Social Lab Mi Sangre

The “social lab” is Mi Sangre Foundation’s methodology for creating an ecosystem of transformation that relies on collaboration and capacity as modes of interrogation. In We Are Recording You Social Lab, we met with different community stakeholders to discuss and critique themes of security and surveillance and reimagine Medellín’s social contracts (the social dynamics and power between citizens and authority) that function between Medellín’s government and citizens. The discussions brought public servants, business owners, representatives of the city’s public transit system, representatives of the cultural sector, and youth advocates together in conversation. When these conversations and other pop-up activities that were organized by Edgelands in Medellín began, I had originally conceived of technology as being very distant from security and hadn’t understood how these two concepts could intersect. For this reason, in We Are Recording You Social Lab, we reimagined an urban social contract that prioritized conversation on the digitalization of urban security.

These reflections are based on a multistage process contained in Theory U developed by Senge and Scharmer (2007), which is used to offer new points of view and notions about a particular phenomenon. This process makes it possible to abandon the prejudices that are carried and to open up to the possibility of changes in the ways of looking at and conceiving these phenomena of interest.

In this case, an open invitation was made to all citizens to participate in this process, in order to have a view that transcends disciplines, socioeconomic conditions, ages, and other personal characteristics. In short, from many individual views on the problem, which are also transformed during each of the meetings held, a holistic understanding is reached, in this case, of the effects that the digitization of security has on the social contract of the inhabitants of Medellin. The final result is a document that collects, but does not exhaust, the contributions of all those attending the meeting.

In the first meeting, the members of this process got to know each other, stated their conceptions, fears and hopes regarding the rise of new digital tools and their role in the field of security. This allowed them to recognize themselves as individuals with a valid position, but also to recognize their interlocutors as equals, who, although they have different opinions, can also be heard and with whom new positions and consensus can be built.

In the second meeting, the participants learned about the system in which the process of digitization of security is framed, and through a playful exercise they identified the most relevant institutional and non-institutional actors, their position within the system, their points of contact and tensions. The conclusion of this collective exercise is the performative creation of society, built collectively and identifying the potentialities and risks involved in the introduction of new technologies in it. In other words, we move from the individual position of the first meeting to a more integrative position.

The third meeting consisted of a case observation in which the materialization of the phenomenon of interest was evidenced. In this case, the Integrated Emergency System of Medellin (SIES-M) was visited, a place that houses the emergency call reception system as well as the city's camera surveillance system. Being there allowed contrasting the positions and visions of the digitalization of security that were built in the two meetings with their real applications, this offers greater strength to some of the conclusions reached by the participants, but also opens the way to new questions and views that may not have been considered at the beginning of this process.

This journey of enunciation, unloading, representation and observation leads naturally to the fourth meeting, dedicated to the reflection of what was experienced. Here the participants arrived with a basic question that served to carry out a much broader discussion: How much of my privacy and individual freedom am I willing to sacrifice for security and the common good? Through an exercise of full presence and playful co-creation, this and other related aspects were discussed, from which the most relevant aspects were collected and the conclusions reached jointly.

This was translated into a written document, called the "martyr document" because in a final meeting the participants had the opportunity to read it, review it, underline it, reconstruct some of the parts with which they did not fully agree and add other aspects that might have been omitted.

The last version, which does not intend to exhaust the discussion on the object of study, brings together all the voices of the participants, without any of them having preponderance over others. Here we develop the most significant reflections generated in the process about the effects that the digitalization of security has on the social contract of the people of Medellin. These reflections, in a very general way, can be summarized in two sentences:

A fragment of a song by Jorge Drexler: "The machine is made by man, and it is what man does with it",

A phrase from the poet and literary critic Jorge Gaitán Durán:

"Every aesthetic [social in this case] edifice rests on an ethical project. Failures in vital conduct corrupt the possibilities of creative [social] conduct".

In this exercise of citizen construction, no one questioned the usefulness of the digitalization of security, materialized in the location of cameras or in the implementation of Big Data and Machine Learning tools, in the prevention and containment of crime. These tools have proven to be effective as a method of protection, as they deter potential criminals, record criminal acts and "can serve as evidentiary material in case of injustice or abuse"

"One should not be afraid of being recorded if one can contribute to an effective consolidation of Citizen Security".

Discussions around the digitization of security take another turn, shifting from the question of the usefulness of technologies to the question of their necessity or purpose. The "Why?" and "What for?" of digitization refers to a whole conversation about principles in which participants rescued some such as trust, compassion and ethics. The latter was mentioned in five of the conclusion documents made at the end of the full presence activity (fourth meeting). Some of the mentions were:

• That the data collected can go hand in hand not only with security but also with the construction of an ethical society.

• The Public Administration should govern its actions based on ethics and respect for the other, leaving aside mercantile and performative interests.

• Cameras and surveillance with professional ethics.

• The tool without ethical criteria does not solve.

Based on this statement: "Tools per se are not good or bad. The use given to them is what is relevant, here the ethical use and handling of information and data is useful to prevent possible damage", we can formulate the following thesis or slogan from which other ramifications can be derived:

It is necessary to establish a protocol that guarantees ethics in the use of technological tools.

In the first place, it is important to arrive at a basic definition of ethical guidelines in digital environments. The need to orient them towards the type of society we need or imagine was highlighted. In this case, a desirable approach may be the one adopted in South Korea, which can be summarized in four principles:

1) responsibility of users to regulate usage, 2) responsibility to assess the negative social impact of AI and robots on providers, 3) responsibility of developers to eliminate bias and discriminatory features in AI, and 4) calls to develop AI and robots that do not have "anti-social" features. Overall, most policies and ethical principles in South Korea emphasize balancing the protection of "human dignity" and the "common good," and reaffirm the idea that these are "tools intended to protect human dignity and promote the common social good. "

The participants' interventions and agreements were closely related to, but not directly influenced by, the paragraph above. It is therefore concluded that public policies aimed at the digitization of security should be built on the basis of protocols or action guidelines that guarantee, among other things, the following points:

• Transparency in the use of the information collected: the information must be used for the intended purposes, the prevention and containment of criminal acts and to guarantee Human Rights. In addition, citizens have the right to know what is being done with their information.

• Interconnectivity between the institutions that collect information: in order to guarantee greater efficiency in the prevention and containment of criminal acts or other problems, these institutions must have prior and solid criteria for analysis and execution. This also implies seeking a balance between excessive centralization and decentralization of the information collected.

• Educational component of officials: those who use technological tools must be trained in the ethical and legal limits of citizen surveillance.

• Citizen training in technologies: it is essential that citizens can form a criterion with respect to these technologies and that they can be critical of their use.

• Do not use them to limit citizens' exercise of their right to the city: no one should feel coerced to act in a way that is different from what they think. Technological tools such as cameras should not be used to dissuade people from carrying out acts such as marches and citizen demonstrations.

It is also important to highlight, as mentioned by philosopher and EAFIT University professor Jonathan Echeverri Álvarez in a recent discussion on ethics in digital environments, that this protocol cannot remain merely a code of ethics with no observable effects. A great challenge is to turn it into a cultural issue whose effects translate into changes in conduct and behavior on the part of institutional agents and citizens in general.

The principle of the social contract generally implies the renunciation of certain individual freedoms, under the guarantee of the State's safeguarding of personal integrity and private property. Therefore, when security or protection against crime is limited to the imposition of limitations on individual autonomy, the relationship between the State and the citizenry is fragmented and threatened. A properly applied ethical protocol would serve to rebuild this relationship and would give way to the second slogan:

"The opposite of security is not insecurity, but distrust."

The word trust was mentioned eight times by the participants of the full presence meeting; therefore, it emerges as the most important condition for a guarantee of respect for the social contract in times of digitalization of security. An ethical protocol in the use of technologies is a first step in rebuilding trust, which in some cases has been shattered. This is reflected in the conclusion of one of the participants: "Achieving the trust of the citizenry in the camera, where the good use depends on the human team behind it."

One of the most creative ways, and in line with citizen participation, suggested to strengthen trust in institutions is to promote "The possibility for users to participate in the diagnosis and solutions can help to have greater confidence in digital decisions." This refers in turn to the concept of security as a collective construction and again to the need for an ethical protocol for handling these digital tools.

Thirdly, the need for a more comprehensive definition of security that transcends mere crime containment is another of the most relevant theses identified by those attending this space for co-creation and full presence. Security in the 21st century and in the face of the rise of digital tools cannot continue to be understood only as guaranteeing the absence of crime or punishment of possible offenders. There are other dimensions that must enter the public agenda and that in turn precede (and condition) the entire discussion on the digitization of security and the social contract. So the slogan arrived at by the participants is:

It is necessary to humanize the concept of security

One category mentioned in one of the conclusion sheets is Human Security. This concept was developed by the United Nations in the 1980s and sought to shift the focus from the protection of nation states to the protection of individuals, with an understanding of protection closely linked to the notions of human development.

According to this approach, there are seven dimensions of security that must be guaranteed by the State to its citizens: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, political; and sometimes an eighth dimension is considered: security for women. One of the interventions in the full presence meeting mentioned the following:

"One cannot speak of sophisticated digital security mechanisms in the city (its centralities) when on the hillsides or peripheries, simpler services to be solved are not satisfied."

It is then evident the need to ensure other dimensions of security such as economic and communities in this case, prior to a discussion on the desirability of a digitization of security or its analysis. Another more comprehensive vision is reflected in the following conclusion of a participant:

"Security is not only related or defined from surveillance and control, it is important to bring it closer to coexistence, trust and the guarantee of fundamental rights for the dignified life and territorial development of communities."

As if weaving a fabric, the above paragraph interweaves the guiding principles of the three slogans mentioned: a new notion of security, trust and ethics. The interweaving of these results in a focus on guaranteeing Human Rights, as well as prioritizing higher levels of community development. But not only that, a fourth and very important slogan about the role played by technologies in society is also highlighted, which can be stated as follows:

Coexistence is another form of security.

Therefore, it is necessary that digital tools, in addition to containing the occurrence of criminal acts, based on an ethical protocol already mentioned, also guarantee, among other things, new ways of coexisting, of "recognizing each other in diversity to harmonize coexistence based on singularities" and also generate a greater appropriation of public spaces by citizens. "Coexistence is the key to security, it is necessary to recover trust. Security is a guarantee of rights."

In the last meeting, in which the participants critically read the text that included the collective construction, recommendations and adjustments were made that were included in this final version. In addition, a new slogan emerged that had not been previously included:

Security does not depend so much on the citizen as on the institutions.

Security, in addition to being a collective construction, is a process of co-responsibility in which each individual is responsible for making other citizens feel safe and integrated in a process of building coexistence. However, the main responsible for security policies, crime prevention and ensuring that the technological tools used to contain crime are used under an ethical protocol is the State.

It is clear that there is no discussion about the usefulness of technological tools applied to security. The most valuable discussion revolves around the relationship of trust between citizens and the State, the notions of security, the strengthening of coexistence, ethical guarantees in the use of these tools and the notion of co-responsibility. One of the conclusions that synthesizes all this could be:

"The cameras/technology are a policy support; they are not the main tool, and, therefore require accompanying policies that promote human security, coexistence and socioeconomic development. Those have to be the main efforts."

Finally, given the multitude of voices contained in this exercise, some as yet unanswered questions arise that are as necessary as slogans, to fully understand the effects of the digitization of security on the social contract. Some of these are:

• Within a protocol for the use and creation of technological tools, can respect for the private sphere of users' lives be contemplated?

• What is the most effective way to raise awareness of data use policy and protocols, taking into account that the way it is reported and promoted is not conspicuous and counterproductive?

• What is the profit transaction between the use and sale of data, 

• If I am the owner of my data, can I decide whether it is sold or not?

And perhaps, most importantly, who should answer these questions?

edgelands blog


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