Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Seminar 5 Position Statement: Dr Steve Wright
Surveillance capacity has grown out of all recognition since surveillance scholars first identified it as an issue for academic interest in the early 1980s. Accelerating proliferation of surveillance capacity has transformed our city-scapes and the level of political and privacy intrusion that the authorities now bring to social and economic governance.
Following early work on NSA bulk surveillance via Echelon and more recent revelations by Edward Snowden on the facility of that capacity to grab internet traffic, take over ICT and camera facilities remotely and map who is in touch with whom, the headlines have focussed on scale and privacy and the lack of accountability in the operating states. The paradigm shift has been the realization that most of us now carry around a portable geo-location tracking device, but that capacity can cut both ways.
Previous meetings have examined sousveillance – the proliferation of quite powerful surveillance capacities into the hands of citizens and NGOs. Such cameras and even satellite access have enabled powerful counter checking of official stories especially during demonstrations, riots and even counter-insurgency scorched earth initiatives by NGOs such as WITNESS.
What is less studied is the transfer of such surveillance capacity to those who violate human rights on a grand scale. Such proliferation is promoted commercially by business deals and exhibitions which treat all surveillance technologies as a social good. I will explore how seemingly innocuous facilities such as traffic monitoring and counter speeding vehicle recognition has been used to service politically repressive agendas. I will also look at the trends and practices of a select group of surveillance equipment manufacturers who knowingly transfer surveillance capacity to governments whom they know will turn it on peace activists, trade unionists, journalists and human right defenders. I will conclude by looking at the work of some NGOs which are challenging such practices and the need to strengthen such work over concerns which now have global relevance.