Concern over personal freedom, privacy with smart lamp posts

It has been a few days since the announcement of plans for a trial of smart lamp posts (Smart street lamps with high-tech sensors set for trial; April 8).

I find the seeming lack of public response to these lamps worrying.

Have we become so docile that our privacy and personal freedom can be infringed without anyone protesting?

Power is enticing, and a small step like this, even for justified reasons, could lead us down the path of a surveillance state.

While smart lamp posts aren't quite the nation's Big Brother yet, the planned infrastructure is prime for potential exploitation.

Might we go the way of China, where a "social credit" system is under trial?

Under this system, each citizen is assigned a social credit score. Mass surveillance is used to detect law infringements and undesirable behaviour, which would affect the citizen's social credit and result in punishments such as lowered priority for schools and restricted ability to travel.

The concerns on privacy and personal freedom outweigh the benefits of having a more "pleasant" society.

I am not saying that we should roll back our plans and stick to "dumb" lamp posts exclusively.

However, perhaps an assurance, and checks to ensure that the infrastructure will not be misused, would make these developments less worrying.

Society itself is usually the last bastion of resistance against oppression.

But when society remains passive and silent in the face of certain developments, it is not very reassuring, and even disturbing.

Raphael Teo Zhi Ren

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Concern over personal freedom, privacy with smart lamp posts'. Print Edition | Subscribe