Privacy and Participation in Public: Data protection issues of crowdsourced surveillance

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Prompted by the success of mobile games such as Pokémon Go, companies and governments have begun to 'crowdsource' their surveillance of public spaces. Data on, for example, traffic congestion or feelings of (in)safety in certain neighbourhoods is collected by many participants but processed by a single central organisation, such as a technology companies or the police. This is a cheap way of collecting data that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. However, this puts privacy in public spaces under severe pressure.

Gerard Jan Ritsema van Eck describes in his dissertation how difficult it is to defend yourself legally against such crowdsourced surveillance. First, the effects of this surveillance often relate to groups of people, such as neighbourhood residents, while privacy law only protects individuals. Secondly, the law does not easily deal with the question of who is actually responsible when things go wrong. Finally, the right to privacy is (necessarily) weaker in public spaces, because you will always encounter others there. But it is also exactly there where crowdsourced surveillance is strongest.

The dissertation analyses case studies with regard to, among other things, feelings of safety, the creation of interactive maps, and a game of the Dutch police to find stolen cars. These show that crowdsourced surveillance leads to increases in social control and risks such as discrimination.

Ritsema van Eck argues for the tightening of 'data protection impact assessments' and for privacy rights for groups to limit the pernicious effects of crowdsourced surveillance in public spaces.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Mifsud Bonnici, Jeanne, Supervisor
  • Westerman, Pauline, Supervisor
Award date16-Sept-2021
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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