Engaging Publics and Policy-Makers on core DATA-PSST! Issues
Professor of Political Communication & Journalism, Bangor University
Drawing on this seminar series’ policy recommendations, experience of this seminar series and subject expertise, we asked participants in this final DATA-PSST! seminar to reflect on what they think the general public and policy-makers most need to know; why they need to know this; and how these messages can be creatively and feasibly communicated.
What do the general public most need to know?
Seminar 2 concluded that ‘Given the many conflicting opinion polls and studies conducted since Snowden, a definitive analysis is needed on public perceptions of intelligence, surveillance, oversight and accountability.’
We took this challenge on and published, in 2015, Public Feeling on Privacy, Security and Surveillance - A Report by DATA-PSST and DCSS. This is a synthesis of opinion polls on state and commercial surveillance, and of EU-wide citizen summits on trade-offs between security and privacy conducted by the project on Surveillance, Privacy and Security (SurPRISE). This produced the following observations:
- Unlike the UK government, the British public sees bulk data collection as constituting mass surveillance.
- The topics of UK state surveillance of digital communications and online privacy matter to the British, and wider EU public. This is confirmed by opinion poll data since 2013 and in-depth studies.
- The EU and UK public think that although certain surveillance technologies are useful/effective for combating national security threats, they compromise human rights and are abused by security agencies. These concerns especially apply to deep packet inspection.
- There are identifiable criteria for what makes security-oriented surveillance technologies acceptable for EU publics. Targeted rather than blanket surveillance is preferred, as are clear communications to citizens about what is going on, with strong regulatory oversight.
Various recommendations emerged, but perhaps the most important is that:
‘governments seeking a popular mandate for digital surveillance should ensure that such surveillance is targeted rather than blanket, accompanied by strong regulatory oversight and clear communications to citizens about what is going on.’
From this, we can conclude that the public needs to know, in clear terms, what is going on when their data is surveilled, and how this is surveillance is overseen. This would be the first stage in enabling them to make informed decisions on whether they are OK with such surveillance, and if not, what they can do about it.
This recommendation feeds into the second question set for this seminar: what do policy-makers most need to know?
What do policy-makers most need to know?
A constellation of policy recommendations from the past five DATA-PSST! seminars converge on the same two points, both revolving around what citizens want: namely, better oversight of surveillant entities (i.e.intelligence agencies and commercial firms); and better communication of what is going on:
On better oversight of surveillant entities, Policy Recommendations include:
- We recommend a particular form of transparency – with opacity built in to protect necessary secrets, but with regular and periodical review of all stages of the data process by diverse actors drawn from citizenry, civil liberties groups, technologists, industry and of course intelligence agencies. (Seminar 5)
- To improve oversight, and trust in this process, independent members of the public should be able to contribute to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. (Seminar 2)
- We suggest greater transparency about data collection and processing, and about the effectiveness of policies based on such surveillance. (Seminar 5)
- More accountability, not only transparency, concerning the actions of the state and secret-services is needed if public trust is to be rebuilt. (Seminar 3)
- At policy-making level, participants recommend that: the government’s definition of its targets and who extremists are needs to be much more narrow; and selling surveillance technologies to non-democratic states must be regulated with better monitoring. (Seminar 3)
- There needs to be meaningful review of the oversight for surveillance in the UK as well as greater openness regarding the systems in place to ensure targeting is carried out in a way that protects minorities and respects free speech and civil/human rights. We must target incitement and planning of violent activities. However, extreme views are not illegal. (Seminar 2)
On better communication of what is going on, Policy Recommendations include:
- We suggest that the aims of any governmental or commercial surveillant organisation involved in data collection and processing are publicly articulated more fully and clearly. They should provide more detail than blanket terms such as ‘protecting national security’, and more meaningful clarity than complex Terms and Conditions and associated tick-boxes of consent and compliance. (Seminar 5)
- For these aims to be better understood within society we suggest the need for greater public engagement by surveillant entities with citizens. This would help generate challenges, dialogue and perhaps even consensus and greater trust. (Seminar 5)
- The public needs more digital and data literacy. As an ethical starting point, governments should more fully share with the public what their capacities to surveil are. The public needs to understand the surveillant black boxes that pervade everyday life, and what it gives up if it withholds data from commercial surveillers. We need a public debate involving mainstream media on whether we are able to understand these abstract surveillant processes. (Seminar 4)
- More education and a better quality public debate (eg in the media) are required to inform the public on matters of surveillance and national security. The complexity of the issue makes it difficult to explain, and we need to find ways of making these issues both clearer and more relevant for a general public, bearing in mind that social change can happen through ‘agitators’ creating a better debate. (Seminar 3)
This seminar’s third question is on how these messages can be creatively and feasibly communicated.
How can these messages be creatively and feasibly communicated?
Specifically addressing communication of some of the messages above, Andrew McStay, drawing on his expertise in advertising and privacy, has initiated a creative advertising brief for seminar participants to consider.
In terms of how to engage creatively and feasibly with a range of users, we have a range of highly innovative ideas in this seminar’s Positions Statements. For instance, reflecting the inter-disciplinary focus of DATA-PSST! some focus on explaining these abstract, complex ideas and processes to students reading very different types of university degree. Yuwei Lin explains how she has been encouraging data literacy, especially knowledge of big data, privacy and surveillance with her arts and design students at University for the Creative Arts. Lachlan Urqhuart explains his innovative ‘data protection by design’ playing cards developed at the University of Nottingham. These help computer designers and engineers explore the unfamiliar or challenging issues of forthcoming EU Data Protection law, so moving the principle of data protection by design from theory into practice.
More broadly reflecting on the creative tensions and opportunities when theory is married with practice, Clare Birchall asks what media form is best suited to disseminating the outcomes from a seminar series on transparency, surveillance and privacy. She urges us to think about the role and limits of revelation in public life and to experiment with media forms to highlight the problematics inherent in the ‘objects’ we study. An exemplary practice here is her colloquium on the politics and practices of secrecy. Reflecting also on the political economy of media forms, she further urges us to adopt ethical publishing practices.
Whatever we decide in this seminar, there should be some interesting outcomes. Watch this space!
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