May 9, 2014 -
While most people are familiar with surveillance cameras and airport security, relatively few are aware of the extent to which the potential for surveillance is now embedded in virtually everyday life. Accordingly, most citizens cannot walk down a city street, register for a class,use a credit card, hop on an airplane, or make a phone call without data being captured and processed.
Where does such information go? Who makes use of it, and for what purpose? This week, a multidisciplinary academic research team released a major study arguing that surveillance in Canada is expanding, mostly unchecked, into every facet of life.
Through an investigation of the major ways in which both government and private sector organizations gather, monitor, analyze, and share information about ordinary citizens, the volume identifies nine key trends in the processing of personal data that together raise urgent questions of privacy and social justice. Trends identified include:
1. The rapid expansion of surveillance through our increasingly digital existence.
2. The accelerating demand for greater security.
3. Intertwined public and private agencies.
4. Difficulty in deciding what information is private and what is not.
5. Expansion of mobile and location-based surveillance.
6. Globalization of surveillance practices and processes.
7. Embedded surveillance in everyday environments such as cars, buildings, and homes.
8. Increasing use of biometrics to identify individuals, including the use of fingerprinting, iris scanning, facial recognition, and DNA records.
9. Growth in social surveillance as social media facilitates an explosion of digitally enabled people watching.
The report examines whether the loss of control over personal information is merely the price Canadians pay for using social media and other forms of electronic communication. The report also asks the question whether citizens should be wary of systems that make them visible, and thus vulnerable, as never before.
Just this week, Canadians learned that government agencies have been collecting personal information from social networking sites that do not directly relate to government business. As a consequence, the release of this study that seeks to understand the factors contributing to the expansion of surveillance as a technology of governance, including its underlying principles, technological infrastructures, and institutional frameworks, along with social consequences for institutions and ordinary people, is absolutely timely.
The report, entitled Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada, published by Athabasca University Press, is intended to inform and provide actionable information. The study is deliberately aimed at a broad audience, including legislators and policymakers, journalists, civil liberties groups, educators, and, above all, the general public.
The report was funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and jointly authored by 11 academics, that included: Colin J. Bennett (University of Victoria), Andrew Clement (University of Toronto), Arthur Cockfield (Queen’s University), Aaron Doyle (Carleton University), Kevin D. Haggerty (University of Alberta), Stéphane Leman-Langlois (Université Laval), David Lyon (Queen’s University), Benjamin Muller (King’s University College, Western University), David Murakami Wood (Queen’s University), Laureen Snider (Queen’s University), and Valerie Steeves (University of Ottawa).