‘Smart cities’ are characterized by pervasive and distributed sensor networks generating big data for forms of centralized urban management, drawing together such previously unconnected infrastructural systems as video surveillance, meteorological stations, traffic lights and sewage systems. Although presented as largely civic, corporate and managerial, these schemes have a parallel history in military strategic thinking and policing, from crime mapping and predictive policing models, to new forms of urban warfare involving forms of distributed sensor platforms, and computer analytics, to enable forces to get a ‘clear picture’ of the complexities of the urban landscape and its inhabitants. In some cases, these have come together in overt ways, for example in the new ‘Domain Awareness’ initiatives in Oakland, California, and in New York which extends existing port security projects way beyond the military maritime ‘domain’ into the surrounding city and its governance.
Drawing on work in philosophy, science and technology studies, geography and surveillance studies, this paper considers the smart city as the archetypical urban form of the data driven ubiquitous surveillance society. The paper considers the place of human rights in a broad sense, not simply privacy but also equity, access to services and justice, and ultimately, after Spinoza and Deleuze, the capacity of diverse human beings to flourish, in cities in which people are increasingly monitored, categorized and managed as logistical flows. It suggests some directions from the practices of bottom-up, citizen-centered city hacking initiatives and maker-spaces, but cautions that such practices are already subject to corporate capture and rebranding. The paper concludes that if smart cities are to be a way that big data can serve human flourishing, they need to be detached from narrow techno-economistic purposes and more truly refounded in social-ecological thinking, and this means dismantling many of the surveillance logics that underpin smart cities.