Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Seminar 1 - SUMMARY

This summary is based on detailed seminar summaries provided by PhD students Abigail Blyth, Aberystwyth University; George Petry, University of South Wales; and Tiewtiwa Tanalekhapat, Aberystwyth University

Introduction by Dr Vian Bakir and Dr Andrew McStay: The seminar began with an in-depth discussion of three types of transparency; two originally identified by Bentham: Liberal and Radical Transparency, and one coined by McStay, that appears increasingly pertinent to today’s society: Forced Transparency, or transparency without consent or choice.

Keynote 1: Professor Steve Mann, University of Toronto, introduced some key concepts, including sousveillance, surveillance, equiveillance, and privalence. Mann argues that surveillance is hypocritical, centralised, secretive and corrupt whereas sousveillance has integrity, openness and is distributed. He predicted a time in the future when an ‘equiveillance point’ will be reached with an equal number of cameras carrying out surveillance, and the same amount of cameras being used by the public as wearable media carrying out sousveillant activity. This will, he argues, in due course lead back to a situation where everyone is wearing cameras, thereby negating the need for, and legitimacy of, surveillance. Slides are available on:

In the lively Roundtable on Sousveillance that followed, the group discussed whether the continued focus on the visual aspects (i.e. the ‘veillance’ part) of surveillance was legitimate. Recent events such as the Edward Snowden revelations has shown that surveillance encompasses much more, including an examination of mass data – dataveillance – and sousveillance might not be able to fully counter that surveillance. The discussion then turned to the possibility of having sousveillant data transmigrate into surveillant data, if it falls into the wrong hands; the commodification of data, and the issues of ‘dark corners of power’ that fall beyond the reaches of sousveillance. The legal and technological aspects, including the law’s fairly limited interpretation of the right to privacy, and issues of encryption and ‘making sense’ of big data, were discussed at length.

Keynote 2: Professor Kirstie Ball, Open University, highlighted the blurring of the lines between the state and the private sector in national security matters. To protect national security, the UK Border Agency created an obligation on airlines to provide a securitised data flow of passport information of those booked on planes, and taking flights. By reflecting on the concept of transparency from the research project, Ball addresses the notion of transparency veillance, in which transparency consequently has become multilayered and politicised.  She argues that to securitise something is to render it dangerous, and commercial activities are generally shot through with insecurities.

The Roundtable on Surveillance began with a scintillating short presentation on the work of PlanetLabs - - a satellite imaging company. This further highlighted the role of the private sector in the collection and dissemination of data and how they interact with respective national legislation in this field. PlanetLabs is based in the USA and the US Government has the ability to access their satellite images and equally to stop them to photographing certain areas of the world. From an intelligence studies perspective, this continues to raise questions in relation to the interaction between governments and private companies when matters of national security are involved. It also highlights the problematical debate witnessed within the UK Intelligence and Security Committee’s Annual Reports on accountability over matters concerning national security. Some discussion ensued on whether the dichotomy between surveillance and sousveillance remains useful given the uncertainty of data flows regardless of their origin. 

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