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Assessing the impact of Smart Urbanism on the advances in Surveillance/Data-Veillance in the modern day World and the use of Surveillance in the television series ‘'The Wire''.


Surveillance can be described as a form of cultural practice as its embedded within, brought about by and generation of social practices in specific cultural concepts (Monahan, 2011). It involves the use of power in order to produce a surveillance society which will serve to exert social control. Growing advances in smart technologies lead to the surveillance of cities. Surveillance tends to influence everyday life as it causes individuals to take precautionary measures due to its presence as it is able to digitally monitor members of the public. Surveillance can be defined as the systematic monitoring of people or groups in order to regulate or govern their behaviour (Monahan, 2011). Surveillance is necessary for the imposition of Smart Urbanism; it is mainly used to control/prevent crime or to obtain intelligence.

    This essay will assess the impact of Smart Urbanism on the advances in Surveillance/Data-Veillance in the modern day World and also related to ‘'The Wire'' television series. Factors involving the use of data-veillance will also be explored.


The report will proceed as follows, firstly explaining the concept of Smart Urbanism and relating it to Surveillance, then the emergence of Big Data and exploring the concept of data-veillance whilst applying it on a global scale through the relation to global data-veillance programmes such as Upstream Surveillance, PRISM, Stuxnet. Finally the concept of Surveillance will be related to a TV series called ‘'The Wire''.

Smart Urbanism

According to Ron Kitchin (2014), Smart Urbanism refers to the ways in which the infrastructure that cities run upon are increasingly reliant on digital technologies & data. Increasingly many cities in today's world revolve around the concept of ubiquitous computing; which is the belief that everything can be rendered digital and connected as part of a network. Smart Urbanism is all around us and it is evident in terms of how much infrastructure operates in our surrounding. Surveillance is a form of digital technology. Much of the infrastructure around us involves the use of digital technologies; mainly due for their safe-guarding such as housing, banks, bridges, monuments etc. So data and digital technologies prefigure the operation of infrastructure.

Our access to infrastructure increasingly relies on us creating a digital record of ourselves and generating data on our use of it. Due to increased use of digital technologies worldwide, there has been a rise in a new form of data which is termed ‘'Big Data''. The relationship between Smart Urbanism & Big Data is characterised by the four V's of big data: Variety, Veracity, Volume and Velocity. Nowadays the volume of data that is collected is so large, according to Kitchin (2014), ‘'more data are being produced every two days prior to 2003''. The introduction of Smart Urbanism has led to us being able to collect data on a milli-second time scale.

Big Data

Despite the benefits of collecting Big data, the practices & problems of the collection of big data shouldn't be neglected such as surveillance, hacking/precarity and the corporisation of Governance which most likely occur in western countries. Generally, Surveillance is defined as watching over. Surveillance may arise in different forms such as visual, biometric or being based on personal data (Koskela and Mäkinen, 2017). The reasoning of surveillance is to understand people's behaviour in order to be able to manage them effectively. Surveillance is not a recent practice, it has been around for many years, dating back to Ancient Egypt and Rome as even back then, governments recorded citizens. Worldwide the main form of surveillance involves the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV), which became widespread in the late 1940's. CCTV has become an everyday part of our culture, mainly for the uses of traffic regulation and monitoring of crime. It is stated that there are 5.9 million CCTV cameras operating in public spaces across Britain (British Security Industry Association, 2014). Quite frankly, the UK has a ‘maximum surveillance society' (Norris & Armstrong, 1999)

There is also the concept of data-veillance which involves the surveillance of electronic records (data) and is mainly based in the exchange of information via the internet. The increased use of data-veillance is mainly due to the bolstering security measures that were implemented post 9/11 and nowadays data-veillance plays a major role in the prevention of terrorists attacks. This has led to data-veillance becoming a global concept.


As said before Smart-Urbanism refers to the ways in which the infrastructure that cities are run upon are increasingly reliant on digital technologies and data. Smart Urbanism and Surveillance are concepts that are used in the activity of Cyber Warfare. Cyber Warfare are network activities that are developed by state intelligence agencies or international organisations with the aim of infiltrating/destroying another nations organisation computer or information networks through the use of computer viruses, malware etc. The use of Cyber Warfare has risen due to the use of Ubiquitous computing worldwide. A scenario where Cyber Warfare was utilised was in the creation of ‘'Stuxnet''. Stuxnet was a self-replicating computer malware, which had an ability to borrow from computer to computer on its own and was the world's first digital weapon. Stuxnet was developed as part of a covert operation by American and Israeli Intelligence agencies, with the aim of destroying key components of Iran's  nuclear program. Stuxnet was successful in reaching its aims as it resulted in significant damage against Iran's nuclear program, as it was noticed that the centrifuges used to enrich the Uranium gas were failing at an unprecedented rate (Better, 2014). Also involved the crashing and rebooting of several computers within the nuclear facilities. Stuxnet was so technologically advanced that it was able to impose physical destruction on the nuclear equipment that was controlled by the infected computer(s). It took a while for researchers to discover the presence of malicious files in one of the systems. Despite achieving its goal Stuxnet lead to the development of unintended consequences as it resulted in Iran undertaking retaliatory cyber-attacks against US banks and Iran has now strengthened its cyberwar capabilities following the attacks (Zero Day: Nuclear Cyber Sabotage, 2017).

Protective measures are now undertaken by nations/organisation all around the world in order to harness the threat of cyber warfare/hacking such as RAND research which involves providing recommendations to military and civilian decision makers in order to protect them against cyber-attacks on their digital infrastructure (, 2017). It could be evaluated that despite the unintended consequences the development of ‘'Stuxnet'' was beneficial the greater good due to the increasing threat of Iran obtaining/developing a nuclear weapon however despite the damage it caused it can be said that Iran has recovered from the attacks due to the wealth and resources it has/had at hand to be able to rapidly replace the damged nuclear centrifuges.

NSA & Upstream Surveillance, PRISM

Global data-veillance is vastly practiced by the National Security Agency (NSA) which is a United States military intelligence organization. Their role is to collect and analyse communications and intelligence information for the purpose if protecting and preserving US national security. The NSA undertake in an activity termed ‘'Upstream Surveillance, which involves intercepting telephone and internet traffic from the internet backbone as it flows through major internet cables and switches and can also occur on an international scale. The process involves the interception of communications that occur on the internet such as emails, chats and web-browsing traffic.  The communications are collected in bulk. The bulk surveillance involves collecting everyone's data in order to determine which communications contain the information that the NSA seeks and considers as a target.

There is controversy associated with ‘'upstream surveillance. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) regard this process of surveillance controversial as they have identified a single feature of the surveillance process termed, ‘About' surveillance. This is based on the fact that the government is not only obtaining/intercepting communications from its intended targets but also from third parties. Records of the data communications obtained from the third parties are kept rather than erased. From the above reasons, upstream surveillance is considered to be unprecedented & unlawful (Chapman et al., 2016). Up until September 2016, it was estimated that the NSA was targeting more than 94,000 people organizations and groups. The FAA (FISA Amendment Act of 2008) which permits this activity is scheduled to expire in December 2017.The NSA's global surveillance programme(s) we're not made aware to the public up until June 2013, when it was revealed to the public via a leak, that the NSA were collecting the phone records of members of the US public under a highly classified court order. The leak was from a former CIA employee named Edward Snowden; who leaked classified information from the NSA in 2013 without authorization, hence why the US imposed criminal charges against him but he has taken measures to prevent him from being extradited to the US (BBC News, 2013). It was also revealed that the NSA had access to Google and Facebook through another surveillance program called PRISM. PRISM is a surveillance programme implemented by the National Security Agency (NSA) which involved the collection of internet communications from the major US internet companies. PRISM began in 2007 and enabled the NSA to have direct access to the servers of major internet companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter without these companies having any knowledge of the surveillance programme. The internet communications collected included search history, live chats, emails.  

 Upon the exposure of the US surveillance programmes, the government which was the Obama administration at the time preceded to defend the NSA's global surveillance programmes by stating how they are essential to US national security and counterterrorism. Nevertheless benefits could be drawn from the imposition of these global surveillance programmes as President Obama said at the time that ,‘'We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here Germany. So lives have been saved.'' Also a Representative Mike Rogers said, ‘'54 times [the NSA programs] stopped and thwarted terrorism attacks both here and in Europe – saving real lives.'' However, a review by New America about the governments claims the NSA surveillance programmes (involving communications) had on preserving national security and preventing counterterrorism seemed to be overblown and even misleading (Cahall et al., 2014). The investigation led the investigators to believe that methods such as the use of informants and tips provided the necessary framework required for the majority of cases and the NSA's global surveillance programmes were of minimal use. However if it's true that these surveillance programmes served to prevent terrorist attack they were beneficial and  relate back to Smart Urbanism; as the infrastructure that cities run upon are reliant on digital technologies & data in the sense that terrorist attacks were prevented that could have potentially caused a number of deaths and significant damage of infrastructure.

Big Data can become operational for the purpose of surveillance, involving data mining, risk analysis, drone monitoring, target marketing, retro-active surveillance. Big Data has also been used in the electoral field. In 2016 prior to the US general collection, Republican Presidential candidate and now US President, Donald Trump paid 5 million USD to hire the use of Cambridge Analytica who combine data analysis and data mining in order to target individuals who might vote for him.

Use of Surveillance in ‘'The Wire'' TV series

An American crime television series called, ‘'The Wire'' involved the theme of surveillance throughout its duration. The Wire depicted the real-life underground drug trade that occurs in the city of Baltimore including its high murder rate and poverty among the African-American community. In all seasons electronic surveillance measures were taken involving the use of wiretaps under court approved orders, except is season 5 where an illegal wiretap was used. Throughout all 5 seasons surveillance in the form of camera shots capturing illegal drug trade were taken. Central to the show and shown in the opening credits is the destruction of a surveillance camera by a character named ‘'Bodie'' who threw a rock at a surveillance camera. This scene gave the impression that those involved in the illegal drug trade in the show who undertake all kinds of measures in the hope of not being caught/monitored via surveillance such as the use of disposable cell phones aka ‘'burner phones'' in the 3rd season, the use of coded messages to arrange meetings in the 5th season and the preference by characters to meet face-to-face rather than other a network.

The 1st season involved the Barksdale organisation, which was ran by drug kingpin, Avon Barksdale and close associate Russell Bell aka ‘'Stringer Bell''. Within the organization were high ranking officials such as Wee-Bey, Stinkum who served as ‘'muscle'' and various street level dealers such as Bodie, Poot, Wallace. Initially there was no investigation against the Barksdale organisation but in the 1st episode of the season there was a murder trial involving D'Angelo Barksdale (nephew of Avon). It was evident that the Barksdale organization was able to use its influence in order to make a witness change her story in order to prevent D'Angelo from being sentenced. This is what made the main character, James McNulty to meet with a judge and propose for an investigation against the Barksdale crew, after which a detail was created in order to investigate the Barksdale organization. Due to the long duration in order to obtain significant evidence in order to create a criminal charge, various low level street arrests and pressure from higher ranking police officials to end the investigation. The detail then began using electronic surveillance through the use of wiretaps and cloned pagers. Upon the arrest and disappearance of Wallace and a failed sting operation, the Barksdale crew became aware that they were being investigated causing them to not use nearby pay-phones based on the assumption that they were being monitored. Upon the orders of Stringer Bell, Wallace was murdered by Poot and Bodie. Throughout the series before listening to a wiretap, visual confirmation needed to be obtained and only pertinent calls were to be monitored. The detail obtained enough evidence to arrest Avon on a distribution to intent charge and Wee-Bey on murder charge(s). Unable to obtain a charge against Stringer Bell, he was left to run the organization into the later seasons. Prior to the arrests being made, throughout season 1 the detail involved chasing the paper trail which was orchestrated by Lester Freamon with the belief that following the money rather than the drugs is better as you don't know where it takes you. Chasing the paper trail involved obtaining the names of front companies, LLC's owned by Barksdale under the company name of B&B Enterprises, once these are obtained the corporate charter papers of other front companies were then identifies by searching for appearance of Maurice Levy (Barksdales' Attorney) on these papers. All these measures used to impose charges against the Barksdale organisation.


Throughout this essay the impact surveillance has on today's world has been assesses, mainly due to the exploration of the global data-veillance programmes, based on the fact that before a leak the public remained unaware of being monitored over the internet and the ability of data-veillance to influence elections. So Surveillance seems very controversial due to the privacy concerns as it involves the infringement of one's personal space and agencies being able to do so with unwarranted access. Nevertheless if it is true that the use of the global data-veillance programmes served as effective counterterrorism measures they may not seem unlawful in some aspects but rather beneficial. Another disadvantage of these programmes is the collection of third party data rather than just obtaining target data. There are other advantages associated with having a surveillance society such as the perception of an enhanced sense of safety by law abiding citizens where surveillance systems exist and would-be criminals perceiving a greater risk knowing surveillance systems are present (Pro-Vigil, 2016).

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