Domaine thématique 4

Vie privée, surveillance, sécurité, gouvernance et bien-être collectif


Claude Ngomsi, UN-Habitat

Yuenan Li, University of Ottawa, Canada


Privacy and security have become prominent issues in the 21st century, as rapid technological innovation outpaces our ability to absorb and adapt, while technologies themselves come to dominate many aspects of our lives. Personal data are collected everywhere and shared with those who have an interest. While personal data are tools for confronting new security threats at home and abroad, our sense of privacy is decreasing. The balance between personal privacy and collective security is increasingly important as we are integrating more technology into our lives.

In this digital era, technology is used in almost every sphere of human activity. The adoption of the Smart City concept, intended to deliver more efficient urban services, and a safer and more ecologically balanced city, have technology integrated into city infrastructure, with information being collected and stored in every way possible. This explosive growth of data collection and storage have been heightened with urbanisation and the cities management. As people become more interconnected and populations more concentrated, they are subjected to a deeper level of (in)formal surveillance and control. Such information-gathering may be abused by governments’ or private sectors’ intent on public security and order in cities. While such information technologies may offer valuable tools for effective civic engagement and institutions’ governance, they often infringe on the privacy and freedom of their citizens, ending the door to governments’ intent on authoritarian control or market profiling.

Privacy and security were discussed during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly on Human Rights, which passed the resolution affirming the right to privacy in the digital age. They noted that all individuals, but especially children and women, are vulnerable and may have their privacy violated. It was also recognized that the right to privacy is particularly important for women and children, to prevent gender-based violence, abuse and sexual harassment, cyber-bullying, and cyberstalking. Striking the right balance between building and maintaining technologically advanced cities, while preserving the privacy of their citizens was recently developed in a 2018 article in Sustainable Cities and Society.

Technology will only continue to evolve, and so will its use in cities and governance. Cities will continue to expand, and populations to grow, such that it becomes essential to establish sustainable and durable solutions to preserve citizens' and institutions’ privacies in this increasingly technological world. ICCCASU4 panel discussion is an attempt to devise such solutions to make good use of new information by implementing technology in infrastructures in a way that doesn't menace the wellbeing of citizens around the world.

Sub questions:

  • Why is it important for citizens to protect their personal information at this time? What are some potential risks that citizens could face if their information is not protected
  • Should effective governance be valued above people or institutions’ privacy and security?
  • As technology evolves faster than ever, how can legislation and regulation keep up with new innovations to protect personal data without stifling progress in new technological innovations? Ethical concerns?
  • With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing apps and surveillance tech have been cited as important tools in helping to contain the spread of the virus, but also raise questions about privacy and civil liberties. What will government surveillance look like after COVID-19? Has the crisis changed the way the government and private sectors treat information?
  • Discussions often focus on the negative effects of surveillance, and rightly so, but the same technology can be used to empower communities and make life more democratic for minority groups and vulnerable populations. What sort of framework would need to be in place to ensure this outcome? What roles can CCTV (Close Circuit Television-surveillance camera) and the use of drones play in deterring crime and better managing crowd in COVID 19 prone areas?