A city council in Adelaide’s northern suburbs saw rare protests this week as local residents flocked to oppose the City of Salisbury’s adoption of smart cities technology.
The council is rolling out CCTV cameras and sensors for bins and car parks as part of its plans to modernise services.
Protestors were organised through a letterboxing campaign and on social media where the No Smart Cities Action Group (NOSCAG) has baselessly claimed local councils are creating an Orwellian surveillance state complete with a social credit system enforced using surveillance technologies like facial recognition.
In its meeting on Tuesday night, the City of Salisbury passed motions reaffirming the council’s commitment not to use facial recognition technology and addressed some of the various strange claims made by the opposition groups.
“Council confirms that [it] does not support any mind control devices being installed in residents’ brains,” one motion read.
“Council has not and will not support the rollout any adverse elements referenced in the fictional novels, George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm.”
Deputy Mayor Chad Buchanan said he was “horrified” by some of the claims made against him and his fellow councillors.
“Council did discuss a few motions tonight relating to smart technology and reaffirmed our position that we do not support the use of real-time facial recognition software and that the LED lights won’t be used to kill and maim people,” he said.
Councillor Peter Jensen – who thanked the protestors for exercising their democratic rights peacefully – said there was clearly a need to educate the community about the council's proposed technology usage.
“Given the level of misinformation that has been circulated throughout the community, I’ll be working with Council to ensure that factual information is provided by the City of Salisbury so residents are fully informed,” he said.
Misinformation about technology has had known real-world effects, including in places where 5G towers were destroyed because of unfounded beliefs that the telecommunications infrastructure causes harm.
One resident told the ABC they were concerned about ongoing costs associated with the smart cities plan and was seeking more information about data governance.
“We are looking at the data records of this stuff, where is it going to be stored?” they asked.
“Is it going to be onshore, is it going to be offshore, who's going to get access to this stuff?”
As a concept, smart cities are generally about collecting and using data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a city’s services.
They may involve sensors and cameras to measure how well public facilities such as bike paths and park areas are being used, or they could help automate ambient lighting.
The City of Salisbury said its CCTV cameras will be used to “help manage occurrences such as graffiti, hoon driving and illegal dumping”.
Tom Zorde is a management consultant and chair of the ACS Internet of Things Committee. He said it was important for cities to engage with stakeholders before moving forward with smart cities proposals.
“A city is there to serve its citizens and it needs to properly engage its citizens around the use of technology,” Zorde told Information Age.
“You can do smart cities well by monitoring infrastructure, providing more reliable services, and ultimately lowering rates.
“But when it comes to cameras watching people as they walk down the street, those people are a big stakeholder and should be engaged.”
The City of Melbourne has embarked on a public awareness campaign to make sure its data collection regime is properly explained and accepted by the community.
Google infamously failed to get its data-hungry smart city project Sidewalk ahead in Canada after locals pushed back against the tech giant.