Venice Entering Surveillance State Era

Is that worse than being hounded by tourists with selfie sticks, though?

September 20, 2019 - Venice, Italy: Gondolas pass under a bridge where tourists are gathered to take...
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Grande Fratello

Venice, the City of Water, is also becoming a city of surveillance. As tourists stream back to pack its plazas and bridges once more, city officials are tracking them via cell phone data and surveillance cameras, the New York Times reports.

On one hand, it seems a bit extreme for the local government to be able to see, at any given moment, anonymized phone data that includes “people’s age, sex, country of origin and prior location,” per the Times, as well as where every person in Venice is located, how fast they’re going, and where they’re headed at any given moment. A bit Big Brother (Grande Fratello), no?

But on the other hand, some of this data may be put to good — or if not good, then at least understandable — use: seeing where people congregate would enable the city to better prevent crowding at key points. as well as to track visitors who are just there for the day. This is ostensibly for the purpose of figuring out how much to eventually charge day-trippers as an entrance fee to Venice, when the city starts implementing gates and daily fees next summer in an attempt to control the throngs of tourists that locals say have made the city unlivable.

However, on the other, other hand, even some residents are saying these developments are not great, maybe even dystopian, and also a huge romance killer in a city that is supposed to be known for its ambiance and charm (minus the sloppy, disgusting tourists). “It’s like declaring once and for all that Venice is not a city, but a museum,” one local told the Times. Perhaps a very futuristic museum, in which everyone is implicated in a large, immersive AI exhibition.

I’m no city official — or qualified to speak on any of this, really — but it seems to me that one solution would be to simply make Venice less attractive as a tourist destination. Get rid of gondolas, have restaurant staff behave unbelievably rudely to visitors, require tourists to wear an incredibly ugly hat the entire time they’re present, and only screen documentaries about bees at the Venice Film Festival. Of course, this might have an adverse effect on the tourism dollars that Venice is so dependent on, a deficit of which could also slowly sink the already sinking city.

A tough dilemma. Good luck figuring this one out, Venice, ciao bella!