Monday, 7 December 2009

Living in Surveillance Societies Website

A new website for the Living in Surveillance Societies programme - I'll repeat their blurb here. Good stuff. It's good to see a major initiative like this in the field.

The Living in Surveillance Societies (LiSS) COST Action is a European research programme designed to increase and deepen knowledge about living and working in the surveillance age, in order to better understand the consequences and impacts of enhanced surveillance, and subsequently to make recommendations about its future governance and practice. The underlying theme of the programme is that technologically mediated surveillance - the systematic and purposeful attention to the lives of individuals or groups utilising new ICTs - is a ubiquitous feature of modern society, with citizens routinely monitored by a range of sophisticated technologies. Yet, despite these developments relatively little is known about the depth of personal surveillance or how our personal information is used.

The LiSS programme is the first international multidisciplinary academic programme to consider issues relating to everyday life in surveillance societies. At it’s heart is a network of academic surveillance experts generating important knowledge for academia, citizens, government, public agencies and private sector. It is also raising awareness of surveillance in society and is contributing to better informed surveillance policy and practice across Europe. The four year programme, which started in April 2009, is administered by COST (European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research) and supported by the EU Framework Programme. The programme is facilitating thematic collaborative research in the field of technologically mediated surveillance through a series of active working groups, workshops, seminars, annual conferences, publications, short-term scientific missions and a doctoral school for young researchers in the field. To date, this collaborative venture has attracted over 100 expert participants from 20 European countries.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Surveillance in the news over the last year

This is a very crude visualisation, but I've got a lexis nexis alert which gives me a summary each week of UK newspaper articles with 'surveillance' and 'big brother' in them (from a previous project) and I thought I might collate some of the data together. This one might be a bit too granular, but I'm thinking over overlaying it with some significant 'surveillance events' that got or caused the news coverage. The following image shows the same data, but aggregated by month.
It's early days on this, not entirely sure if it actually tells us anything, apart from surveillance topics (using the trope of big brother) crop up pretty regularly in UK newspapers, and that there is some variation in this (there were only a couple of weeks in the year when there was nothing) and that there tend to be some big spikes which look like they're linked to specific newsworthy events. There' s a background level of editorial comment on the issue too.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

ID Cards Website

copying this text from an email I just recieved:

New Website Launched the national id cards website

This website contains a comprehensive listing of national ID cards by geographic region worldwide allowing users to
study and compare specific national policies regarding identity cards, as well as a list of resources on the topic.

National identification systems have been proliferating in recent years as part of a concerted drive to find common identifiers for populations around the world. Whether the driving force is immigration control, anti-terrorism, electronic government or rising rates of identity theft, identity card systems are being developed, proposed or debated in most countries. However, there is no comprehensive database documenting the status of national identity card systems anywhere in the world, and this website has been designed in order to fill this gap.

We invite users to help compile this information. Go to ‘UPDATE ID INFORMATION’ and follow the steps to submit current information about national ID card systems globally.

This website has been developed under The New Transparency Project an MCRI project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The idea for the website is prompted by the book "Playing the Identity Card" recently edited by Colin Bennett and David Lyon, and published by Routledge (2008). The website is maintained and updated by a group of students and faculty from Queen's University and the University of Victoria.

Friday, 23 October 2009

privacy in searches on google, yahoo and bing

Cybernet article on privacy for searches using various browser add ons and tricks. Found it thought

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Friday, 16 October 2009

privacy as social rather than technological problem

I would have thought this postion was fairly obvious, but then, social scientist....

the freedom to tinker blog is hosted by princeton's Centre for Information Technology Policy. Who seem to be starting to do some interesting work. Not a lot of material on the centre page, but more on the blog itself.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

National Identity Fraud prevention week

Can't believe that I missed this one. It's National Identity Fraud prevention week again! And it's Thursday! I could have lost my identity several times this week already.

campaign website at but take with a pinch of salt, then take a look at the partners page to see who is paying for this helpful advice. It includes Fellowes, who manufacture shredders to destroy all that potentially deadly personal information, collected by Experian, Equifax and Call Credit, and used to send you junk mail (sorry targeted advertising) delivered to your house by the Royal Mail.

still, at least they're not calling it Identity Theft any more.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

'The Uses of Intelligence' Surveillance Society - arts exhibition

Arts Centre Washington, in Sunderland is putting on an exhibition with the above title, between the 15th October and 21st November.

Arts Centre Washington hosts a unique array of gadgets (old and new) in a playful exploration of the world of espionage and surveillance illuminating their omnipresence and influence on our lives. The centerpiece of the exhibition is an original WWII Enigma machine used for the encryption and decryption of secret messages. The exhibition also includes an interactive CCTV Treasure Hunt, hidden cameras and designs for our imagined futures. Artifacts in the exhibition are drawn from a diverse range – private collectors, artists, designers and even the James Bond Museum!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

IdentiNet Conference, day two

Here's the second part of my notes from the IdentiNet conference in Oxford last weekend.

Khaled Fahmy gave an interesting talk about population, governmentality and individual identity in nineteenth century Egypt. He argued that the impetus for individual identification was the army, attempting to account for the population of Egypt for conscription. Borrowing Simon Cole's terminology from the previous day, the poster criminal was the deserter. He drew upon Foucault's work on governmentality (although mainly upon the single governmentality lecture, rather than the broader lecture series published as Security, Territory, Population). Earlier Egyption forms of identification, mandated by the Ottoman empire were mainly focussed upon identifying the dead in order to uphold sharia in terms of inheritance. This was latter transformed from a pecuniary investigation to something closer to what we might consider a post mortem. Khaled identified this as a symbold of the tranformation of the nature of the problem of population. The figure of Mehmed Ali Pasha loomed large in this account, as he attempted to put together his own power base independent from the Ottoman Empire. As part of this, a census was conducted in 1848 which essentially used force to hold village heads accountable (in contract) for the accuracy of information provided. There was also coercion of midwives, surgeons etc to keep this database updated. Khaled tied this account of governmentality with the aspect of care of population through an extensive public health system, and medical schools (primarily intended to produce military physicians). Khaled attempted to tie together a permanent militarisation of Egyptian society with the birth of modern Egypt and it's structures of government. Khaled has kindly sent me the full copy of his paper, because I'm really quite interested in reading it in depth given that I drew upon governmentality (although largely filtered through Mitchell Dean) for some of the theoretical core of my thesis.

Simon Szreter gave a highly reflexive talk, in which he spoke about wrestling with ways of thinking about motivations for the introduction of Parish registers in England. He posed two questions, firstly, why the introduction, and secondly, why such registers succeed or fail. He was critical of the generally accepted idea, from historian Geoffry Elton, that is an motivation is stated by government, then it must be false (the 'Paxman principle'). Szreter gave Thomas Cromwell's stated motivation for the introduction (solving inheritance and other civil disputes), and contrasted it against Elton's belief that it was largely for tax purposes. This was then compared with colonial Englishmen in New England who set up similar registers on their own account, suggesting some level of social need the register was meeting (or inertia). However, these did not sustain for any length of time, a fact Szreter attributes to the non-existence of Poor Law welfare models in New England, which the register has become core to maintaining. It is interesting to think about state motivations, because a state (even early modern) is made up of multiple elements, it is feasible to believe that it has multiple motivations for any given act it takes. Therefore, the mistake that might be made here is an attempt to identify one single motivations - this does seem to be a common model of thought used by historians in isolating the state out from society, and assuming it to be homogeneous - it's motivations are higly likely to be overdetermined.

The final panel of the conference focused upon the advent and spread of house numbering practices, something I'd never even thought of before, and a symbol of the use of this conference in destabilising simple accounts of contemporary vs historical surveillance. House numbers are taken for granted, and have a multiplicity of uses both for individuals (where am I going? please send that letter to me, etc) and for the state (the suspect lives at number 9). The panelists, Vincent Denis, Karl Jakob Krogness and Anton Tantner spoke about house numbering in 19th century France, household registration schemes in Japan and house numbering in Europe respectively. House numbering again seems to have a military dimension, at least in France following on from previous temporary chalk numbers on houses to assist with military billeting, then being pulled in to everyday bureaucratic procedures (this is something we can see happening today with technologies such as GPS, initially military, now spreading out across a wide range of social activities). Krogness' talk showed how the choices made about an identification system (in this case focussing upon the household rather than the individual) can have massive social implications (although presumably, the choice is in some sense determined by existing social norms). In this case, heads of households became 'the terminal bureaucrat'. Tantner showed the range of alternate ways of numbering houses, which could easily seem trainspotterish, but, shows how even simple 'technologies' such as this are in some sense chosen, not on the basis of scientific merit, but for social reasons. He ended with a vignette of a social movement in Germany, that set up office in a shipping container in a public park. This movement gave this container a house and street number, inserting itself into bureaucratic mechanisms - it is unofficial, but it still gets post delivered to it. This shows how systems and structures can be contested and exploited regardless of their creators intention. I really wanted to hear if anybody could draw any connections between house addresses and email/IP addresses today.

I found the conference useful for the following reasons
  1. expanding historical knowledge of identification practices
  2. showing the contested nature of such processes, their resistances and their subversions
  3. showing that such practices arise for multiple reasons, often in responses to some social need (or perception of a social need) or governmental problem.
  4. making me think about the relationship between writing and policing.
  5. countering the technological domination of this field.

Friday, 2 October 2009

IdentiNet Conference, Oxford - 26-27th September 2009

Last weekend, I headed over to St Antony's college, Oxford for a two day conference - 'Identifying the Person: Past, Present & Future'. It mainly focused upon historical accounts of identification, and the disciplinary background was largely historians, but there were some other perspectives too. I wasn't giving a paper, so was able to just sit back and listen, and take a few notes. Full programme here

Panel One - Biometrics

Simon Cole (author of Suspect Identities, a history of fingerprinting) set out a theory of 'poster criminals' associatied with the promotion of particular regimes of identification. He aims to contradict the 'wiggish' history of inevitable technological development and show the contested history of technology development. The poster criminal represents the links between criminality and the identification problem. The poster criminal for fingerprinting was the burglar, whilst Cole argues the poster criminal for DNA technology is the sex criminal. Crime is seen as a problem to be solved through knowledge and science. As well as identification of individual criminals, Cole drew links between DNA fingerprinting technologies and wider attempts to find 'crime genes', and explored the use of other information technologies in dealing with sexual crime (community notification, iPhone apps that make use of sex offender registers to show you were nearby sex offenders live). He raised the prospect that the information overload available (about various forms of risk) meant that it was difficult to know what to do with that information. However, this problem itself is seen as being solveable by gaining further knowledge. I really like Cole's work, however, I'm sceptical that there is a single type of criminal that is the 'essence' of the argument. In my work on debates around ID cards in the UK, there's a whole chain of negatively evaluated roles that are mobilised in support of identification. The idea of information itself having an innate protective value emerges in the politics of terrorism too.

Mercedes Garcia Ferrari spoke about identification in Argentina, the role of police files in the 19th to early 20th century. She raised the role of the medical profession in allaying suspiscion, but that photography in ID really attracted resistance due to social stigma. She echoed Coles work by showing that in Argentina as well, scientific considerations were not the sole determinant in the development of identification technologies. An insight arising from this presentation was that if you wanted to use a technology for widespread social control, it would probably generate less resistance if you used a 'clean' technology rather than one with a history of being used in crime control, as this would be less likely to carry a stigma.

Pierre Piassa spoke about contemporary resistance to biometrics in France. He presented three case studies - the DNA sampling refusal movement, opposition to the use of biometrics in schools (primarily by parents rather than by the children subject to the system), and resistance to the national DNA database (INES?). This resistance has include unions, and has made use of websites etc to co-ordinate campaigns. The reistance to biometrics in school was said to have elements of 19th century luddism, fearing the mastery of the machine and involved sabotage. It is thought to subvert the role of the school system, conditioning pupils to accept control and punishment rather than critical and creative thinking. Pierre was cautious about drawing firm conclusions due to the relatively small number of activists about how representive they were of the French population as a whole in their attitudes towards identification and surveillance. Observations were made about the impact that France's Vichy regime had on attitudes towards identification.

The panel commentator, Pamela Sanker highlighted the importance of cateloging resistance as it happens, as when technologies become widely accepted previous resistance is elided. She pointed to the need to examine the back end of the database. Historical accidents are very important in how technologies occur, as are cultural beliefs.

Panel 2 - Intensive Documentary Surveillance

Ross Anderson spoke about the Database State, drawing upon the contents of the recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Foundation into government databases. He positioned identity cards as political theatre and overengineered, but part of a wider project of transformational government. There are 40 different identifiers used by the UK state, and there is an attempt to join them up. He spoke about the I vs Finland case, recently determined in Strasburg that establishes a legal right to restrict medical records to those directly involved in personal care, and that this would, if followed would prevent this transformative agenda. He also identified hard science issues about the dependability of large complex systems such as those the government is trying to build. Problems increase if users of complex systems are effectively competitors. There are also questions of how security scales and how universal names can be sorted across legacy systems. He is clearly in favour of the way that the private sector handles IT projects, and is scathingly critical of government IT in general.
I had a chat with Ross in the pub afterwards, and he sent me reference to an article I should read. In questions, Ross also discussed the disconnect between IT project lengths (often around 7 years) and ministerial or fast track civil service postings (typically 2 years) leading to project leaders being disengaged. He also highlighted the absence of an in-house technical staff in the UK civil service.

James Brown, one of the conference organisers read out a paper by Iris Braverman who was unable to attend. The paper looked at the Israeli border, and it's new crossing administration - an attempt to move away from capricious and unrealiable ad hoc border crossings manned by the army towards a smaller number of modern, professional, permanent 'international terminals' manned by a dedicated agency. Previously checkpoints were seen as blocking movement, these new crossings are to facilitate certain types of movement. The crossings are highly textual, in that there are signs everywhere, showing what is considered to be appropriate behaviour and how to orientate oneself to the crossing. The crossings also physically regulate conduct - it is impossible to approach them other than in single file, with no way of turning back due to systems of turnstiles and fenced queues. The images that were displayed of these were a little unsettling. Braverman described the system as a neoliberal netork of admin actors, with new forms of surveillance requring an intensive network of identification, carried out in modernised neo-liberal manner (efficiency, consumers, globalisation). An interesting paper, although I would take issue with the description of borders as 'capricious', although perhaps in a Kafka-esque sense of the word.

Jane Caplan (one of the conference organisers, and co-author of Documenting Individual Identity) spoke about identification documents and registers in Nazi Germany. There was quite a lot of historical detail to this presentation, which showed how identification practices involving local police registers and civil status systems were coupled to the primary political priority of waging war. It seemed to be a highly complex and elaborate set of processes, that seemed highly resistant to any attempt by the subject of records to alter or correct those records. This included changes to names, which became highly politicised (and vital) with the race laws the nazi regime brought in. Identification systems were used to achieve political ends, and to shore up cultural 'reforms' such as 'proper' German spellings of names (Clara to Klara for example) and restricting jewish people to a list of official jewish names. Caplan pointed out that these political changes might have been facilitated by how well they fitted with an already potnetially authoritarian system, and the acceptance of state interference in legal names. Nazi practice cannot be treated simply as an abberation from previously existing legal identification regimes. In questions, the UK was positioned as the other extreme of this, in that the state has traditionally had little jurisdiction over whatever one wanted to call oneself - as the change from David Wills to David Barnard-Wills has shown, it's a minefild of strange bits of archaic law, butting up against modern information practices.

In the question session that followed, there were remarks about what had happened to the traditional pessimistic british civil service with regard to IT projects, and also about the way that colonial practices were exported (often from the UK) and became rooted elsewhere - with Israel serving as a modern exporter of security practices that other governments explicitly 'learn from' (David Lyon) - this is something that Ces Moore and I have been writing about recently. Edward Higgs brought up Hardian's wall as an example of an attempt to control access rather than a complete barrier. One thing that came up here that REALLY threw me was the idea of illiterate police men. Now, rationally this makes sense, but I think I so strongly associate police work with some form of recording or attempting to make the criminal world legible and documented, that is seems oddly off kilter. That in itself is worth further thoughts.

Panel 3 - Mobilities

Edward Higgs argued that looking at mobility as a cause of identification regimes (as in the traditional 'modernity brings anonimity argument') isn't very productive. He pointed out that most identification was commerical rather than state based, and that when states did identify, they did it with commerical technology. He provided the two basic models through which historians make sense of the state in terms of motives and intentions.
The first is the 'statist' model in which the state exerts a will to power, and aims to control the people (James C. Scott - Seeing like a state is included here). The second is the 'social functionalist' camp in which state actions are explained in terms of the needs of society. The historical side of this presentation was good, showing how people in early modern England were highly mobile (Edward did a similar thing at the Identity in the Information Society Conference a few months back) - however, I was less happy with the second part in which this was used to draw lessons for contemporary identity cards. As a political scientists, I felt that the two models of the state offered were both simplistic and rather uncontested (the state was a relatively homogenous thing with obvious borders and end points, clear seperated from society) and contemporary government intentions were read off as if they were obvious, without much in the way of empirical evidence for the assertions made here. Edward argued that the state is attempting to turn itself in a shop with loyalty cards with the modern consumer trick of treating it's customers as individuals rather than as a mass.

Uma Dhuphelia-Mesthine spoke about Indians in the Cape and state permits system between 1906 and the 1920s - this focused upon the various evasion moves used to circumvent tight (and fairly racist) immigration requirements.

David Lyon spoke about Identifying the North American Person, theSecurity and Prosperity Agreement. This draws upon his newly released book, and had some overlap with the talk I heard him give at the LSE earlier in the week (which you can watch in full here). He drew attention to market volatily, political confusion and technology, in making it hard to predict what would stabilise out of current ID developments. He spoke about the idea of the 'card cartel' the combination of the government and private sector interests, and how the card symbolises the citizen-consumer (symbolised by the very shape of the modern card - like a credit card rather than papers, with a ready space in the wallet ready to accept it). The Security and Prosperity agreement is a north american treaty brought about by business interests post 9/11 to make sure that increased security would not trump economic mobility. David also spoke about opposition to the REAL ID act and attempts to standardise driving licenses across the US. He ended with some thoughts about the possibility of using the idea of human security as a corrective to the concerns of national security that seemed to predominate, and advocated for forms of active citizenship.

Panel 4 - Mobilities (2)

Keith Breckenridge spoke about Ghandi's involvement in identification of Indian workers in South Africa and the vulnerability of being sucked into an administrative order. This was a highly detailed presentation, which drilled down to look at the individuals involved in a pivotal political moment.

Adam Mckeown spoke about identification practices across the pacific, drawing upon his book 'Melancholy Order' he engaged with distinctions of east and west in terms of mobile, globalised classes from 1880s onwards, and contrasted the assumption that mobility and the ability to travel was an important element of human freedom with it's driver in capitalist labour practices. He argued that strengthening the external border was seen as a necessary part of allowing free movement within that border.

(day two of the conference and some conclusions to follow

Monday, 21 September 2009


Education game about the dangers of social networking, including privacy violations. Designed for young people, and produced by Channel 4. Smokescreen revolves around a face social networking site 'White Smoke'. Looks pretty interesting.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Terrorism and Securing Identity

I'm giving a talk at Royal Holloway tomorrow as part of a workshop on Media and Radicalisation. I'll be talking about some of the findings from the discourse analysis in my PhD which have some small implications for terrorism, security, and technology research.

Below is the powerpoint presentation that I'll be using. I mainly talk over pictures, so this won't make a huge amount of sense without the presentation, which I'm working on uploading as a video. It's mainly here to provide the quote slides for anybody at the workshop who might want a more detailed look.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Provisional programme for Security Workshop at POLSIS

"What threatens? Building Bridges in Security and Conflict Studies'

Tuesday 22nd September, G51 ERI Building, University of Birmingham

Panel 1 The Value of Military History for Contemporary Practitioners and Policy Makers

Chair: tbc

Peter W. Gray, “The Value of Military History in the Contemporary Environment”

Gary Sheffield, “Staff Ride and Seminar Room: The Realities of Applied Military History”

Christina Goulter, “Military Historical Support to the Royal Air Force”

Panel 2 American Hegemony and Its Maintenance

Chair: Richard Lock-Pullan

Adam Quinn, "In search of limits: AfPak and the 'new realism' in US foreign policy"

David Dunn, "Innovations and Precedent: the United States Use of Force and the Kosovo War"

Ben Zala, "American Hegemony and the Re-emergence of the Nuclear Disarmament Agenda"

Panel 3 What does Statebuilding Mean in Practice?

Chair: tbc

Paul Jackson, “State building, nation building and what the liberal peace means in practice”

Danielle Beswick, “The politics of regime security after genocide: Exploring Rwanda interventionism from DRC to Darfur”

Peter Albrecht, “Security Sector Reform, State-Building and Innovation in Sierra Leone”

Panel 4 Exploring the Boundaries of Critical Security: Identity, Time and Space

Chair: tbc

Laura Shepherd, “Gender and Global Social Justice: Peacebuilding and the Politics of Participation”

David Wills, “Securing Identity - Securitisation or Governmentality?”

John Carmen, “A Critical Approach to the Study of Conflict over the Long Term”


Chair: tbc

Paul Jackson, David Dunn, Garry Sheffield

Media and Radicalisation: Closing Symposium

I'll be presenting at the Media and Radicalisation closing symposium at Royal Holloway, on the 15th of September.

Panel One - Project Findings
  • Andrew Hoskins, Akil Awan, Ben O'Loughlin, Mina Al-Lami, Carole Boudeau

Panel Two - Identifying Terrorists on and offline
  • David Barnard-Wills - University of Birmingham - Terrorism and Securing Identity - a Discourse Analysis
  • Maura Conway - Dublin City University - How Technology and Terrorism are framed (title tbc).

Panel Three - Audience responses to global terrorism
  • Janroj Keles - Frech audience responses to discourses of radicalisation
  • Pierrick Bonno - French audience respones to discoures of radicalisation
  • Matilda Anderson - Open University - Responses to the Mumbai Attacks among theBBC World service audiances (title tbc)

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Identity blogs

Heres a couple of blogs that I'm adding to the 'blogs I'm following' section down towards the bottom right of this page. They're at the technical/crunchy end of identity issues.

Firstly, Kim Cameron's Identity Weblog - Kim is the chief identity architect at Microsoft, and author of the 7 laws of identity which have been brought back to my attention by some current research (specifically, Ontario privacy commissioner Anne Cavoukian's re-interpretation of them as the 7 privacy-embedded laws of identity)

Secondly, the Digital Identity Forum blog - which in one post, used the shakespeare quote that's scrawled in the back of my diary awaiting use somewhere:

Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
"Othello", Act 3 Scene 3.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Representing the Self

Journal of Information Technology and Politics

The special edition of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics on 'Politics: Web 2.0' is currently free to access. This state of affairs will not last, and it's probably worth grabbing these papers now. As I'm certainly doing.

most westerly CCTV in Europe?

This might just possibly be the most westerly CCTV camera in Europe. It's positioned near to the Gallarus Oretory, County Kerry, Ireland, presumably to keep an eye on the archeological site. I didn't do a very detailed search physical search, but it's towards the west end of the Dingle peninsula, and there's not much continent left at that point.

Conference announcement - A Global Surveillance Society?

A Global Surveillance Society?


City University London, UK
April 13 – 15, 2010

Surveillance is a ubiquitous feature of life in the global north, with citizens routinely monitored by institutions employing a range of sophisticated technologies. Increasing levels of surveillance are typically justified by the threat and fear of terrorism, crime and disorder, and to improve public and private services. In spite of this, little is known about the effect of surveillance on individuals, society, the democratic polity, nation states in the developed and developing world, and the evolving nature of humanity. The conference will feature papers which analyse and question these often taken for granted aspects of life within globalising surveillance societies. In particular we welcome papers which examine:
• Citizens’ everyday experiences of surveillance
• The attitudes to surveillance of the watching and the watched
• The development and diffusion of surveillance technologies in their institutional settings
• The political economy of surveillance, and the surveillance industry
• The surveillance of consumers and workers
• Regulatory developments in surveillance, including comparative constitutional and legal settings, privacy, freedom of information and data protection
• The philosophy of surveillance, and philosophical perspectives on surveillance
• The problems inherent within contemporary definitions of surveillance
• The role of the 'Technological' in surveillance studies
• Surveillance, intelligence and war
• Surveillance, sovereignty and the nation state
• Surveillance and the production of space
A formal conference call will be made on the 28th September 2009

Resistance to speed cameras in the US

Aaron Martin just pointed me in the direction of this Washington Times article about vandalism of speed cameras in Maryland. As the use of speed cameras seems to be fairly minor in the US compared with the UK, it'll be interesting to see if and how this type of resistance develops.

I would imagine that it could be potentially quite different to the discourse of the resistance to speed cameras here that Helen Wells and I wrote about in our Surveillance and Society article. However, the opposition here in the UK has primarily been from right-libertarian groups, which might map relatively well onto US political discourse. We found that one of the main problems resisters percieved with speed camera technology was the way that it challenged their self-ascribed 'normal, non-criminal' identity in an automatic technocratic process.

The article doesn't say if the speed cameras are the older type that are triggered by a sensor detecting the vehicle travelling over the speed limit, or the increasingly more common ANPR 'smart' cameras. Helen's identified some substantial differences between opposition to the two types in the UK, at least in part due to police forces learning from the experience of the older cameras and marketing ANPR a little more subtly.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Identity in the Information Society (1)

Very late, but better than never - Some notes from a workshop I attended earlier in the year.

2nd Multidisciplinary workshop on Identity in the Information Society, London School of Economics, 05/06/09

Kevin Bowyer – Notre Dame – what happens when accepted truths about IRIS biometrics are false?

Showed how some of the accepted truths about iris biometrics are false, but that this will not hugely change the field. Post 9/11 there was an inflation of biometrics. Showed a video of the use of Iris biometrics by the UNHCR in Afghanistan to prevent aid recipients making several claims.

Gave a good account of how Iris biometric technology work. Including taking a circular image and making it a straight line that can be digitised and turned into a code of 1’s and 0’s – it should be the case that everybody’s coding is statistical different. These images use near-IR illumination and therefore look quite different to normal light photos (this is because some people have dark irises hard to distinguish from the pupil).

Governments are interested because of claims to massive accuracy of this technique, with small error rates, and these extreme claims about performance appear to have a good theoretical background. However, there is often a confusion of types of errors (which may be the result of advertising copy written by marketers rather than scientists or engineers). To be able to tell how accurate the biometrics are, need both match and non-match distributions.

(How often do you match when you shouldn’t, or don’t match when you should)

Comparison of two images of the same eye, never give zero difference. There is some level of difference due to engineering and control of the environment. Engineering decisions place a threshold between two types of error distributions. An equal error rate is the threshold with the same numbers of errors on either side. So you essentially have to trade off the two types of errors.

Then Kevin got stuck into several accepted truths in Iris Biometrics.

· Pupil dilation doesn’t matter (greater differences increase the match rate)

· Contact lenses don’t matter – you can wear them or not (contact wearers about 20x likely to be false non-match e.g. don’t recognise you as you)

· Templates don’t age – you can have one enrolment for life (enrolment becomes much les accurate the longer enrolled, with a measurable increase in non-match frequency)

· It’s not a problem when you upgrade your sensors

Kevin identified that that was approximately, a 1 in 1.2 million chance of a false match. However, this was for a zero effort imposter, randomly chosen. It did not include anybody make any effort to try and beat the system.

He also asked why biometric systems did not automatically update with every successful access. For example, after having enrolled in a building access system, if the system recognises me as me (and lets me into the door) then, if you have confidence in the system’s accuracy, why shouldn’t the picture taken then replace the one in the database?

He also asked which problems does the government plan to solve with biometrics – ease, access or security? As this will affect the design of any future systems.

Roger Clarke – a sufficiently risk model of (id)entity, authentication and authorisation

Identity expert Roger Clarke presented his system attempt to rework the vocabulary used in identity and identification issues. This was an attempt to be positive rather than simply critical. There is a need for a deep technical discourse, and our ordinary language terms are not sufficient for this, because of the baggage and multiple, unfixed meanings that they carry. He was frustrated by the language, and wanted something internally consistent and useful for analysis purposes.

It includes 50 concepts. (my personal favourites are 'entifier' and 'nym')

I think I was sceptical about the assumption in this that there was/is a ‘real’ identity that language is confusingly covered. I’m also cautious that this would result in a really technical jargon that would be so distanced from ordinary usage that it was elitist and inaccessible by ordinary folk. The way that people think and talk about identity is important. It is also, as Clarke points out, messy and confused. This confusion causes some problems, but I don’t think that the response is to create an entirely new language. This is opting out, rather than being engaged in a discursive environment.

Seda Gurses (Leuven) Privacy Enhancing Technologies and their Users

(research page)

Seda set out the story of privacy in computer science since the 1970s/80’s retelling a story from surveillance studies as a software engineer. She claimed to be nervous beforehand, which didn’t come across at all. For software engineers, security is confidentiality, integrity and anonymity.

She argued that PETs (privacy enhancing technologies) were in general, poorly named. They are mainly anonymity systems, aimed at making the individual indistinguishable in a set, using a probabilistic model. PETS are based upon technocentric assumptions, not solving all privacy problems, but they are still essential. They are technocentric in that technology leverages a human act, it performs an instrumental function, the technology thought to be is exogenous, homogeneous (assumed to work everywhere), predictable, stable, and perform as designed.

PET assumptions are that 1) there is no trust on the internet, 2) users are individually responsible for minimising collection/dissemination of their data, 3) if they know your data, they know you, 4) collection and processing of personal data have a chilling effect, 5) technical solutions are preferred to a reliance upon legal solutions.

Seda countered this by drawing in a surveillance studies perspective, of networks, categorisation and construction and feminism. Data receives meaning through it’s relation to others. It is a creation of knowledge of a population. Statistical data reveals about individuals who don’t participate in data revelation (see Wills and Reeves, 2009 for more on exactly this). Social network structures are more difficult to anonymise so the very idea of individual responsibility is problematic (data is not private property?) but it is difficult to create collective counters. She drew attention to the idea of a digital commons.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Talk at Royal Holloway

I have been invited (and accepted) to give a talk at a workshop being held at Royal Holloway, University of London on the 15th of September. The workshop is the conclusion of the two year, ESRC funded study of radicalisation and the media and should be rather interesting.

I'll be talking about terrorism and its role in driving surveillance, primarily drawing upon issues of identity and identification. This will include identity cards, but also identification in the banking and financial sector, linked to anti-terrorist financing measures.

The threat of terrorism was one of the early stated reasons for the introduction of the identity card, this has largely been dropped, but not entirely. The focus is now more upon ‘terrorist use' of multiple identities, and blurring the lines between terrorism and organised crime. This comes out of my discourse analysis research, which studied government publications as well as news media accounts of surveillance – identifying particular frames through which surveillance technologies and practices are portrayed. The figure of the terrorist looms large in these frames.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

watchtower surveillance

At the top of a tower at warwick castle. Technically it's always been defensive, surveillant piece of architecture. You get rather good views over the surrounding county.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Recasting Power

I've just been invited to the above. A debate organised by Channel 4 about how the internet and various other digital things have, and are, influencing politics and the distribution of political power. It's taking place in Birmingham on the 17th of September. September's filling up with interesting activities, including a talk in London about David Lyon's new book, an identities conference in Oxford, a workshop of security studies at POLSIS and possibly a workshop on radicalisation at Royal Holloway.

US military Cyber Force Activated

Register article

The US air force held an activation ceremony in Texas yesterday for its new cyberspace combat unit, the 24th Air Force, which will "provide combat-ready forces trained and equipped to conduct sustained cyber operations".

The 24th will be commanded by former Minuteman missile and satellite-jamming specialist Major-General Richard Webber. Under his command are two cyber "wings", the 688th Information Operations Wing and the 67th Network Warfare Wing, plus combat communications units.

Ces Moore and I have been writing a bit about cyber-warfare of late, and I'll be doing more of it to cover the securing virtual spaces theme of the Space and Culture special issue. I don't actually like the term 'cyber-warfare' as it sounds like something Tom Clancy made up.

We had a look at Russian information operations and network warfare in relation to their operations in Chechnya for a contribution to a forthcoming book edited by Asaf Siniver here at UoB. It's a tricky field to get a handle on, given a lot of it is fairly arcane and deliberately hidden. That said, there are some contributions to political science and IR (especially security studies) that can be drawn out of it. In that article, we basically wanted to highlight the use of information warfare techniques as part of a counter-insurgency campaign against groups that were themselves fairly technically literate, and the combination of information attacks with physical attacks of the traditional lethal type.

ESRC / Surveillance Studies Network Seminar Series The Everyday Life of Surveillance

(I can't make this, but it is free to attend. Contact Kim McCartney -

Seminar 5: Architectures, Spaces, Territories September 1st, 2009 @ Culture Lab, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

9.00am registration for 9.30 am start. Finish by 4.30pm


The fifth seminar is the series will bring together both the ‘virtual’ (computers, telephones and the Internet) and the ‘material’ (buildings, neighbourhoods and cities). It will think about how these are increasingly merging and being subject to surveillance in the same or similar ways as computing is built into everything, including potentially, ourselves. The day will concentrate on the spatial and territorial aspects of surveillance in a world of global flows of people, things and information, and of pervasive computing technologies. This will bring together both virtual and material ordering in consideration of ideas of speed, post-territoriality, code, protocol and so on. It will cover forms of monitoring and control as ways of shaping the physical and virtual architecture and landscape (or flowscape) of private and public realms at multiple scales.

The seminar will consist of 3 dialogues between an exciting line-up of 5 invited speakers and the host, Martyn Dade-Robertson, Lecturer in Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, Newcastle University, UK.


Malcolm McCullough. Associate Professor in the Taubman College of Architecture and Planning, University of Michigan, USA. Malcolm is an architect and author of Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing and Environmental Knowing (2004, MIT Press).

Jaime Allen. Lecturer in Digital Media and Deputy Director of Culture Lab, Newcastle University, UK. Jaime is a new media artist and developer whose work can be seen at

Martin Dodge. Lecturer in Human Geography in the School of Environment and Development, Manchester University, UK. Martin is the author of several books on the mapping of virtual spaces, including (with Rob Kitchen) The Atlas of Cyberspace (Addison-Wesley, 2001) and is now interested in mapping data shadows.

Nikki Green. Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and New Technologies in the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, UK. Nikki is a sociologist of communications technologies, has worked on projects with BT and Intel, and is author (with Leslie Haddon) of Mobile Communications (Berg, 2008).

Marc Langheinrich. Assistant Professor in Computer Science at the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI) in Lugano, Switzerland. Marc is a former developer who was involved in the Disappearing Computer initiative and the EU's Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence (SWAMI).

Lessons from the Identity Trail

A fantastic little discovery this morning - I found that the book 'Lessons from the Identity Trail: anonymity, privacy and Identity in a networked society' is downloadable, chapter by chapter under the creative commons license.

Alternatively, you could buy the tome. This is a pretty substantial research project.

During the past decade, rapid developments in information and communications technology have transformed key social, commercial, and political realities. Within that same time period, working at something less than Internet speed, much of the academic and policy debate arising from these new and emerging technologies has been fragmented. There have been few examples of interdisciplinary dialogue about the importance and impact of anonymity and privacy in a networked society. Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society fills that gap, and examines key questions about anonymity, privacy, and identity in an environment that increasingly automates the collection of personal information and relies upon surveillance to promote private and public sector goals.

This book has been informed by the results of a multi-million dollar research project that has brought together a distinguished array of philosophers, ethicists, feminists, cognitive scientists, lawyers, cryptographers, engineers, policy analysts, government policy makers, and privacy experts. Working collaboratively over a four-year period and participating in an iterative process designed to maximize the potential for interdisciplinary discussion and feedback through a series of workshops and peer review, the authors have integrated crucial public policy themes with the most recent research outcomes.

Monday, 3 August 2009

(pre)Iraq cyberwar plans

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

New Directions in Surveillance and Privacy

I'm currently reading the edited collection 'New Directions in Surveillance and Privacy' by Benjamin Goold and Daniel Neyland, in order to review it for Information, Communication and Society.

Interesting so far, some very competant chapters, although I'm waiting for a few more new directions (I think they're coming). More when the review gets more substantial, or at the very least, a link to it when it gets published.


Upcoming Identinet conference in September in Oxford, which I'll probably be trying to get to. (it's on the weekend of the 26/27th)

The project's done a fair bit of work on identity in comparative and historical perspective, and has some major players involved.

and the bibliography is a great place to start - and I'd probably point students interested in this area, or any PhD student I might end up supervising in the future, towards this.

Monday, 22 June 2009


I've just come across this campaigning group called FITwatch - as in 'Foward Intelligence Team' the police units used to enact surveillance on large gatherings - including protests.

There's a video over on the guardian about some of the treatment of a couple of these campaigners, and their blog can be found here.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

National Security Strategy - implications for UK Intelligence

Its top of the page on the Guardian, so hardly breaking news, but IPPR have released a discussion paper written by Sir David Omand on the above topic. Its available in .pdf from here.

It deals with issues of database intelligence, and how this will alter the model of the intelligence agencies - which frankly, considering what the job of GCHQ is, and what foreign intelligence agencies such as NSA have been doing for years, is somewhat behind the times.

However, he does flag up a set of guidelines for intelligence use. With proper deconstruction of some of the implicit assumptions in these it might be a useful tool. Simply to make the argument that this is what a senior government advisor thinks should limit intrusive surveillance activity and allow us to ask if surveillance actors are even living up to that standard.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Moral Maze - Surveillance Society

Radio 4's Moral Maze programme deals with information, privacy, surveillance and the state.
They did one of these a couple of years back. I wonder if this one will irritate me as much as previously.

People presenting evidence to the panel included Phil Booth of NO2ID, he gives a fairly good account. Although I'm not sure about his reliance on a mantra of choice, although it does highlight the problem that the state can compell in ways that others do not.
Second up is David Aaronivitch, who would like to see everybody contributing their DNA to a national database, because its fairer. He manages to make Michael Portillo seem liberal (liberty is worth a few lives). Also anybody who thinks we're walking in a sleepwalking society, are suffering from some form of paranoia. Also, he can't actually use logic.
Thirdly, Matt Britten, manager of Google UK, which is interesting.
Fourthly is Professor Rosen

Also, Melanie Phillips is an idiot. Why she has anything to do with a programme which is supposed to think about moral or ethical issues, I don't know. She openly rephrases people's arguments, removing all nuance in order to try and make a point. I hate people whose main strategy is 'so what you're saying is...'

Monday, 9 February 2009

comprehensivelyprove you're not a terrorist

Wired Threat level article on a 'white list' for people who routinely get stopped on no-fly lists despite not being terrorists. Whilst I appreciate the difficulty and stress no fly lists cause people, this seems like a backwards way to fix that problem.

also, how does one go about proving the negative?

Friday, 6 February 2009

House of Lords report

The House of Lords constitution committee report on Surveillance: Citizens and the State has been published. It can be accessed here. Wonder if I can get away with reading it this weekend, suspect not, so analysis will have to wait. David Murakami Wood, preeminent surveillance researcher (and my external examiner on the PhD) has already written about it on his blog, which is worth reading.

Comment from the Information Commissioner's Office (.pdf)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

gaslight and social control

Thinking Allowed on radio 4 - audio stream available for the next week or so. Haven't managed to listen to it yet, but it looks interesting.

When gaslight first brought illumination to Britain's city streets people said night had been turned into day, but after the initial hyperbole had died down did it lead to a new type of social control? Laurie discusses the politics of gaslight with Chris Otter and Lynda Nead

Thursday, 22 January 2009

POSTnote references our work

A recent POSTnote briefing document from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on E-Democracy, references the conference presentation version of the forthcoming British Politics Paper on surveillance, personal information, facebook and political parties.

Around the time I started working at Birmingham, I noticed that they one of the upcoming research briefs from POST was on e-democracy, and sent them a few suggestions of people to talk to, read up on, along with this paper, so it definitely seems worth it to get things out there, and seen by people.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did a short research fellowship at POST a few years back, so had an insight into how their research for POSTnotes is conducted. This was mine.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Intelligence and Surveillance seminar - Leicester

The following dropped into my inbox from about 5-6 different sources. I can't go because I'm teaching all day, which is a shame. I've attended two of the seminars in this series (presented at one on the Ethics of Resilience in counter-terrorism) and they were both pretty good. It's annoying that I can't make the one on surveillance.

ESRC Research Seminar Series: Ethics and the War on Terror: Politics,
Multiculturalism and Media.
Call for papers and participants.

'Intelligence and Surveillance: Making the Critical Links'
One-day seminar Monday February 23 2009 10.30am - 5.30pm, University of
Leicester, UK.

This one-day seminar is the final event in the above seminar series,
which has adopted an interdisciplinary approach to ethical dimensions of
the war on terror. The seminar will focus on broad areas related to
intelligence and surveillance, including links between them. It will
include discussion of the three main themes of the series, politics,
multiculturalism and media, and a roundtable will offer conclusions on
the series and discuss future research agendas.

Confirmed speakers include Jeffrey Stevenson Murer (University of St
Andrews), Mark Phythian (University of Leicester), Caroline Kennedy-Pipe
(University of Hull), and Stuart Price (De Montfort University,

We would like to receive further paper proposals, including from PhD
students, on the seminar theme. Please email paper proposals (a title,
250-word abstract and your affiliation details), and requests to
participate in the seminar to Gillian Youngs ( as soon as
possible and no later than Monday February 2 2009.

The seminar is open to policy-related and practitioner participants as
well as academics and research students. The number of places is limited
to 30. There is no charge for the seminar and lunch and refreshments are
provided. For those presenting papers standard rail travel and overnight
accommodation expenses where necessary will be covered.
ESRC research seminar series 'Ethics and the War on Terror: Politics,
Multiculturalism, and Media' coordinated by Gillian Youngs (University
of Leicester), Simon Caney (University of Oxford) and Heather Widdows
(University of Birmingham).

Gillian Youngs, Department of Media and Communication, University of
Leicester, Attenborough Building
University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK
My webpage:
Phone/Fax: 44 (0)116 252 3863/5276
ESRC Seminar Series: Ethics and the War on Terror: Politics,
Multiculturalism and Media. 2006/8. See details

Surveillance and Society Paper

Good news yesterday evening, recieved an email from Laura Huey, one of the guest editors of the upcoming Surveillance and Society special issue on resistance to surveillance. The paper 'Individualism and Identity: Resistance to Speed Cameras in the UK' I wrote with Dr Helen Wells has been accepted for publication in the special issue (pending some revisions). Looking forward to seeing that one in print. It'll be good to get a full article in Surveillance and Society.

6 weeks to get the revisions done, shouldn't be a problem.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Facebook as a political weapon

The paper that Stuart Reeves and I wrote on extracting personal information from relationships on social networking sites, and some of the political implications of this has been accepted for publication in the 'Beyond the mainstream' section of the journal British Politics. The aim of the section is to increase the scope of the study of british politics, which tends to focus primarily upon political parties and their doings, when it should probably be a much broader and more inclusive field. We've more than happy to contribute to that intention with a discussion of politics of surveillance and personal information. 

We've got to do a couple of minor revisions, then it should hopefully be published in Volume 4, Issue 2 this year (maybe June, going by last years publication pattern). Stuart had his viva around the same time as I did, and has also recently submitted his corrections. 

Surveillance of Non-human life - ESRC/SNN

On the 8th Jan 2009, I attended the third workshop in the ESRC funded Surveillance Studies Network seminar series 'The everyday life of surveillance' on 'Surveillance of non-human life' about which I inititally had some scepticism, but since attending have been totally convinced of the importance of examining this topic. It was an attempt to counter the general focus in surveillance studies of surveillance of human beings. 

Andrew Donaldson (complete with blade-runner referencing T-shirt) gave a talk on root questions of animal agency, theories of animal agency and understanding animal behaviour, and the fundamental disconnect between developments in such theories (qualitative behavioural assessment) and new technologies such as DNA traceback.  
Andrew felt that we actually overplay human agency (fairly biologically determinist?). He also spent some time talking about foodchain surveillance, which may have prompted some people to turn vegitarian. He used an interesting concept of 'Virtuous food' and showed how the supermarket industry was able to use surveillance of its food chain in the name of the invisible consumer to exert greater control over its supply chain. He questioned exactly for whom this surveillance of animal welfare was being conducted.  He presented two model.s that might lead to this situation, one 'conspiracy' and the other 'clusterf**k'. It occured to me that there were very definite class dynamics in foodchain surveillance, and that the differential labelling (and monitoring) enable market segmentation.

The second presentation, by Gareth Enticott on Social capital and surveillance of bovine TB examined how the concept of biosecurity was constructed in various ways in government, veterenary and farming discourses. It gave an account of individual vs population health promotion, and how anecdotes were used to question science or policy pronouncements. Prevention was particularly problematic because success is marked by a non-event (same for counter-terror). There was also an acount of lay epidiologies. The presentation concluded with research done on farms with inspections into bovine TB, highlighting the conflict caused by the privatisation of TB inspection -  vets acting as inspectors on their normal clients (who pay their wages) and the various ways in which official protocol is subverted or avoided when faced with practical reality, and how the process was subjected to regulatory capture by farmers. 

Amber Marks, author of Headspace, which I think I've written about here before, gave a presentation, which included some powerpoint slides she'd 'borrowed' from various sources. These gave an amazing example of how technology is constructed as accurate ('there are no myths about technology' 'everybody knows how technology works'). This was in the context of a comparison between mechanical surveillance methods and the use of sniffer dogs.

Steve Hinchliffe gave a talk on an upcoming research project, for which he had been conducting preliminary pilot research. The project was about biosecurity borderlands: surveillance gone wild, and comprised of various strands, one of which is illegal meat markets in Birmingham. He spoke about the differing concepts of bio-security in various countries - the USA adopting a homeland security model based on bio-terror threats, expanding out to include non-intentional threats, the UK and EU reacting to foot and mouth, and Australia primarily focussed upon invasive species. His talk used a bio-political method to account for biosecurity. It was about regulation not prophylactics (modulations not curtailment), security not defence, geopolitics meeting biopolitics, and borderlands rather than boundaries, and the importance of preparedness and responsiveness.

The next seminar in the series is likely to be in April/May, I think in Edinburgh to co-ordinate with events organised by Mike Nellis on surveillance in Scotland, and will look at Surveillance and Regulation. I think Charles Raab is organising that one and it'll be right up my political science street. 

New Year updates - thesis

Its been a while since I posted here, and a fairly busy time too. Finished up the corrections on the thesis, had them off for proofreading, and then they were handed back to Dr David Stevens, my internal examiner at Nottingham (co-author of the rather good Finished a draft of the Terrorism literature review for RE-DESIGN, and managed to fit in a holiday over Christmas. 

Thesis - I had a number of things to do to the thesis to answer questions raised by the examiners. Chief among these was to provide a summary of science and technology studies, especially as this feeds into surveillance. I think this was missing because I started to engage with this field towards the end of the project, and even after submission (and it needed to go in the literature review chapter, which was one of the first written. I'm a member of EASST now, and have been since they offered a reduced rate for the conference in the netherlands. This involved reading some rather good stuff, including Simon Cole's Suspect Identities. 

I also expanded the deleuzian element of the thesis, specifically the idea of the collective assemblage of enunciation, the discursive element that complements 'machinic' assemblages in Deleuze and Guattari's 'A Thousand Plateaus' but is missing in Haggerty and Ericson's use of assemblages in The Surveillant Assemblage. This theoretical point makes a good argument for the importance of using discourse analysis to look at the way that surveillant assemblages are constructed and held together through language and communication. 

I dropped a number of policy proposals from the thesis. I still beleive in all of these, but it was pointed out in the viva that they didn't necessarily follow from the findings of the thesis, more from a general take on surveillance and information policy. 

Anyway, thats back with the internal examiner, and we'll see if the changes are ok, and if so, i'll be recommended to the registry for the awarding of the PhD.