Friday, March 20, 2015

Seminar 2 Debating Technical and Ethical Limits of Secrecy & Privacy - WELCOME

Welcome – by Vian Bakir
Welcome to the second of six seminars in the ESRC-funded seminar series, DATA-PSST! On 24th March 2015 we continue the series with a full day seminar at the University of Sheffield, hosted by Dr. Emma Briant and Dr. Ross Bellaby. We’ll briefly reflect on key themes emerging from Seminar 1 at Bangor University, Transparency Today: Exploring the Adequacy of Sur/Sous/Veillance Theory and Practicethis ably captured by our participating PhD students, and our Bangor hosts, Dr. Martina Feilzer and Dr. Yvonne McDermott Rees.

Most of the day will be given over to exploring technical possibilities and debating what is desirable regarding secrecy and privacy in the digital age. We’re bringing together cultural, philosophical, social, political and technological experts in digital and social media, privacy, secrecy and intelligence, and we’re opening up the debate to people in the real world with different views on the value of secrecy and privacy, or to what these should be applied. The aim is to detail what technology is making possible and to ask whether it is politically, socially and ethically desirable. Post-Snowden, it’s a debate that’s been raging in some countries (like the USA, where the fourth amendment to the US constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures against US citizens), but has been much more quiescent in the UK – a country well-known for tight state secrecy in national security matters. Robert Hannigan, Director of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times on 3 November 2014, where he stated ‘GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age.’ However, GCHQ did not respond to my invite to come and debate with us. Maybe we are not mature enough? Also unresponsive to my invite were the big technology companies that Snowden revealed were complicit in what the British state calls ‘bulk data collection’ (and what most people would call ‘surveillance’ of suspicionless citizens).

Never mind! Our participants are coming together from different fields of expertise to assess the value of secrecy and privacy and how these concepts interact with a digitising society. We’ll be posting Position Statements from participants on this blog. Comments are enabled - so please do join in the debate – even if you can’t make it to Sheffield. 

Key questions are:
  • What are the main commercial, political, legal and social features of secrecy?
  • What is the relationship between technology, state surveillance and secret- keeping, and individual privacy?
  • What social good do privacy and transparency offer and under what conditions can these be ethically and technically limited?
  • Are our current conceptual tools adequate to the task of addressing contemporary transparency practices?

1 comment:

  1. Having held a very lively seminar, the DATAPSST team would like to extend a big thank you to our ‘end users’ (Ian Tunnicliffe, Birgittir Jonsdottir, Allen Foster, Iain Bourne), who eloquently and patiently grounded the academics in real world issues, practices and concerns of defence, data regulation, politics, digital rights and business.
    Special thanks also go to Iain Bourne and Steve Wright for kicking off each of our round table discussions on the ethical, and then the technical, limits to privacy and secrecy.
    Special thanks also goes to Kirstie Ball for providing much-needed data on what European citizens think on issues of security and privacy (from the SurPRISE project: ). Participants’ Position Statements are on this blog. You’re all invited to comment, or add your own Position Statements: for the latter, please send to our webmaster Andrew McStay (