The ‘smart city’ movement in Australia is entering a more actionable phase, with an increasing number of local government and private bodies now actively engaged in pilot projects.
The nation’s largest smart city project, Switching on Darwin, has successfully been completed, while other locations such as Perth are now over six months into facial recognition trials.
PERTH: BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
Perth City Council continues to film and track people moving around parts of the city without their knowledge, sparking backlash from local residents and privacy advocates.
In what the council calls a ‘trial’, a network of 30 CCTV cameras with facial recognition technology have been deployed across East Perth. This has quietly gone on for six months now.
The trial began in June of 2019, amid complaints from surrounding communities there has been no proper local consultation since the plans were revealed the year before.
The council hosting the technology was suspended in March 2018 and is subsequently being run by three state government-appointed commissioners.
The trial will extend for another six months, and ‘success’ will be measured by how many times authorities requested the use of the facial recognition capability and how many times a ‘person of interest’ is located. If successful, the council will consider expanding it.
The technology in question scans and stores our facial features as unique data. It is then matched against photos — for example, pictures stored vast biometric databases, which includes drivers licences, passports and those harvested from social media accounts.
The city is currently working on the development and installation of hardware for four key projects of the plan — Smart Precinct, Smart Irrigation, Smart Sustainability and Data Hub.
According to the documents, these measures allow “city authorities to be alerted if someone enters a restricted area”, while also “counting pedestrian foot traffic” and “monitoring motor vehicle traffic”.
While Perth continues ahead in pursuit of their modern smart city vision, other locations have now already started to complete their infrastructure — including Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Darwin City Council, similarly to Perth, have installed a network of hundreds of new devices across the centre of the city last year as part of the ‘#SmartDarwin’ initiative.
The plan is now a record project for smart cities deployments, having the highest budget allocation of $10 million, which includes a $5 million contribution from the Australian government, $2.5 million from the Northern Territory government and $2.5 million from City of Darwin.
The state have now completed their “world-leading smart city”, which includes the addition of 912 new LED lights, 138 new CCTV cameras, 39 new hotspots to extend free WiFi, 24 environmental sensors, smart parking sensors and audio systems in shopping centres.
This web of “smart” lights, environmental sensors and video cameras is designed to give the council more power to monitor and manage urban places — and the people who occupy them.
City of Darwin Lord Mayor, Kon Vatskalis, said completion of the project positioned Darwin as a leader in innovation and systems were being developed to monitor the data recorded:
“A fully integrated dashboard is being developed which will display trends in the data being collected, including temperature, rain and humidity, noise and dust, wind speed and CO2 levels… We have the tools now to better understanding our local environment.”
The Northern Territory government says the new technology is based on similar technologies used in China, according to reports.
Vatskalis, who has links to China, dismissed criticisms as the baseless concerns of “conspiracy theorists” and gave advice to people worried about privacy: “don’t get a licence, give away your credit cards, and get out of Facebook”.
Both Perth and Darwin launched their programs last year without formally notifying the public of the activation, leaving critics concerned for other locations currently being developed in Australia.
THE SMART CITY AGENDA
This will include new mechanisms to monitor and control society with technology, including smart management of infrastructure functions, ground and air sensor devices, CCTV surveillance with facial recognition, ‘sustainable projects’ and more.
A new report from consultancy firm KPNG asked a variety for stakeholders in the smart city domain to provide an update on both overall progression following the end of 2019 and future plans:
Let’s not forget smart city links to recent Australian bushfires, where the proposed development of eight new smart cities and a high-speed train line have been exposed.
In practice, the smart city is very different from the vision and is better understood as the captured city — a model for urban governance, taking the capabilities offered by smart systems and putting them to work for measures of surveillance and control.
Often this includes importing tools and ideas from military intelligence into police departments and extending methods of tyrannical control to the population at large.
The ‘smart city’ vision in Australia is best understood not as a break with older, analogue modes of governing urban space, but as a continuation of the project of displacement, enclosure and control.
As projects continue to expand, we are beginning to see this vision manifest before us — yet most Australians turn a blind eye to the surveillance grid being slowly introduced.
City of Perth to embrace smart technology | City of Perth
Australia’s largest smart city project complete | Infrastructure Magazine
#SmartDarwin – Overview | City of Darwin
Australian Bushfires: A Smart City Conspiracy? | TOTT News
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