanism was used for public security, but to analyze in a deeper sense how much secure was the data that was derived conspicuously from the totally oblivion pilgrims. Was it not privacy-breach to collect facial data without the individual’s consent? 

With having a constant eye on people’s behavior, location and daily activities digital surveillance has also escalated the ever-debatable notion of inequality and discrimination in India. The process becomes more fatal for the vulnerable group, such as women, children, Muslims and transgenders. No matter what they are easily targeted and hold accountable for things they are have no clue about. Random police arrests and humiliation just because their daily activities or behavior doesn’t fit into the algorithms installed in the machines as an ethical one, is so appalling! Datafication, which is mainly being introduced for better development in society and in organizations, is working in a radically opposite direction. In Democracy Hacked (2018) Martin Moore flagged an alarming message about the surveillance democracy as being a distortion of digital democracy.  


For mass surveillance and datafication of every individual, India’s Adhaar card which is the world’s largest biometric-identity system, serves as the best example. The identity process which was mainly introduced aiming to have better access for the marginalized is ironically making them more marginalized. In the beginning, the card only had the finger-imprint and iris recognition connected with the card bearer. But then the government imposed several other aspects of the individual’s identity to be linked along with the card. Now the problem with the low-income group crawled in as the ration card got linked with Aadhar card, many were denied food due to faulty Aadhar card or technical distortions. Also, the Aaddhar system led to many duplications, which further escalated the loopholes of biometric-surveillance. Such pitfalls may result in identity crisis and chaos.  How hysterically sad this can be; serving in a digital way to the poor who doesn’t even know about what a mobile phone is?  

Image courtesy : Unsplash


 Coming back to the topic of privacy, social media platforms can be rendered as the self-written identity proof by the individual, which you are quite ‘unknowingly’ yet ‘willingly’ providing to get hacked. Unlike the GDPR (general data protection regulation 2016/69) in the EU, a social media account can easily to be tracked in India. No matter how many privacies clause you chose while signing up for a platform, the data does get surveilled! As the uproar with the armers law took a drastic social media turn, the government took down almost more than half of the user accounts. This is an upfront violation the freedom of speech as well the freedom to protest.  


  1. That is a great article! It is a very interesting topic that touches a very important issue about our urban lives and our freedoms within cities, or their lack of. More specifically, this post addresses concerns of public surveillance and privacy, because it is a fact that the last decades we have all witnessed a rise of the numbers of installed CCTVs in urban places, and they are being used by the state police and other private security guards in order to monitor our movements and actions in the urban space. All of the above, and in addition to the emerging use of biometric-identity cards in various countries, rise important questions on the topic of privacy and Democracy.

    The justification for such use of technology is, of course, to protect the society as a whole, but also the individual in particular, from various types of crimes. Nevertheless, there are also concerns about the resulted quality of Democracy and of the citizens’ freedom of speech rights. Moreover, various civic activities like protests, but also whole social groups such as minorities (women and immigrants among others), can be the target of this extensive scrutiny by the official institutions.

    But then we should wonder, what is the CCTV effectiveness in crime investigation? And, above all, what is the people’s opinion for such a technology? According to Ashby (1), the official opinions about their effectiveness are diverse, with the UK government claiming that their use for crime investigations is “vital”, while the Washington, DC, Metropolitan PD claims that their use is “often invaluable”. Interesting to our conversation is the public opinion around that topic, and according to Walter Kille and Maximino (2), a poll from 2013 suggests that “78% of respondents supported the use of surveillance cameras in public spaces”. Nevertheless, by drawing again from Ashby (1), in the academic literature there is a great concern about the effect that CCTVs have in re-establishing the power relationship between the state and the citizen, as well as in creating various societal issues, like the loss of citizens’ privacy and even the marginalization of some groups. What is more, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there have been recorded many official abuses of the CCTV technologies and their captured footage (3).

    As a reaction to this situation of the increased public surveillance was a project called iSee designed and created by the Institute of Applied Autonomy (IAA). Although it is no longer an active project, its case and its metaphors worth mentioning here, as they can shed some light in how digital activism can be practiced by using existing technologies in order to design solutions that address various societal issues such as the right to Democracy, freedom of speech, but also privacy.

    As long as there is no an official website of the organization, we can use info collected from various online resources in order to understand what this project is all about. With that being said, the IAA was founded in 1998, and they defined themselves as an activist group, but also as “a technological, research, and development organization dedicated to the cause of individual and collective self-determination (4). According to John Henry, “they focus on developing tactical technologies in order to assist street activists” (5).

    One of their projects, that is valuable in our conversation here about the public surveillance, is the iSee project, which is an interactive web-based map that shows where are the public cameras in the NY city (6). It was launched on 2001, and it was a platform where the user could go online and add her desired destination, and then, the algorithm of the app would show her the route in the city streets with the less cameras. It also “functioned as a data collection tool” that fostered collective actions of group of users that could gather and share data of the surveillance cameras from their cities and neighborhoods (7). Its potential users could be the average citizen with privacy concerns, but also protesters and “political activists who’d like to post flyers, paint graffiti messages or commit other acts of covert civil disobedience” (6). Although it had started in NY area, it had also been implemented in Manhattan, Amsterdam, and Ljubljana, that is, solely western cities, but we can imagine that it could had been easily transferred in other urban places in the Global South, as the surveillance issue is a global one and affects countries as China and India to name a few.

    Nevertheless, we can claim that the iSee project, on one hand, it was not effective after all if we consider the rising diffusion of the CCTV in our modern cityscapes, and on the other hand, the project, even if it was still active, would had been rendered completely dated because of the emergence of the drone technology which can not be placed on static maps. However, the value of such an attempt within both the design and the activist worlds is undeniable. Indeed, for the former, iSee is an excellent Interaction design example that connects ICTs with “the terms of space with regard to social and cultural as well as material aspects” (Messeter, 2009, p.29). And for the latter, “iSee continues to be a significant touchstone in the evolving conversations around dissent and surveillance” (8) a rather hot topic within both the digital activist groups but also the international development sector.


    1. Ashby, M.P.J. The Value of CCTV Surveillance Cameras as an Investigative Tool: An Empirical Analysis. Eur J Crim Policy Res 23, 441–459 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007.

    2. The effect of CCTV on public safety: Research roundup – The Journalist’s Resource. The Journalist’s Resource. (2014). Retrieved 9 October 2021, from https://journalistsresource.org/politics-and-government/surveillance-cameras-and-crime/.

    3. What’s Wrong With Public Video Surveillance?. American Civil Liberties Union. (2002). Retrieved 8 October 2021, from https://www.aclu.org/other/whats-wrong-public-video-surveillance.

    4. Contestational Robotics – Institute for Applied Autonomy. (n.d.). [Video]. Retrieved 7 October 2021, from https://vimeo.com/6070459.

    5. You Are Here- Institute for Applied Autonomy. (n.d.). [Video]. Retrieved 6 October 2021, from https://vimeo.com/473148.

    6. Baard, E. (2021). Routes of Least Surveillance. WIRED. Retrieved 5 October 2021, from https://www.wired.com/2001/11/routes-of-least-surveillance/.

    7. iSee – The Institute for Applied Autonomy. (n.d.). [Video]. Retrieved 6 October 2021, from https://vimeo.com/6163268.

    8.iSee. 21st Century Digital Art. Retrieved 7 October 2021, from http://www.digiart21.org/art/isee.

    Messeter, J., (2009). Place-Specific Computing: A Place-centric Perspective for Digital Designs. International Journal Of Design, 3(1), pp.29-41.

    Nick Papas
  2. Thank you for raising this very serious reality. Indeed, COVID has seen a rise in sophisticated tracking systems. One can go so far as to question if things have “gotten out of hand”?

    Clodagh Geoghegan

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