Dropping the Pin on Surveillance: Capturing Security Cameras in Geneva

Edgelands is a pop-up institute that creates spaces to explore how the digitalization of urban security is changing the urban social contract. These are spaces to discuss and reflect on the benefits and challenges in the way that digital tools are being used by city governments and private organizations for security purposes.

An instance of such spaces is participatory data interventions that aim to involve citizens in the life-cycle of security and/or surveillance data in cities where we take residency, allowing for a hands-on approach to the discussion of how these data are treated and what is done with them. (See e.g. Decoding Security, Coexistence and Surveillance in Medellín).

“Dropping the Pin on Surveillance” is Edgelands Geneva’s take on participatory data interventions. During ten days, we invite people living in Geneva to co-create a catalog of the location and pictures of security cameras in the city, and to reflect on the potential uses of this catalog in research, policy, and art.

Photo: J.B.R

Introducing the Idea

One of the emergent findings from our work in Geneva so far is that accessing information of existent surveillance technologies, practices, and data is a complex task. A recurring example has been video surveillance cameras. For instance, we have found that there is no clear information about the number or location of cameras recording public spaces, especially those cameras that are owned and operated by private security companies.

The difficulty to access this information raises questions about the relevance of transparency around digital technologies used to provide security. How much information should be easily available? What kind of information should be made available? Should the same standards be held regardless of whether these technologies are owned by public or by private organizations?

Complete lack of information is problematic because one of the basic requirements for meaningful conversations about how the digitalization of security affects our ability to live together is to know about the digital technologies in use, the data that is collected, by whom, and how it is use. If people do not know that one of the trade-offs for their security is to be surveilled (and to what extent they are being surveilled), how can we expect them to hold or express an informed opinion about these practices?

Photo: J.B.R

“Dropping the Pin”

In order to provide an entry point for a conversation around transparency and surveillance technologies in Geneva, and to start filling a gap in the lack of available information, as part of the Festival d'Innovation Ouverte Open Geneva, Edgelands is hosting “Dropping the Pin on Surveillance.”

Video cameras provide an interesting entry point to the broader conversation about the relevance of transparency in the use of digital technologies for security because these are technologies that people can see, and it is relatively easy to understand their functioning and the data they collect. For this reason, during this event we invite people to photograph, geolocate, and register security cameras in Geneva. What happens when we watch what is watching us?

To catalog these cameras, we will test a participatory process that involves residents in the identification and recording of surveillance technologies. The result of this process is an initial map of security cameras in Geneva, a map that is inherently collaborative, and that invites people to see the urban spaces where they move daily with different eyes.

In order to reflect on the learnings of this experience, at the end of “Dropping the Pin in Surveillance” we will host a space to discuss and reflect on 1. the effectiveness of the methodology; and 2. the potential uses of the resulting collection of images. With this space we want to ensure that our methodology remains collaborative, and check its replicability in other cities.

Some applications we envision are:

  • Creative visualizations with the achieved repository.
  • Research on the impact of surveillance cameras.
  • An artistic taxonomy of surveillance cameras as devices that capture human memory.
  • Provide an entry point for further conversations around transparency on video cameras and other surveillance technologies.
  • Start a data set that could potentially be used for impact assessment of surveillance technologies.
  • Contribute to the creation of an open data set that could be used as training data for more automated approaches to video camera cataloguing.

How to Participate:

1. Walk around Geneva and notice security cameras in public spaces
2. Take a picture of a security camera
3. Send us the picture through WhatsApp or Signal to +41 76 782 14 39 *
4. Share with us the location of the camera  

a. WhatsApp
- Tap the ‘+’ in the conversation (on iPhone) or the paperclip icon (on Android)
- Choose "Location"
- Select "Send Your Current Location."  

- Tap the ‘+‘ button at the left-hand side of the conversation,
- Choose “Location”
- Select on the map the precise location of the camera OR tap “Send Your Current Location”  

5. All done!

(Optional) If you would like to, please send us additional details about the camera such as the height at which the camera is installed; whether it is fixed or panning; where it is installed (buildings, public parks, posts); or any other details that you would like to share with us.

You can share with us as many cameras as you want!

We invite people to submit pictures from March 16th to the 26th.

→ Check this link to see the cameras photographed so far.

→ Check the section of comments and suggestions here for an update and to leave any questions or comments!

* We will respect your privacy and delete all chats at the end of the event.

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