Surveillance in the Networked City

Below is my Senior Thesis. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


  • Introduction
  • History of Surveillance
  • Theories of Place
  • Mobile Data
  • The Built Environment
  • Mediated Cities: Foursquare
  • Mechanism of Surveillance: Fusion Centers
  • Conclusion
  • Epilogue
  • Bibliography


When heading to school each morning, I take out my subway card and swipe it through the turnstile machine. Sometimes, it reads, “Swipe again,” if my card did not scan correctly, and I anxiously swipe again into the machine until it finally reads GO. I head further down the stairs, deeper underground, and wait for the train. The clock in the platform reads out the remaining minutes for the next train. Soon the train arrives, the doors open, and I mechanically walk through and search for a seat during the crowded morning commute.

This is the ubiquitous city.[1] The heavy mediation of technology within the ordinary functions of my life; a permeation so strongly embedded, that it makes my movements appear natural, and independent from external technologies. With the swipe of a card, I have not only become a person heading to school for the day, but have also become a marker of information stored away in the city’s Automated Fare Collection Database for the MTA, which keeps information on lost, stolen or revoked subway cards (Weiser 1-2). With the aid of ubiquitous computing, new media is collecting and data mining my information as I move throughout the city. While I become used to outputting my data into the “digital network” through these means, I am not aware of being surveilled, and as a result I am vulnerable.

No longer are my relationships within the city merely tangible movements, but also my actions are constantly being monitored. The “everywhere city” are the traffic lights, subway cards, and cameras; all are mobile media, which municipal governments use to watch and govern me. The reconstruction of surveillance in cities is occurring constantly from the subway card which monitors me from the moment I use my credit card to purchase it–to my smart phone, that picks up my data as I browse the Internet, send and receive messages and phone calls.


In this paper I will analyze and construct the power of surveillance in cities by studying the history of surveillance and the symbolic meaning that it had in the structure of developed societies following the events of 9/11. I will then move on to define digital networks and how this creates an electromagnetic climate known as Hertzian Space through cell phones and social media producing an infrastructure that is based on Anderson’s “imagined communities” where communities such as the nation are socially constructed through the imagination of its members. From there I will analyze how mobile our data have become, and how as a result of advancements in technology we are no longer confined by geographical space. This new space constructs the built environment, which guides our actual movements through constructed environments for the visitors and residents to traverse. The next section will explain the physical infrastructure that provides people various access points in cities through subway cards, and mobile phones. Making our movements not only tangible places of interaction but mobile sites. I’ll introduce a case study of Foursquare, a geo social-networking site that allows users to track the movements of others in cities via their cell phones. As a result the consequences of heavy surveillance in a post 9/11 world has led to the creation of Fusion Centers, ubiquitous government control through infringing upon privacy.

Privacy[2] has been altered, and it is fascinating that people are not more concerned about their lack of privacy due to the ubiquity of surveillance. The convenience to being part of the networked city is to concede privacy.  Being conscious of a camera in a public space or of the data that we output on our cell phones illustrates the omnipresent transformation that is occurring within this surveillance heavy society. We can no longer tell what makes up our private and public lives if we are unaware of who is watching us. The shift comes with deep-seated; “everywhere” technologies that are shaping cities whose environments are heavily censored within the frameworks of its own structure. Each transaction in the city becomes a negotiation. The constant eye, the ever-present camera, has a heavy impact on how we interact and negotiate our existence. Now the implications of the “everywhere city” are a new challenge to the individual who knows that s/he is acting with the scrutiny of the city who mediates s/he actions to unknown agents.

The information about our movements throughout a city, whether it is on social media sites or created through the imprints that we leave through subway cards and cell phones are not just an record of ourselves but a collection of information that governments, corporations and even our peers can use to analyze our lives. There is a willingness to give up personal data into the digital network through mobile media, such as Foursquare. Thus, in the built environment ubiquitous computing allows for perpetual, invisible surveillance by government and commercial actors.


A Short History of Surveillance

Surveillance is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, there has been an effort to control the public by watching it, from the earliest forms of the confessional during the medieval ages as a function of the Catholic Church to the uses of newspapers serving as watchdogs for the government.[3] More recently this eye was also included in the logo of Admiral Point Dexter’s proposal for a Total Information Awareness Act as seen below.

Fig. 1. Department of Defense, logo, Information Awareness Office 4 December 2002

This section will analyze the transformation of surveillance by studying the symbolic power of the eye and the creation of Bentham’s panopticon. It will also examine why Bentham’s panopticon results in a heavily censored society whose power of surveillance and sousveillance has disappeared into the folds of its structure.

Looking at the construction of the United States, the Founding Fathers clearly believed in the power of surveillance. That is evident on the dollar bill, which displays “the eye of providence”: an omniscient eye, which can be traced to the “Eye of Horus” in Egyptian Mythology and to the Buddhists “Eye of the World” (Levin 26). The power of the eye comes from its surveillance, which is fundamental to any structure of society or religion. The eye became less of a human organ and more of a power tool…resulting in a “ubiquitous eye, figured as a multiple symbol for new forms of perception and, from the aspect of aesthetic reception, made it sensitive to new realities” (Levin 26). Once the eye was separated from the body’s fallacies, it could exude authority like the omnipotent sun, with the ability to be seen by all as well as, seeing everyone and everything. Seeing has always been an instrument of control, because it opens up multiple opportunities for the watcher to gain control of the watched. The eye’s power of control can manipulate an individual into behaving in a certain way only if s/he knows that s/he is being watched. It is no wonder that our most successful and longstanding institutions have an appreciation of the eye because of its ability to influence their communities to act according to their bylaws as a result of the power of surveillance.

In 1787, English scholar Jeremy Bentham invented the panopticon, a solution for a new type of prison (Bentham 3-29). The panopticon is a cylindrical building, with the cells arranged around a central watchtower; surveillance was not conducted outside of the building but originated from inside the structure. Bentham’s new structure was “ a perfect machinery of surveillance with all its moralizing implications of imprisonment aimed at self control by the internalization of foreign perception” (Levin 27). Bentham successfully created a structure that transformed the power of the eye from an external watchdog to an internal one. This revolutionary structure, originally created for prisons is a paradigm shift of how pervasive the monitoring of our behavior in society has become because of its internalization.  The surveillance of a society is no longer just the weekly visit to your Church confessional or a reminder on a dollar bill. Surveillance has become ubiquitous, and integrated within our environments. Foucault aptly describes constructed environments as “the material reorganization of space, life practices, values and discourses” these built places enable us to practice liberty (Foucault 134). But with Bentham’s panopticon, it is impossible to practice liberty if all the forces of control are internalized because liberty is the ability to act without control. One cannot act with liberty if the control is internalized and impossible to ignore.


When Bentham created the panopticon he hoped that it would make society transparent so that criminal activities and violence would be non-existent as a result of internalized surveillance. Now we are under sousveillance, [4] the peer surveillance of one another. The Post 9/11 world attests to heavy internalized surveillance from the heightened security measures in airports to the Patriot Act, which legalizes “roving surveillance, foreign student monitoring and cyber security forensic capabilities” (Levin 151-152). People have allowed these discriminations to their liberty, this constant watching, in order to feel secure. The ability to monitor e-mails, telephone calls is a step towards Bentham’s panopticon because they internalize surveillance. As one radio announcer commented in the aftermath of 9/11….”we are all policemen now”(Levin 153). Consequently we have given up our privacy for convenience and security.

Theories of Place

Theories of Place are more sophisticated due to ubiquitous computing which allows for the expansion of technology into the geospatial commons. The prevalence of technology in our constructed environments has resulted in the creation of so called Hertzian Space. Hertzian Space is a “physical space in the electromagnetic spectrum that electronic objects influence and manipulate” (Scott 2). Objects that compute data are ubiquitous and are manifested in subway cards, ID cards, and anything that has a screen (cell phones, iPads, iPods, lap tops) are all transmitters of Hertzian space because they create an electronic atmosphere that is not tangible. This space gives access to the digital network a mobile environment, which transfers data information between people. They are the new interface between humans. It seems as if the digital has just become natural within our very organic and human interactions. Our hand-held’s, cell phones, iPods, iPads, metro cards, ID cards have become so natural and essential within the streets of New York. Resembling something of a third arm or finger or hand that is our bridge into Hertzian Space. Marshall McLuhan’s idea of Media in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man his famous message of the “medium is the message” demonstrates the need to study the mediums in which we communicate. Hertzian Space is a new message brought about in the digital age. This new medium is redefining space as well as our interactions within it.

Hertzian Space personalizes interactions and immaterializes how we express and observe one another. Now a tangible interaction is not a physical reality but tangibility can also mean an experience that is recorded and remembered on a digital platform. Our experiences of Hertzian space are in “a completely non-phenomenological sense-electromagnetic waves which surround us constantly…they are mediated by objects that we use to explore it” (Scott 3). This recreation of a space, where the human and the device are intricately connected brings into question what is private and public. What new liberties and restrictions are created in this new “non-space”?

Hertzian Space has become more mobile with cell phones which allows users to “enter the non-space of its interface–and that non-space is identical whether your laptop is sitting primarily atop your desk at work, teetering atop your knees” (Greenfield 72). It is fascinating that Greenfield refers to Hertzian Space as “non-space’ because this space negates the tangible space of interactions which immediately envelops us by not making us aware of our physical surroundings. As a result the way that we interact with one another is fundamentally altered, because “interaction is intimately connected with the settings in which it occurs”(Greenfield 72).  The use of technology via Hertzian Space has “becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen” (Shirky 68). This ubiquitous computing is so entrenched that people’s unrestrained actions and data input into its network illustrates the power that they hold. Are we being liberated through this new avenue of space? It is comforting to know that one has access to information at any time, but the issue now is are you the only one who has access to your private information? What are the consequences of having this public and unprotected space? The result is of places that can now be replicated, copied, and moved over large distances through digital space.

The authenticity of place is losing its originality with the ease that it is being recreated, reinterpreted through digital media. Within the Internet, time and space are being compressed into a virtual world, which is becoming the new public space. Although the public sphere can be getting more privatized and personalized on the Internet with simple handheld devices and personalized social media. In Lucy Lippards, The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society she discusses the dilemmas people are facing due to living within a multi-centered world. Lippard states “we are living today on a threshold between a history of alienated displacement from and a longing for a home and the possibility of a multi-centered society that understands the reciprocal relationship between the two” (Lippard 33). Finding a locality on these digital spheres of space that can make bridges through physical space revolutionizes space because a common area in nature is a space “that acts in a roughly uniform manner” creating a persons “genuine sense of place” (Lippard 33). Digital social media is transforming the locality of peoples places…their homes…their social circles. Now people’s networks can be transported with them, to abstract and mobile places within this age of supermodernity.

The mobile nature of place allows for multiple and different audiences to regard peoples localities and their interactions within their networks.  Augé notes that supermodernity within,

the habitué of supermarkets, slot machines and credit cards communicates wordlessly through gestures with an abstract unmediated commerce; a world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary, and ephemeral, offers the anthropologist (and others) a new object, whose unprecedented dimensions might usefully be measured before we start wondering to what sort of gaze it may be amenable (Augé, 78).

The experience throughout the built environment is heavily mediated and personalized. But is it really personalized? When data is given away so easily it no longer becomes personal. Its attributes and preferences are victim to a gaze other than our own. The consequence of having our information so mobile is that this information tracks and monitors daily rituals and most importantly spending habits.

These digital spaces whose mobile nature seems to be “localized” have all the power and magnetisms of Anderson’s “imagined communities” where a community is socially constructed…imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of the group. The new players in these communities are the objects that perceive us in this new digital environment. Just as we follow the stop-and-go signs as we cross streets in the city, imagining ourselves as a node of the larger community, our cell phones have created novel spaces of communal thought, which has personalized our experiences. Mobile spaces have liberated people from the here and how of time and space, effectively localizing place for them into a portable item.


Mobile Data

Mobile Data appears to be more liberating because it releases people from their geo-locales when in reality it imprisons them within their data. This section explains the physical infrastructure of the city that allows people to access the networked city. Articulating how the pervasiveness of this infrastructure makes us internalize the digital network so that it is barely noticeable. Now with technology becoming mobile within cities through traffic lights, security cameras, automatic doors, and my favorite example: subway cards, the architects of space are not only the masons, construction workers, and city planners, but software developers. Architects of technology have essentially morphed into arbitrary rulers of space.

New Social Media with its accessibility to mobile devices and personal access to people’s information is creating a new digital locality for society that is liberating them from their physical location yet subconsciously alienating them as well. People’s conception of place has effectively gone mobile with their data becoming ubiquitous and prevalent everywhere they go. Place has been commoditized and mobilized with information becoming procurable and as a result society must understand how this new relationship can be detrimental, because such easy access to this plethora of information can lead to a misuse of peoples localities.

In today’s digital sentient cities we must be aware that technology is not something that is kept within labs for scientists and technicians to manipulate but is a common event occurring and interacting within our daily lives more so than we are aware of. Technology has become as sophisticated and intricate as the functions of our own bodies. Programs such as the EZ Pass an electronic toll-system, which allows for people with cards to pay electronically without the hassle of having to pay cash whenever there is a toll. EZ Pass works with a RFID transponder that scans for a signal by the broadcast reader as the car passes through the toll (EZ Pass: New Jersey Customer Service Panel). As well as security tags which are attached to clothes in stores, which use “SelectaDNA or Smartware—a forensic fluid which contains millions of tiny fragments of a unique number called ‘SIN’ (E-Z Pass: New Jersey Customer Service Panel).  The SIN number is entered into a police database that keeps track of these numbers. These numbers that are embedded in merchandise and in cars are a clear indication that we are no longer dealing with electronics that are easy to see and manipulate, and as these devices improve, we should understand that “the most profound technologies are those that disappear” (Greenfield 26).

Studying the futuristic urban metropolis of Hong Kong who’s groundbreaking “Octopus Card” perfectly demonstrates ubiquitous computing within the built environment. With the simple use of one card, a person in Hong Kong can ride the subway, recharge their cell phones, and charge meals to their metro card. This simple metro card is an illustration of how our daily actions can be recorded and interpreted within a digital mobile device. Our imprints are not just only on the subway card that we use to pass through a subway turnstile but also, on our mobile phones, which track our movements throughout cities through RFID,[5] chips and triangulation[6]. Consequently, information and the footprints of ones behavior are not always performed within a physical public setting but are conducted on seemingly private hand held devices.

The scanning of our subway cards is not the only indicator of movement through the city, but the tracking of cell phones is another symptom of ubiquitous computing. With this ubiquity of tracking in a city, there is less of a realization of my monitored actions. I am not as conscious of my monitored actions through a city when I turn on my phone.  Not aware that the networks and signals, which allow me to make and receive phone calls, are also using multilateration[7], which is calculating my present location at the same time. Therefore cities are still heavily mediated but now these mediations through cell phones and subway cards, objects whose sentient nature through codes and RFID chips have become tools of surveillance as well as markers of movement.


Fig. 2 Enoch Lau, photo, Mass Transit Railway 3 January 2006.

The transformation of the private and unrecorded spheres of our lives is being infringed upon by technology. Our sense of privacy as we have understood it may become a thing of the past. We have exchanged intimate details of our lives in return for convenience and simplicity. What are the consequences of having a machine data mine our information as we move throughout a city? In the sentient city, the ability to move throughout all the many spaces has been solved with devices that have become the new negotiators of our movements.

During my visit to Hong Kong, I used my Octopus Card with unrestrained abandon, from swiping it through buses and subways turnstiles, as well as in McDonalds, and Starbucks. I loved having my money so centralized and it was amazing to be able to recharge my subway card while grabbing a meal in McDonalds instead of having to always do it at a subway station. Technology through this mobile card had effectively killed to birds with one stone, thereby making my life more efficient. This new facility of getting around the city came at a price…now the Chinese government, McDonalds, and Starbucks knew my meal preferences at McDonalds, how I liked my coffee, even the kind of soda that I drank. The mediation of the city through technology made me vulnerable to governments and corporations whose accessibility made me naively feel more liberated.

I once had my metro-card stolen, and what was amazing was that I had the stolen card deactivated so that whoever had it could no longer use it. As effortlessly as I had the old one invalidated I was reimbursed with a new card that had all the information of my old card.  My information, which had been saved, protected me from theft with minimal inconvenience. I become the watcher instead of the watched, this was the first time that I realized how easily technology has come to monitor me.

All this information, which is being recorded and stored away, is undoubtedly, of considerable value. The city of Hong Kong through the Octopus Card has access to peoples’ whereabouts, what they buy, and maybe even whom they are with. The city has clearly become a place of surveillance, where the real life footprints of the individual can be watched. What people should be concerned about is what happens to this information, which is stored away for convenience.  Who controls that information? Who has access to it besides us? What can be done with this information? Is the data accurate? The power no longer stands with the people who express, them but the ones who watch within these new spaces of interaction.

The prevalence of digital technologies is creating a challenge for the public sphere because it watches the unfettered actions of individuals.  The public sphere is defined as a place “in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political actions” (Hauser 86). It is impossible to have a public sphere on the Internet if the actions of private individuals are being watched. Freedom also implies some anonymity and privacy. The Internet and public spaces on digital formats do not have any privacy because it is a space where discussion, actions and opinions can be recorded and transformed. But what happens when life is so easily remembered and observed by companies and technologies outside of my control? Essentially the control of life has been taken away with the fluid facility of technology that promises ease, and improvement. The insidious nature of technologic ubiquity is “something that happens out here in the world, amid the bustle, the traffic, the lattes, and gossip: a social activity shaped by, and in its turn shaping our relationships with the people around us (Greenfield 16). In “Keep your thumbs still when I’m talking to you” a witty New York Times account of the challenges that contemporary social media is bringing to tangible social interactions observes someone who you socialize with at a party is not really listening to you, they could be at another party…on their phones. Illustrating the binary that technology within media is bringing to people.

In describing super modernity, “we live in a world that we have not yet learned to look at…we have to relearn how to think about space” (Augé 36). Governments and corporations easily manipulate the promise of technology. Life in this heavily mediated society has undoubtedly become more convenient but its consequences have been our naivety of its liberation due to its mobile and personalized façade. These new interfaces of space do not offer opportunities for reflection but nonetheless ubiquitously allow outside gazes into our “personalized experiences”. Consequently, the most liberating technologies can be the most restricting.


The Built Environment: Cities

Augé argues that in our age of super-modernity “what is new is not that the world lacks meaning or has little meaning or less than it used to have; it is that we seem to feel an explicit and intense daily need to give it meaning” (Augé 29). Everything in our world must have a meaning, a purpose. Everything from the bin where we place our plastic bottles to the Pick up after you dog signs within city parks are all indications of the meaning that we have ingrained into these densely populated spaces.

These new signs of indications of rules are mechanisms of expressions, which have accelerated us to become hyper-producers of information, constantly outputting data. When we throw our glass bottle into recycling that is our own output of information into accepting the symbolic meaning of recycling and our acquiescence to its rule.

Within the built environment,

the garment, the room, and the street become sites of processing and mediation…household objects from shower stalls to coffee pots are re-imagined as places where facts about the world can be gathered, considered and acted upon (Greenfield 13).

Now the rules of a city are not determined by the citizens but can be embedded in objects. Think simply of having a shower that knows and remembers, every morning when you stepped in, the temperature that you liked your water, your preferred water pressure, and the duration that it took for you to clean yourself. That is “everyware” or in my study the sentient, cyber city, this simple yet pervasive processing of information and technologic aid that interacts within the habitual aspects of our lives.

Cities can be described as occupied “by the indigenous inhabitants who liven it, cultivate it, defend it, mark its strong points and keep its frontiers under surveillance” (Augé 42). In order for cities to be functioning entities of existence it must monitor its participants in order to keep order and abide by all the “markers” left upon it. It is important to remember that cities are a commons where in order to be a citizen and interact with one another effectively there is a language of knowing that one is being surveilled which allows one to act with correct decorum. The simplest example I can think of is not urinating in public places. The threat of visibility and the embarrassment of being seen are enough to keep anyone walking around with their pants zipped up. Consequently the markers and rules that are left around a city are an indication of the heavy symbolism that a city as a space has become in order to serve its citizens.

Built Environments are how space is organized in order to guide our movements and structure our lives. Cities are a sophisticated example of the “built environment” because they are an elegant formation of interchanges that are carefully organized. With the aid of technology cities have become technological epicenters for nodes of information or as I will frame in this section: interactions. These interactions, our tangible and communicative reality are being carefully reconstructed in a manner that fits our everyday activities. Cities, bustling centers of commerce, culture and power are places of mediation for large numbers of people to come together and live. These epicenters have always been places of connections between people. From people to people contact, people to government, people to shopping malls, people to public transportation etc. The numbers of interactions that can occur between people and places in cities are limitless, and daunting, when studying the structures and dynamics that produce living, breathing metropolises. But I shall limit this analysis within a city by only studying the interactions between people and technology through the infrastructure. These interdependencies between people and machines have created new structures of expression and surveillance within cities by enhancing and preserving the interactions between people through the use of data encrypting metro cards, and cell phones with GPS sensors as well as internet access. Consequently the networked grids that make up a city have become heavily mediated by technology, which can expand and liberate the physical confines of the tangible city towards a sentient city, a city that watches by perceiving, collecting and attracting the lives of the individual.

The strong mediation of our actions throughout cities illustrates how symbolic heavy the space of a city has become. The spaces of crossing a street, waiting for the subway, waiting in line, or sitting in a park, are heavily structured with instructions and meanings of how to conduct oneself. The planning in the structure is an act of control which monitors people by simply making them move to the controllers will when crossing streets or walking down sidewalks. There is no need for surveillance when people have become effective self-monitors in the norms of moving throughout the city.


Mediated Cities: Foursquare

New Social Media has become the solution for liberating people from the fears of homogenization and sterilization because it creates personalized digital network for users. If the ubiquity of technology “contributed to taking the humanity out of sales and services, social media is re-injecting it right back in” (qtd. in Rucker 2). Foursquare, a successful start-up based in New York City is the ultimate ubiquitous new media site because it uses mobile phones to connect users. This social media site is the ultimate personification of personalizing your experience in cities. This section will analyze how Foursquare exploits our information by posing as a gaming site to lure people to share their data and thereby using the data to sell to corporations. It is the ultimate benevolent surveillance. Foursquare is so ubiquitous because it makes it appear that you are in control of your experience when in reality Foursquare is data mining your information for the marketing purposes of corporations.

The mechanization of our lives with the mediation of electronics through social media sites, have disappeared into the “natural” and biological functions of our lives. We no longer notice how entrenched and ubiquitous machines have become in our lives. They take their form in familiar daily rituals that are as “fundamental as the way we wake up in the morning, get to work or shop for our groceries” these rituals make “an intricate dance of information about ourselves, the state of the external world, and the options available to us at any given moment.” (Greenfield 14).  Looking at my Foursquare feeds, the intricate dance of my life reflected within the check-ins that I’ve made on Foursquare, the tips my friends have left for me in coffee shops, and the calculation of my most visited places, whether they be bars, restaurants or academic building for the week…all magically imported and packaged onto a virtual and mobile platform. These feeds of technology have “created places of memory”(Augé 78).  People are not the only transmitters of the past, but a simple device records our memories for us within a quantitative format. Now technology through new media enables individuals “especially urban society–to contrive through a sort of everyday tinkering to establish their own decor, and trace their own personal itineraries” (Augé 38). My whole mobile life throughout the city has been effectively branded with the Foursquare logo.  Life, filled with so many choices, mistakes, laughs, triumphs, and emotions can now be collected, uploaded and observed. Technology through social media and digital devices has effectively made my life easier through its planned and accessible nature.

Using Foursquare requires a mobile, smart phone. When creating an account, Foursquare will ask for your mobile number in order to send you ping alerts for whenever you “check in” to a place. The idea of Foursquare is to get you out of your house, and out into the city to explore, instead of just sitting at home on a computer. Foursquare was co-founded by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai in 2007 in New York City. The first version was built during the fall of 2008 and it was launched at South by Southwest’s Interactive in Austin, Texan in 2009 (Foursquare). What makes Foursquare so different from other social networking sites like Facebook or Linked-in, is that it is directly related to your mobile phones. Now social networking is literally at the palm of your mobile hand. Business Developer for Foursquare, Tristan Walker wants Foursquare to be more than just a punch-card for users, “Facebook is the center of your online universe…I’d love Foursquare to be the center of your offline loyalty universe” (Geron 2). Illustrating perfectly how Foursquare as a social networking tool is reinterpreting our sense of place. Now loyalty is a quality to be expressed and broadcast instead of just experienced. Experience is more valuable if it can be commoditized and shared with others. This expands the social circles that we live in. Events are not only experienced by people who are direct participators in a situation but by onlookers who experience it within the digital hemisphere. When I check into a venue my friends on Foursquare can see where I am and vice versa.

By including people who are not already physically there was how co-founder Dennis Crowley first came up with Foursquare, originally Dodge ball as a master’s student at NYU. His thesis was “how does ones perception of a city change, once you know where your friends have been?”(Crowley Interview).  Crowley calls check-ins the “breadcrumbs” that people leave throughout the city. Check-ins became a way of earning points. People could play against friends by earning points with check-ins, ousting people as Mayors of locations and earning badges. Essentially how people experience a city has been turned into a game. These check-ins describe how friends can follow the digital crumbs of one another. What Crowley conveniently forgets to mention is that your friends are not the only ones following your breadcrumbs…businesses are too.

Crowley speaks of breadcrumbs as “check-ins” that people make throughout the city. By collecting information so personalized to your geographic movements, Foursquare has effectively personalized your virtual life to your offline life. But how personal is personal. Individuals could be the curator but personal does not always include private. Foursquare is transforming into a site of surveillance for friends, advertisers and the government. These breadcrumbs might as well be a trail for advertisers to more easily hunt consumers down.

Advertisers and marketers are definitely getting in the game of location based social networking in the battle of the attention for consumers. How people interact with media is changing because people are no longer sitting in front of the T.V, or listening to the radio. They are watching each other on these social networking sites. Now businesses are starting to “entice customers with discounts and free meals to customers who ‘check-in’” (Sophocleous 2). People are no longer drawn in by images that they see, but by their social relations to friends. Consequently the advertisers, the “Mad Men” of today are the entrepreneurs and creators of these different social networking sites. Foursquare is just the most blatantly obvious one with its connection to friends and place. Very recently Foursquare released that it will “earn most of its revenue from tracking consumer behavior and selling results to merchants” (Hachman 1). What is disturbing about this new wave of advertising is how prevalent it is becoming within peoples lives. It is no longer an advert, which can be turned off with a flick of a switch. It is now under the guise of formatting and directing peoples social…personal lives. Everyware explains how these sites offer a “context or location aware services…it could be the hackneyed e-commerce use case, all but invariably trotted out in these discussions, of a discount “coupon” sent to your phone whenever you pass through the catchment area of a Starbucks or a McDonalds  (Greenfield 25). These pop ups that he talks about could be the silent pings of notifications that come up on Foursquare offering a deal or recommending a place where a friend could have previously been. All helpful advice, but what is important to remember is how our ordinary interactions and sharing of information has a new mediator. In this case Foursquare.

Foursquare has effectively transformed people’s relationship to place and space. People are no longer loyal to a particular place…they are loyal to their Foursquare check-ins. Now “rather than having the business own the loyalty, Foursquare owns the loyalty” effectively controlling and becoming a conduit to loyalty to diverse merchants and customers (Malsto 1). How does this change your interpretation of self in relation to a physical locality once the third element of “Hertzian Space” is brought it?

Lippard speaks of the importance of locality…”but even more important is the idea that it becomes a ‘place’ because someone has been there” (Lippard 33). Place is so interwoven with memories that can now be remembered and recorded on these geo-social networks. Foursquare…digital geo social networking is weaving a story of our lives through the streets of our cities and lives and into a digital storybook…open to onlookers.

This easy access to digital platforms through social media is “Everyware” because it  “functions as an extension of power into public space, whether that space be the streetscape, commons, station, or stadium–conditioning it, determining who can be there and what services are available to each of them” (Greenfield 65). Illustrating the reinterpretation and personalization of space within an urban landscape through these ubiquitous sites. For example I checked into the cafe that I am currently sitting in via Foursquare, I was able to see where the muffins came from, the people who had previously worked here…all from the digital footprints left on foursquare. The deployment of these digital crumbs left over connecting unknown people to common places will change the notion of “place” from private and ephemeral to remembered and recorded. Due to ubiquitous computing becoming so interwoven in our lives, “notions of what counts as ‘public’ cannot help but be changed in the aftermath” (Greenfield 65).  Now a private situation or place can be changed into a public domain of observation.

It is normal to concede data about oneself online. Where our information can be collected and used in a manor outside of the control of the originator. Information, and expression has evolved with the access to these digital platforms of information sharing into “Ambient informatics is a state in which information is freely available at the point in space and time someone requires it” (Greenfield 24). How will such easy access to information be manipulated? So far it is a tool through platforms such as Foursquare but this “ambient findability, in which a combination of pervasive devices, the social application of semantic metadata, and self identifying objects renders the built environment” (Greenfield 65). Therefore who creates the environments, the users or the corporations?

Foursquare launched a partnership with American Express, which links peoples American Express Credit Cards to their Foursquare accounts. The partnership expressly illustrates how Foursquare is data mining users information. Linking the accounts shows the perpetual surveillance by Foursquare, a social media site and American Express, a commercial company. The boundary between what is public and private for Foursquare users has been blurred. And Foursquare as a site purely for the use of sharing information between friends and people in your immediate location has sold itself to pervasive corporate surveillance. American Express has offered deals such as $25-$30 at Sports Authority, & H&M to get more users to participate (Carr 1).  As of yet Foursquare is not making any money in this partnership but they hope that the loyalty program operators and Credit Card Company will be linking into Foursquare.  People are no longer showing their loyalty to the actual stores but to Foursquare, which has become an effective watcher of peoples consumption habits because Foursquare is an accessible media that offers an outlet for peoples data. The information that will be collected is not just a site for sharing tips on places with friends but a collection of information that can analyze the consumption habits of a private individual through our credit cards. It is hard when our free time becomes a collection of our consumption habits.

Most users who use these place location systems don’t “mean to engage in this system. I didn’t mean to broadcast my current location to anybody who asks for it (Greenfield 66). It is obvious that within this new frame of interaction and expression the general public is still unaware of how their actions are recorded for unknown observers. Therefore the new platform of the digital public sphere includes a third party of observer.

Greenfield notes “the presence of an ambient informatics will severely constrain the presentation of self, even to ourselves, this is because information that can be called upon at any time and in any place necessarily becomes part of social transactions in a way that it could not when bound to fixed and discrete devices” (Greenfield 86). There is no anonymity left within the presence of informatics whose sensors recommend, aid, track and record our daily actions and interactions. Our daily interactions will be transformed by “a computing so pervasive and so deeply intertwined with everyday life will exert a transformative influence on our relationships with ourselves and with each other” (Greenfield 84). People need to be aware of how their leisure/social activities are being monitored. What is also disturbing of how surveillance is becoming more prevalent within these social media sites is that they are promoting products of companies through the digital labor of its users who are under the sad impression that their actions on these sites are entertainment.

There is less liberty in the way people can express themselves in this new space of interactions because “facts about your location are gathered alongside other facts–who you are with, what time it is, what sorts of services happen to be available nearby–and subjected to data mining operations, a relational system can begin to paint a picture of your behavior”(Greenfield, 240). In the midst of going “digital” and creating an online persona, one must remember the consequences of having so much information accumulate.


Mechanism of Surveillance: Fusion Centers

The chilling conclusion to this new transparent and ubiquitously watched society is the creation of Fusion Centers. They were created after 9/11 as a collaborative effort of government and non-government agencies to analyze information to prevent terrorism. Fusion Centers have the ability to access

public and private sector databases of traffic tickets, property records, identity theft reports, drivers license listings, immigration records, tax information, public health reports, postal shipping services, utility bills, gaming insurance claims, data broker dossiers and the like (Citron and Pasquale 1451)

The reach of the government has become extremely pervasive as an effort to protect citizens. Foucault says that built environments allow for the practice of liberty but in this super-modern age of perpetual surveillance the environment is intruding on civil liberties in order to as Bush said in 2001 to “to rid the world of evildoers” (Perez Rivas 1). In the post 9/11 world, the insidious nature of the government has become more pronounced because of the fear of terrorism. This new environment of fear has created what Fusion Centers call an “information sharing environment” for the purpose of security. These centers are defined as “agencies that provide resources, expertise, and/or information to the center with the goal of maximizing the ability to detect, prevent, apprehend and respond to criminal and terrorist activity” (Carter 1323-1339). Their self-definition sounds harmless but in reality Fusion Centers are collecting and analyzing private civilian data for the purpose of security. Fusion centers differ from traditional forms of policing because the centers are “diffuse and difficult to monitor, more of a network than an institution” (Citron and Pasquale 1446). These centers exude the power of the eye and despite how pervasive and intrusive they can be, they are accepted for the purpose of security.  North America, post 9/11 became a community obsessed with security, to the point of policing its own citizens. Apparently the world’s evildoers are not only outside of the states but also, within US borders.

Fusion centers function, as a large brain of information, which streams information through a network. Not only are these centers tools for the government but also, the government often collaborates with private actors when data mining. For example a Boeing intelligence analyst is employed full time at a Fusion Center in Washington D.C, as a result Boeing enjoys “real time access to information from the Fusion Center, while the center obtains Boeings mature intelligence”(Citron and Pasquale 1449). Boeing states that they hope to “set an example of how private owners of critical infrastructure can get involved in such centers to generate and receive criminal and anti-terrorism intelligence” (Citron and Pasquale 1450). So far Starbucks, Amazon, and Alaska Airlines have shown an interest in participating in information sharing with Fusion Centers (Citron and Pasquale 1450). This combination of corporate and government surveillance for the purpose of security is a terrifying summation of the strength of Fusion Centers. Have we lost something essential, in the quest to feel safe again after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks?  Today’s world is a “surveillance society, a regime of observation and control with tendrils that run much deeper than the camera on the subway platform or even the unique identifiers that lets authorities traces the movements” of users (Greenfield 107). The government and larger corporations now have unprecedented access to the intimate details of your life. The challenge nowadays is to understand how to interacts and reinterpret oneself within this new digitized public sphere with the knowledge of being watched. Can liberty within the public sphere still exist within a surveillance society? Obviously there are more people watching you that you can be aware of, demonstrating a power shift as a result of data, expression of life evolving into a space outside of my control. The public sphere and liberty can only be practiced if we are aware that we are practicing our liberty and aware that we are in a public setting vulnerable to external surveillance. Our “liberty” is becoming a parody of our unconscious actions, reliant on sentient technologies. The purpose of Fusion Centers is to monitor the actions of people within the constructed “public sphere” on the Internet. Perhaps people are willing after 9/11 to give up their private data to these network collectors in order to feel safe again, despite government and corporations having increased access to their lives.

We live in a world where information is becoming quantified.  Even the movements of “workers wearing active badges in an instrumented building could automatically unlock areas to which they had been granted access, have phone calls routed, be tracked as they moved around buildings” (Greenfield 19). Our daily interactions are being recorded and how we express ourselves is transforming.   Surveillance and expression is mediated through “the flow of interaction between user and device, and the larger context in which that interaction is embedded” (Greenfield 37). This completely puts into question of what is private. Who is exactly looking at your information? Just yesterday I was writing e-mail, and Gmail stopped me before sending it, saying that I had said “Attached” in the e-mail without attaching my document. I loved having that mistake caught, but is there going to be a price, for the server correcting my human error so subtly, quickly and insidiously? What happens when we are offered a new richness to facts about a human being–their credit rating, their claimed affinities, the acidity of their sweat–from sources previously inaccessible, especially when those facts are abstracted into high-level visualizations as simple (and decisive) as check or a cross-mark appearing next to them in the augmented view provided by our glasses (Greenfield 86). This new access to information provides a decisive view of the world as “augmented” as a view provided by prescription glasses.

How can someone express his or her liberty within the digital public sphere without being censored? The argument after 9/11 was that no one was sharing information. But is it really worth it to share everything…. when our very liberties are at stake for the price of security? Fusion Centers “encourage the public to report suspicious activity, including people who photograph, videotape, sketch or ask detailed questions about airports, bridges and hospitals” (Citron and Pasquale 1451-1452). The price for liberty is this pervasive surveillance, which supposedly results in security.

Within the constantly scrutinized post 9/11 World “someone must watch the watchers especially when surveillance is based on a vast reservoir of public and private data” (Citron and Pasquale 1494). The policing of surveillance by the government has gone unchecked because it is ubiquitous. It is hard to point a finger, if the source of the problem has become more of a network of information than of one single power entity. Consequently the power of the eye has gone everywhere.


The use of technology in the built environment, especially one as constructed as the city creates places and activities that are heavily monitored. This ubiquity of technology has led to an erosion of the public and private spheres and as a result the structure of how people interact with one another has changed. Interactions of expression can no longer be called private or public. The multiple connections made within this networked, public city leads to advanced interconnections but also allows for surveillance by corporations and governments.

When we input data into the digital network for our personal use, are we informing ourselves or are we becoming sentient triggers for governments and corporations to monitor? As I make a check-in on Foursquare, I have sold my information for free to corporate and government surveillance. Why am I so willing to input so much of my geographical identity into a network that does not offer me complete liberty?

At the beginning of The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, Lippard quotes Creates, by saying location is important but even more important “ is the idea that it becomes a ‘place’ because someone has been there” (Lippard 2). When I make my check-in, I have made a mark on a location. A digital footprint. That yes. Me. Dorry Funaki was there. Effectively localizing a foreign environment for myself. My check-in despite its consequences of succumbing to the controlled built environment is an effort on my part to negotiate my identity and sense of place.

Within the heavily digitized and increasingly globalized environment it becomes increasingly hard to find a place that is familiar. Lippard states that “finding a fitting place for oneself in the world, is like finding a place for oneself in a story”. All the data that is collected continually weaves a large network of stories. But to what end? To catch terrorists, attract consumers or find a place within the geo-spatial story? What is the point of these stories? These stories are a framework that construct and negotiate the lives of people between their environments. Surveillance is ubiquitous but so are the chances for us to construct our own place for corporations and governments to recognize us.



I sprint up the subway stairs and proceed to push through the turnstiles to continue my ascent to the ground surface. As I resurface, my phone vibrates. My data through my phones digital surveillance is restored, and I’m back on the network. My phone buzzes to notify me of a message, my mom left while I was on the subway, then my phone buzzes again and I receive some notifications from my Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts. I speed up to the street corner, glancing at my phone while I weave through pedestrians and wait impatiently until the crosswalk indicates that I can cross the street.
Hurry to the local coffee shop, to grab a latte before class starts. I enter the restaurant. Make my order, and swipe my card, more data that I concede to the digital network. As I wait for the drink, I pull up my phone and open the application for Foursquare. My phone detects my location in the shop, data input. I Check-in. Excellent.



[1] Ubiquitous according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “existing or being everywhere at the same time: constantly, encountered, widespread”.

[2] Merriam- Webster dictionary defines privacy as: “the quality or state of being apart from company or observation: seclusion b: freedom from unauthorized intrusion”

[3] During the French Revolution, newspapers become important monitors for the government. Jean Paul Marat publisher of the newspaper L’ami du peuple (Friend of the People) declared himself the eye of the people (Levin 28).

[4] Sousveillance, French word, meaning sous(under)-veillance(watch). This genre of watching refers to the “recording of an activity by a participant in the activity typically by way of small wearable or personal technologies”(Mann). Sousveillance is the inverse of surveillance.

[5] Radio Frequency Identification: “a technology that uses radio waves to transfer data from an electronic tag attached to an object”.  (Hacking Exposed 298).

[6] Triangulation: is “the process of determining the location of a point by measuring angles to it from known points at either end of a fixed baseline, rather than measuring distances to the point directly.” (Diogenes 27)

[7] Multilateration is also called hyperbolic positioning which like triangulation uses the process of “locating an object accurately by computing the time difference of arrival of a signal emitted from that object to three of more receivers” (Bucher and Misra 507-520).


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