Surveillance and privacy in smart cities and living labs: Conceptualising privacy for public space

Maša Galič

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Smart city and living lab initiatives, generally referring to the extensive embedding of software-enabled technologies into urban environments, have become an almost obligatory feature of any city (or town) in the developed world, including Europe. The Netherlands is no exception and can be described as a country fully committed to smart city and living lab projects. In the Stratumseind Living Lab in Eindhoven, for instance, one finds sound sensors and video cameras with embedded capabilities (such as people counting, detection of mood and walking patterns) for the purpose of detection of ‘escalated’ behaviour, as well as lamp-posts fitted with special lighting technology intended to affect the behaviour of passers-by. It is thus becoming increasingly difficult to walk the streets of a Dutch city (large or small) without being monitored, tracked and sometimes acted upon through a variety of sophisticated digital technologies. Surveillance conducted through such digital technologies clearly impacts persons’ possibilities of achieving privacy in public space, subjecting them to levels of intensified scrutiny, as increased aspects of their daily lives are captured as data. While surveillance in itself is neither good nor bad (it can be done both for the purpose of caring and controlling), it is also not neutral. This is a judgment value, which is very much dependent on the context and manner in which surveillance is deployed. Given the scale and often brash application within smart cities and living labs today, it is important to scrutinise this non-neutral application of surveillance.

In this interdisciplinary dissertation I have examined issues of surveillance and privacy in public space in the context of smart cities and living labs, from a variety of perspectives, including surveillance studies, privacy theory, urban geography, political theory and human rights. Furthermore, I have tested the insights from these theoretical perspectives on a concrete example – the Stratumseind Living Lab. I have concluded that considering privacy concerns stemming from such smart city-type of surveillance only through the lens of data protection law or data security is insufficient. Instead, I have shown that privacy issues are much broader and more diverse than issues relating to personal data. Not least because privacy should be seen as consisting of several types (including associational, behavioural and bodily privacy, over which lies a layer of data privacy) but also because smart cities and living labs shape the public space of cities and citizens’ behaviour there, having broader social and political consequences. Privacy is namely a part of a package of intertwined fundamental rights that guarantees not only our individual but also social and political emancipation. The smart city debate and regulation – at least one that takes privacy seriously – should thus adopt a broader approach to the matter, exploring how privacy in public space can and should be thought of so as to also address the social and political significance of public places. This approach led me to the conceptualisation of ‘privacy for public space’, which can serve as groundwork for further normative analyses of how the right to privacy applies or should apply in various public spaces.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Laws
Awarding Institution
  • Tilburg University
  • Koops, Bert-Jaap, Promotor
  • Kosta, Eleni, Promotor
Award date19 Nov 2019
Place of PublicationRotterdam
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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