Monday, 20 December 2010

New Issue of Surveillance and Society out

There's a new issue of Surveillance and Society just out (Volume 8, number 2) on Surveillance and Empowerment. It makes interesting reading.

My tiny part in this is a book review (look, down there, at the bottom) of David Lyon's 'Identifying Citizens'.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Delivering Public Services Online - VOME Workshop

This Tuesday, the Visualisation and Other Methods of Expression project on which I work hosted a workshop at the British Museum. The topic of the workshop ‘Delivering Public Services Online’ resulted from the work the project has been doing with public service providers, especially in Sunderland, and some of the work we’ll continue to do in future. It was intended to examine some of the implications, especially surround privacy, for a general shift towards delivering public services online. This was occurring in a shifting environment.

One of the Speakers included Ollie Bray, the National Advisor for Learning and Technology Futures at Learning and Teaching Scotland. His talk touched on the technology available to open up learning. He made the argument that kids today are different to previous generations, as a result of social change and digital technology. They have access to any information that they want (although maybe not knowledge) but they may not be emotionally ready for this information. The role of the educator is to promote trust, but also to protect children. Schools can be ill-prepared for these responsibilities (how many kids have net access at home, what is a social network) There are problems around language – for 11-12yr olds, ‘friend’ is somebody you have made a connection with online – pretty much anybody with a shared interest, not necessarily the old definition. Language shifts over time – concepts such as ‘e-learning’ and ‘e-safety’ are a problem in themselves (in the same way that an ‘ICT area’ in a school is) in that they suggest ICT is separate from children’s lives – we should talk about safety and learning. Ollie also spoke about the use of games in education. He referred to a Futurelab study on this. Games are competitive, but non-threatening.

Ollies believes that with regard to technology ‘solution is in the problem’ which is currently an under-investment in technology and in teacher training. Technology infiltrates all areas of lives apart from formal education. Teachers need to get involved in informal information gathering. In speaking about the keys skills that he thought young people needed, he identified the notion of the digital footprint, including the tension between privacy and having a profile (a necessity for some careers, especially music, art, design etc), and that privacy doesn’t exist any longer, in the form that it might have in the past. Ollie advocated a broader critical literacy, helping young people to recognise persuasion and assess the reliability of information and credibility (which is in national curricula), but that fully includes digital critical literacy. Wikipedia was identified as a good tool for teaching this, due to the notes and change logs.

Ollie also identified some of the barriers to achieving this integrated, critical use of technology in education: 1) fear that children will misuse technology – which they will, but you have to teach responsible use, 2) need for training in the technology – but the technology is getting easier to use, 3) time taken to teach information technology – but if properly used, tech can save time, especially in engagement, 4) digital divides – the real digital divide is between the west and rest of the world, generally, as a society, we are in a good place. 5) motivation is the biggest barrier and often occurs at the highest level of organisations – the recent teaching white paper didn’t even mention information technology.

New Publication: The Terrorism of the Other

An article that I co-wrote with Dr Cerwyn Moore, of POLSIS, University of Birmingham has just been published in Critical Studies on Terrorism. It's titled 'The Terrorism of the Other: Toward and contrapuntal reading of terrorism in India', and available (behind the paywall) at Informaworld

The abstract is as follows:

This article advances an argument for a contrapuntal reading of terrorism using the case study of India. In recent years, the work of Edward Said has received some attention in the field of international relations. As yet, however, most readings of terrorism, either in its traditional form of terrorism studies or in the guise of critical terrorism studies, have not addressed the interface between terrorism and security, drawing on the work of Said. We take his work as a point of departure, enabling the analysis in this article to critique the 'clash of civilisations' thesis whilst also exploring the relationship between mass casualty terrorism and crowded places. In doing so, we draw attention to the instantiation of a series of attacks in India. The final section of this article pulls the analysis together so as to question the relationship between poverty and resilience.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Surveillance and Privacy Christmas List

It's snowing outside, it's nearly December, and the Christmas lights have been up for weeks. Alongside this seasonal joviality, I've been noticing some odd trends in toys and games recently. They're showing signs of reflecting our cultural obsession with all things surveillance. Let's see what we're putting on Big Santa's christmas list this year (remember kids, he knows if you've been naughty or nice).

Playmobil Airport Security.

Almost a classic, being available for a couple of years now. Your children can exerience the fun of being a (minimum wage) airport security worker. Coming next year, the playmobile nudotron scanner and enhanced pat-down kit, which a lot of people are already exited about.

Lego Police Car

Lego have had police for a long time, but it's good to see them keeping up to date with modern surveillance technology. This patrol officer has a handy speed camera! Thinking about resistance to this? Motorists Against Detection playset sold seperately. Unfortunately the police helicopter is being phased out and replaced with an unmanned drone, boo!

Webcam Barbie

Barbie updates her traditional christmas role of reinforcing gender stereotypes and creating body-image problems with this new variant, incorporating a web cam in her...decolletage. Probably not the sort of empowering exhibitionism written about here.

Spy Gear Lie Detector Kit

Spy Gear Lie Detector Kit - "Whether you're working for the police or the government you can now use this fantastic lie detector test to find out whether your suspect is guilty! A perfect toy for the budding police officer; it also encourages imaginative play and creative thinking. Find out who's telling the truth and who's not by giving your suspect a lie detector test. Attach the sensor to your suspect's finger. Ask tough questions to really make'em squirm. The indicator lights light up when your suspect isn't telling the truth-busted. Batteries required: 2 x AA (not included). For ages 6 years and over."

The best thing about this toy? It doesn't matter if it actually works or not, just like the real thing!

So that's presents for Michael, Helen, Hille and Andy sorted. But on a more serious note, I'm not sure how I feel about these. Intuitively, it feels weird to give kids something that encourages them to play-act being security agents, or to put their friends through an interrogation (and the barbie-thing is just a bit mental). On the other hands, these things are part of our contemporary culture and I'm sure kids will want to engage with that. These toys may also be labratories for subversion and resistance, and who knows what use might be made of them in creative and imaginative play.

We might also think about toys and games that might help young people to make sense of their current environment in playful ways. There's some stuff out there already, for example The Curfew game from Channel 4. But what would 'my first encryption set' look like?

I don't know, why can't kids have an old fashioned toys? Like a telescope for example.

Friday, 26 November 2010

New Publication: Public Sector Engagment In Online Identity Management

A paper I co-wrote with Debi Ashenden has just been published in the journal Identity in the Information Society. As befitting such a topic, it is available through Open Access, so should be free and accessible to all.

You can get the paper here.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 3rd Identity in the Information Society Workshop, held in Rome earlier in the year, and participants at that workshop were helpful in refining the arguments. It looks at the way that the government is attempting to engage with the public around the issues of online identity management - incorporating privacy, personal information managament and some basic information security. It looks at websites such as Get Safe Online, and ID fraud prevention advice. Our broad practical conclusions are that this isn't particularly effective or useful, evidences a narrow perception of the 'user' and is primarily didactic.

Theoretically, the paper makes use of governmentality theory to understand the role of government as a provider of advice, guidance, and 'best practice', through wide coalitions of actors held together through shared discourses.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

ECIW 2011 - cyber conflict mini-track

10th European Conference on Information Warfare and Security
Institute of Cybernetics at the Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia
7-8 July 2011

Conference Chair: Vahur Kotkas, Institute of Cybernetics at Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia
Programme Chair: Rain Ottis, Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, Tallinn, Estonia

CALL FOR PAPERS, Action Research, CaseStudies, Work in Progress/Posters, PhD Research, Round Table Proposals, non-academic Contributions and Product Demonstrations

Mini Track: Cyber Conflict
Mini Track Chair: Debi Ashenden Defence Academy, Cranfield University, UK

There have been a number of calls recently for research, debate and public engagement on cyber conflict in order to better understand the domain. Even deciding on the title for this track is problematic – should it be called cyber security or cyber war? In the end we’ve opted for cyber conflict to encompass both but no doubt views will differ and we would like to give those views an airing.

The argument is made that without such discussion any policy formulated will be narrow and short-term. There is a recognised need for research that crosses disciplinary boundaries if we are to develop an intellectual framework for discussing cyber conflict. The aim of this track is to stimulate discussion, to start to explore strategic issues and to encourage debate that crosses legal, political, ethical and technological disciplines

Submission details are given below. Topics for submissions to this mini track may include, but are not limited to:
The lexicon of Cyber
The problem of attribution
The differences between attack and exploitation
Citizen involvement and patriotic hackers
International partnerships
Other topics

As well as full academic papers, the following submissions are also welcomed:
Research in Progress: Researchers may submit current projects whilst they are still in progress
Case Study Submissions: Submissions should be written to publishable standards.
Poster Submissions: Welcomed in any of the areas identified in the Call for Papers.
Round Table Proposals: Topical subjects proposed for discussion.

This call for papers and further information about the conference is available online at:

Friday, 29 October 2010

Royal Academy of Engineering: Privacy and Prejudice

The Royal Academy of Engineering has released the report from it's research project into young people's attitudes towards towards electronic patient records. Privacy and Prejudice (PDF).

The research used a novel methodology which included touring a play ('Breathing Country') that engaged with the topic of electronic patient records, their potential implications and consequences, as well as some of their positive uses in research and medical development. This was supported by community researchers - groups of young people who were supported in conducting their own research in their schools, a 'deliberative conference' and focus groups. The play incorporated electronic voting technology to pose questions to the audiance before, during and after the play. The report suggests that this methodology was able to get participants to engage with topics more deeply, to provide information without being too dry, and that it tended to develop rather than substantially change attitudes.

The report finds that privacy is highly important to young people, even if they do post things on Facebook. Concerns primarily revolve around issues of control of personal information and how young people can exercise this. Facebook is not seen as violating their privacy because there is a choice to engage, and a choice about what to post online. Unease over sharing information is related to the type of information, and who might have access to it, as well as to the consequences from sharing information.

The report finds an initially low level of understanding of EPI and some assumption that health information is already kept electronically or online, as well as low awareness of current confidentiality rights. There were also many concerns linked to the security of a records system, including human falliability (both in terms of a lack of skill, and a tendency to pry). Control over one's health information includes being kept up to date with the workings of the system and how best to use it. This requires a communication strategy across a range of media, including those that young people are likely to engage with, whilst at the same time listening and responding to the specific concerns that young people have identified. Young people in the study were happier to trust the NHS with their data than the government as whole. The 'wrong hands' into which data might fall included commerical and private companies, advertising agencies, people who wanted to sell the data, insurance companies, potential employers, the media, and sometimes government. Interactions between young people and their parents were of particular importance.

If this report gives an accurate perspectives on the concerns of young people over EPR, when they are honestly and openly engaged with, then I'm quite impressed by the issues that the young people who participated in this process engaged with, and the level of maturity in the questions they asked (for example, concern about records being permanent and being 'labelled for life). Based on this, I'm included to support their calls for control of their own data at a young age, rather than this being the sole preserve of their parents until age 18 (all participants from 14+ felt they were old enough to handle their own data).

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Identity Documents Bill

The identity documents bill is now through to the House of Lords. A few months back I wrote and submitted a memorandum to the Public Bill Committee of the House of Commons as it was examining the bill. Now that they committee has finished with the bill, they've published all the memoranda here (scroll down). I'm in august company - Liberty, Justice, The Equality and Human Rights Commission, ICO, and the LSE Identity Project - oh, and some people who want the £30 they paid for a card back). I'm not totally sure about the impact of this, but I think its very important for academics with an informed perspective on an issue currently going through parliament to contribute to evidence processes. Especially, if we continue to make a claim for public funding of research.

My submission is here. Generally, there's some interesting process documents scattered around these parliamentary webpages, downside is that a lot of the committee discussion has been about the entitlement of people who signed up for a card to their money back, some maintenance of the ID card system until their cards expire, or some similar special pleading. Part of this would be the structure of the committee, which is to look at the legality and appropriateness of the legistlation set before them - not to come up with innovative solutions to contemporary identity issues.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Recent Twittering

I started using twitter a few months back (@dbarnardwills) Since then I've found it useful for keeping up to date with things happening in the technology, privacy, and political worlds. Not perfect - I've not given up journal alerts, or subscriptions to UK Parliament email, or the Surveillance JISC mailing list - but it has certainly introduced me to things I might not have otherwise come across. The key to this seems to be finding the right people to follow. There is no one idea person, but to my mind they would combine knowledge of a subject area, unique or specialist sources of information, and some form of filtering. I like to follow specialists the best. You can find out who I follow here:

A good proportion of my own twitter feed is retweets that fit with my own interests: Surveillance, privacy, technology and politics, international and cyber-security. There's also the occasional one that happens when the touch-screen on my phone is a little imprecise... I see the main function here being to collate information that I think interesting, as well as adding in material from other sources, that others might find useful. As an academic working in the above areas, I'm a specialist, and I use twitter as such. I also find it useful to retweet when I'm away from the office, so that I can highlight the content to myself later.

The twitter feed is summarised over on the right of this page, but retweets don't always show.
The following is a summary of some of the recent material that useing twitter has exposed me to:

There's been quite a bit of interesting material on the surveillance of young people online. We're working in this area as part of the broader privacy and consent project. News in this area has included a new Wall Street Journal investigation. This looked at the most popular children's websites and examined the amount of behavioural tracking and targeted advertising they were doing - finding that that children were more under surveillance online than users of a typical website. This follows a study (conducted by a net security company) that teens lack privacy skills. I've got some ideas on why this might be, arising from the research I've just finished on 'e-safety education', but for the time being there's a great resource now available on active citizenship for young people.

In Privacy, there's a guide to translating a privacy policy (which is something else we're looking at). A new website called 'Dark Patterns' aims to demonstrate the underhand persuasive techniques used online to try and influence web users into signing up for, buying, or giving away more personal information, than they really wanted to. In related news, apparently web privacy start up companies are having a hard time getting people to pay for privacy. Also, a burglary ring in New Hampshire, using facebook to work out when people are not at home.

Very importantly, the Future for Privacy forum has produced a list of 'privacy papers for policy makers' - the necessary reading for people making political decisions about privacy (and academics in that field). Patient Privacy rights has released a paper arguing the case for informed consent in regard to patient privacy. Also, here's a potentially interesting paper on an 'automated privacy dictionary' that attempts to identify privacy markers in discourse. There's also a new journal coming from Oxford Journals next year 'International Data Privacy Law'.

In Cybersecurity, 4Chan's Anonymous takes down anti-piracy websites, whilst US Cybersecurity plans lag due to legal and privacy concerns. This is at the same time as the head of the NSA and US cybersecurity chief highlights the importance of privacy. Here's a short article on differing approaches to web censorship, and

In UK politics, there are plans for a crowdsourced map of government public sector budget cuts.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Conferences and calls for papers

Given that I managed to miss the very interesting looking Political Economy of Surveillance conference at the Open University last week, here's a list of three up and coming conferences and calls for papers on surveillance, and surveillance-related topics.

Covert Cultures: Art and the Secret State 1911-1989
4-5th February 2011

The early years of the twentieth century saw the birth of the age of the covert state. Crises of international relations, nationalisms and revolutionary politics led governments to create secret institutions whose activities would long remain hidden from citizens, while those same governments sought through stricter legislation to map and control the flow of their own sensitive information. As the century progressed, espionage and surveillance moved to the centre of popular culture, while real intelligence agencies became more advanced and more powerful, using cultural
production as a weapon in the ideological battles of the Cold War. More recently, covert activity has returned to the public consciousness, with espionage, secret weapons programmes, torture and civil liberties again at the forefront of debates on the conduct of the modern state.

This renewed interest has coincided with the centenary of British intelligence services, and has been well served by the flourishing field of intelligence history. Yet the relation of this new, clandestine world to art has remained relatively under-examined. From the spy novels of the First World War to the CIA’s secret funding of art exhibitions and Encounter magazine in the 1950s, visual art, film and literature have acted in complicity with, as well as in resistance to, the aims of secret state action. This conference – which will take place in the centenary year of the 1911 Official Secrets Act – hopes to investigate the terms on which art and intelligence meet, and the cultural ramifications of that interaction. We invite twenty-minute papers from researchers in the fields of intelligence history, art history, film studies, geography, sociology and English and European literatures.

Topics of discussion will include, but are not limited to:

- Restricted Spaces
- Cultural Complicity and Manipulation
- The Visual Culture of the Secret Services
- Berlin: Intelligence East and West
- Defection
- Torture
- Surveillance
- Spy Fever and Public Paranoia
Submission guidelines: Declarations of interest with an abstract of no more than 300 words, and accompanied by a brief resume, should be sent to the organisers at as soon as possible and no later than Friday 29 October 2010. Accepted papers will be announced on Friday 5 November 2010. Finalised papers should be submitted by Friday 7 January 2011 and will be circulated to participants prior to the event. The organisers will also actively solicit papers.

4th International Conference, Computers, Privacy and Data Protection
European Data Protection: In Good Health?
25-27 January 2011

Computers, Privacy and Data Protection – CPDP 2011 is a three-day conference organised by academics coming from all over Europe, with the ambition of becoming Europe’s most important forum for academics, practitioners, policy-makers and civil society where they can meet, exchange ideas and discuss emerging issues of information technology, privacy, data protection and law.

CPDP is organised by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the Université de Namur, the Universiteit van Tilburg, the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique and the Fraunhofer Institut für System und Innovationsforschung.


CPDP has progressively been growing since its inception both in terms of speakers, participants and panels and the ambition for its upcoming fourth consecutive edition is higher than ever. Determined to exceed the positive feedbacks received from speakers and participants, which range from ‘excellent’ to ‘brilliant agenda keeping’, this year’s conference offers twelve panels, a pre-conference, a philosophy reading-panel and a PhD-evening. The previous edition of the PhD evening proved to be one of the most intellectually stimulating moments of the entire conference, with the active participation of key speakers and participants of the conference.

The regular panels include both the presentation of stakeholders’ agenda and intense debates around key issues in the field of privacy, data protection, technology and society. In addition, specific sessions will be dedicated to the issues of e-health, surveillance and law-enforcement, privacy in on-line service models and data breaches notifications. Finally, the philosophical panel will focus on privacy and due process after the computational turn.


The CPDP Scientific Committee invites position and academic papers from PhD students, post-docs and early career researchers in the fields of law, political sciences, social sciences and computer sciences for the PhD evening session, which will take place on 26 January 2011.

Suggested topics include, but are not restricted to:

-Review of the Data Protection Directive (directive 95/46/EC)
-Data Retention
-Behavioural Profiling
-Private Firms’ privacy strategies -Information Security
-Surveillance and Strategies of Counter-Surveillance
-Privacy Advocacy -Data Protection and Law Enforcement
-Ambient Intelligence
-Multidisciplinary Studies in Privacy.

For position papers, authors must send the entire paper and identifying information by 16 November 2010. Notification will be provided by the 15 December 2010.
For full papers, authors must provide a 200-word abstract by 16 November 2010. Notification of acceptance will be provided by 30 November 2010, and accepted full papers are due by 21 December 2010.

Position and academic papers will be peer reviewed by members of the Scientific Committee and other independent reviewers (where necessary). In order to guarantee the process of double-blind review, identifying information should be removed. Please send in a separate Word attachment with the following information: Title, affiliation and author’s name and contact details.

Abstracts, contributions and identifying information should be sent by electronic mail in word documents to Ronald Leenes (Tilburg University)

Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life: An international workshop
May 12-15, 2011, University of Toronto, Canada

Digitally mediated surveillance (DMS) is an increasingly prevalent, but still largely invisible, aspect of daily life. As we work, play and negotiate public and private spaces, on-line and off, we produce a growing stream of personal digital data of interest to unseen others. CCTV cameras hosted by private and public actors survey and record our movements in public space, as well as in the workplace. Corporate interests track our behaviour as we navigate both social and transactional cyberspaces, data mining our digital doubles and packaging users as commodities for sale to the highest bidder. Governments continue to collect personal information on-line with unclear guidelines for retention and use, while law enforcement increasingly use internet technology to monitor not only criminals but activists and political dissidents as well, with worrisome implications for democracy.

This international workshop brings together researchers, advocates, activists and artists working on the many aspects of cyber-surveillance, particularly as it pervades and mediates social life. This workshop will appeal to those interested in the surveillance aspects of topics such as the following, especially as they raise broader themes and issues that characterize the cyber-surveillance terrain more widely:

  • social networking (practices & platforms)
  • search engines
  • behavioural advertising/targeted marketing
  • monitoring and analysis techniques (facial recognition, RFID, video analytics, data mining)
  • Internet surveillance (deep packet inspection, backbone intercepts)
  • resistance (actors, practices, technologies)

A central concern is to better understand DMS practices, making them more publicly visible and democratically accountable. To do so, we must comprehend what constitutes DMS, delineating parameters for research and analysis. We must further explore the way citizens and consumers experience, engage with and respond to digitally mediated surveillance. Finally, we must develop alliances, responses and counterstrategies to deal with the ongoing creep of digitally mediated surveillance in everyday life.

The workshop adopts a novel structure, mainly comprising a series of themed panels organized to address compelling questions arising around digitally mediated surveillance that cut across the topics listed above. Some illustrative examples:

  1. We regularly hear about ‘cyber-surveillance’, ‘cyber-security’, and ‘cyber-threats’. What constitutes cyber-surveillance, and what are the empirical and theoretical difficulties in establishing a practical understanding of cyber-surveillance? Is the enterprise of developing a definition useful, or condemned to analytic confusion?
  2. What are the motives and strategies of key DMS actors (e.g. surveillance equipment/systems/ strategy/”solutions” providers; police/law enforcement/security agencies; data aggregation brokers; digital infrastructure providers); oversight/regulatory/data protection agencies; civil society organizations, and user/citizens?
  3. What are the relationships among key DMS actors (e.g. between social networking site providers)? Between marketers (e.g. Facebook and DoubleClick)? Between digital infrastructure providers and law enforcement (e.g. lawful access)?
  4. What business models are enterprises pursuing that promote DMS in a variety of areas, including social networking, location tracking, ID’d transactions etc. What can we expect of DMS in the coming years? What new risks and opportunities are likely?
  5. What do people know about the DMS practices and risks they are exposed to in everyday life? What are people’s attitudes to these practices and risks?
  6. What are the politics of DMS; who is active? What are their primary interests, what are the possible lines of contention and prospective alliances? What are the promising intervention points and alliances that can promote a more democratically accountable surveillance?
  7. What is the relationship between DMS and privacy? Are privacy policies legitimating DMS? Is a re-evaluation of traditional information privacy principles required in light of new and emergent online practices, such as social networking and others?
  8. Do deep packet inspection and other surveillance techniques and practices of internet service providers (ISP) threaten personal privacy?
  9. How do new technical configurations promote surveillance and challenge privacy? For example, do cloud computing applications pose a greater threat to personal privacy than the client/server model? How do mobile devices and geo-location promote surveillance of individuals?
  10. How do the multiple jurisdictions of internet data storage and exchange affect the application of national/international data protection laws?
  11. What is the role of advocacy/activist movements in challenging cyber-surveillance?

In conjunction with the workshop there will be a combination of public events on the theme of cyber-surveillance in everyday life:

  • poster session, for presenting and discussing provocative ideas and works in progress
  • public lecture or debate
  • art exhibition/installation(s)

We invite 500 word abstracts of research papers, position statements, short presentations, works in progress, posters, demonstrations, installations. Each abstract should:

  • address explicitly one or more “burning questions” related to digitally-mediated surveillance in everyday life, such as those mentioned above.
  • indicate the form of intended contribution (i.e. research paper, position statement, short presentation, work in progress, poster, demonstration, installation)

The workshop will consist of about 40 participants, at least half of whom will be presenters listed on the published program. Funds will be available to support the participation of representatives of civil society organizations.

Accepted research paper authors will be invited to submit a full paper (~6000 words) for presentation and discussion in a multi-party panel session. All accepted submissions will be posted publicly. A selection of papers will be invited for revision and academic publication in a special issue of an open-access, refereed journal such as Surveillance and Society.

In order to facilitate a more holistic conversation, one that reaches beyond academia, we also invite critical position statements, short presentations, works-in-progress, interactive demonstrations, and artistic interpretations of the meaning and import of cyber-surveillance in everyday life. These will be included in the panel sessions or grouped by theme in concurrent ‘birds-of-a-feather’ sessions designed to tease out, more interactively and informally, emergent questions, problems, ideas and future directions. This BoF track is meant to be flexible and contemporary, welcoming a variety of genres.

See also an accompanying Call for Annotated Bibliographies, aimed at providing background materials useful to workshop participants as well as more widely.



Oct. 1: Abstracts (500 words) for research papers, position statements, and other ‘birds-of-a-feather’ submissions.Nov. 15: Notification to authors of accepted research papers, position statements, etc. Abstracts posted to web.


Feb. 1: Abstracts (500 words) for posters;Mar. 1: Notification to authors of accepted posters;Apr. 1: Full research papers (5-6000 words) due, and posted to web; May 12-15 Workshop

Sponsored by: The New Transparency – Surveillance and Social Sorting.

Organizing Committee: Colin Bennett, Andrew Clement, Kate Milberry & Chris Parsons.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Identity Theft self-help

Came across this kit in the stationary shop today. I've yet to open it and find out what sensible advice it has about sorting out identity theft, but I'm looking forward to it. It had been reduced down to 99p, and there was quite a stack of them available.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

online privacy - chanel 4 news

Dylan Sharpe from Big Brother Watch and blogger Ollie Olanipekun have a chat about online privacy on Chanel 4 News, in response to comments from Eric Schmidt about young people changing their identities to avoid embarrassing things they posted online.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

danah boyd and Jeff Jarvis debate privacy

Interesting discussion on privacy featuring danah boyd and Jeff Jarvis, talking at the Supernova forum -

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Google's widening reach.

This is quite neat, over at the Wall Street Journal, an animated graphic of Google's use of information from it's various sources for targetting adverts. Go have a full look. From a data visualisation perspective, the circular form is a bit exaggerating (it suggests Google is using more information as time goes on because the width of the segment increases), but it looks nice.

Contemporary Violence

I'd like to make a plug for a new book by Dr Cerwyn Moore, Lecturer in International Relations, University of Birmingham. Contemporary Violence: Postmodern War in Kosovo and Chechnya is published by Manchester University Press, and will be available from October.

Disclosure: Ces Moore was the Principle Investigator on the project I worked on whilst I was at Birmingham, and I had the good fortune to read advance drafts of this book and get an insight into the publication process.

The book draws upon some of the detailed fieldwork that Ces conducted in the Balkans and in Chechnya, and makes use of some very contemporary theories in criticial international relations.

The most important aspect of this book is the use of narrative approaches to international relations to show the importance of stories, myths and foundational narratives in contemporary violence, something often ignored in theories of 'new wars'. This adds a level of complexity to international relations accounts of conflict.

Monday, 9 August 2010


Digizen is a website, created by Childnet International. It features some quite handy resources and pages. It's a bit more engaged that some of the hyperbolic 'fear the internet kids' material that's out there, and might encourage a bit of critical thinking. At least, that's the aim:

The Digizen website provides information for educators, parents, carers, and young people. It is used to strengthen their awareness and understanding of what digital citizenship is and encourages users of technology to be and become responsible DIGItal citiZENS. It shares specific advice and resources on issues such as social networking and cyberbullying and how these relate to and affect their own and other people's online experiences and behaviours.
On the site you can create your own 'digizen' a little icon that you can embed with some hopes for digital citizenship. It's aimed at young people primarily, but there's no harm in experimenting.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

EPSRC funding call

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council had put out a call for participants in a research 'Sandpit'* entitled 'Who do You Think You Are?' as part of the 'Global Uncertainties' research strand. This one hopes to:

Develop new research concepts to address problems associated with establishing and maintaining confidence in identity.

“Who do you think you are?” will investigate the problems associated with the ever-increasing range of media (such as video, voice, the internet and other data networks) which allow people to interact with each other or with devices and systems of varying complexity. The interactions these media support may be face-to-face, but increasingly they are carried out remotely. Indeed, remote interaction may often be the only way in which we deal with someone or something, or through which we can access a service of some kind.
The establishment and maintenance of confidence in identity is important if a service is to benefit all and be free from abuse. The key question to be considered at the workshop is how we both establish confidence in the identity of the person or entity with which we are interacting and, just as importantly, how we maintain that confidence over time.
I can't currently apply, not being elligable to be an EPSRC primary investigatory (I'm on a fixed term contract). Which is a shame, because I think I could have contributed.

*Sandpits are a type of event where they get lots of people from different fields together in a hotel or something similar for several days and get them to come up with outlines for collaborative research projects, pretty much then and there. Both the Reslient Design, and VOME projects that I've worked on came out of these type of events

Link to the call here
global uncertainties here

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Top Secret America

Washington Post investigation 'Top Secret America' pulls a lot of information together about the world on intelligence, covert law enforcement and the like. There are also some pretty good visualisations helping to make sense of this information. It's worth a look.

I'm oddly amazed by the amout of space these intelligence operations need, as well as the Posts focus on absolute numbers. The size of these operations touches on something I was thinking about yesterday - intelligence gluts surpassing any analytic capability because of the sheer amount of data produced by contemporary surveillance systems.

Additionally, Wired magazine has reported on the role that congress played in the large numbers of contractors involved in intelligence, and the claims that publishing this information puts US national security at risk (the list of sites was first run past people in US intelligence services to check this wasn't the case, and some of the locations are vague).

Wonder if there'll be something like this for the UK any time soon?

Monday, 19 July 2010

ISA 2010 conference

Last week, I attended the International Sociological Association world congress in Gothenberg Sweden. I was presenting a paper on UK news media representations of surveillance as part of a panel on Culture and Surveillance, organised by Torin Monahan and David Lyon.

The conference programme can be searched here. ISA is an absolutely huge conference, running from Monday through to Saturday (I did Wednesday to Friday), with multiple panels running from 8.30 in the morning, until around 10.00 at night. It was a bit of a struggle to navigate at times, but I managed to get along to some interesting sessions alongside our own. I thought I'd write about them here for people not lucky enough to have taken a trip to Gothenberg (which I really liked as a city).

Surveillance and Popular Culture (link)

Ariane Ellerbrok (Uni. Alberta) presented about her research on face recognition systems and their shift from a security focus to a use in various commerical, convenience, and playful applications. She argued that the previous justificatory rhetorics that the face recognition industry has had to provide at each turn (national security, citizenship administration etc) are being shifted as useable, consumer technology using face recognition emerges - for example, the face recognition automated tagging of faces in the latest version of Picasa, or the in-progress Recognizr. Ariane suggested that the status of these technologies (Which are still full biometrics linked to verified personal identities) as toys has the effect of silencing the need for justification and makes traditional logics of critique problematic, and called for more examination of the role of play in facilitating more serious surveillance technology.

Nelson Arteaga Botello, Universtad Autónoma del Estado de Mexico, spoke about H1N1 Influenza Surveillance Systems in Mexico: An Approach from Biopolitical and Cultural Studies. This focused upon the one year state of emergency applied by the Mexican government in the 'swine flu' outbreak and the moral panic surrounding this. He analysed this through a governmentality framework, focusing upon the visibilities, tactics and strategies and the creation of a security dispositif. This presentation raised for me a thought about governmentality and it's applicability to different nations. You would have to incorporate public attitudes towards government problematisations (in Mexico, apparently, the public tends to be immediately sceptical to any problem that has been identified by the government).

I was up at this point, presenting a description of the two frames found in UK news media discourse that are used to evaluate and make sense of surveillance. The idea is that news media is a site of political contestation and also forms a source of interpretative resevoirs people use to make sense of surveillance more broadly. There are two frames, one broadly positive, and another broadly negative, but neither is quite the enlightened critical discourse we might be seeking. The paper went well, coming in on time, and I got a couple of good questions. Quite enthused about writing up this research further and trying to get it through into print.

Lorna Elizabeth Muir (Uni. of Aberdeen) gave a talk on
Assemblages, Data Doubles and Deleuze’s Dividual: Cinematic Representations of the ‘Control’ Body. She looked at depictions of surveillance the control/discipline shift in cinema, finding that whilst there was some critique, many film directors were also fairly complicit in the process. Her theoretical framework was an engagment with Deleuze's control society model and examined the difficulty of representing data based surveillance, with the result that all imagery seems to focus upon the level of the human interface (text and graphics onscreen)- the visual being actually unecessary for the surveillance machine. Lorna looked at Enemy of the State and how this film shows the data double whilst at the same time destorying the real life. The ace phrase she used here was 'extracting info from the human whilst discretely rendering its obsolete' Lorna's big question is what are the alternative futures being marginalised by these Hollywood blockbusters? As illustration below, I've added Mark Coleran's showreel. He's a graphic and interface designer responsible for a lot of the surveillant images in contemporary cinema.

Coleran Reel 2008.06 HD from Mark Coleran on Vimeo.

Andre Mondoux, Quebec University brought the panel to a close speaking about Television and the Banalisation of surveillance, using examples from various television shows (24, Paradox, Battlestar Galactica, and faked reality shows) to illustrate his talk (delivered from an iPad no less). Surveillance is banalised in these depictions because it becomes the background, and in presenting ideology as non-ideological. Andre also spoke about hyperindividualisation, and the idea of totally free subject, freed by itself, for itself, and for which all discourses are equal. The pragmatic takes over the symbolic and the way to create meaning it to look at things.

Technological Futures (link)

This was a really interesting panel. the first paper Michael Strassnig (Universitaat Wien, Austria) presented on Technologies of Imagination: Rethinking Spaces for Negotiating Nanofutures. This was a research project aimed at looking at the co-production of technology, understanding the dynamics of expectations and how these impact on the future. The case study was research on nano-technology in Austria. They used a system called Play Decide, derived from an EU FP6 research project, which looks really interesting, and something we could potentially harness for VOME. They based IMAGINE workshops on this which allowed people to take advantage of exerpt information on cards, whilst having the experts physically absent and thus allowing open discussion and contestation. The cards can be used to assemble a range of different narratives about nano-science.

Carlotta Bizzarri spoke about the use of Robots for educational purposes in a research project where the took lego mindstorms robots into several schools in Spain, using participant obversation to see how it effected education. Apparently, there was some destabilisation of power relations as some students were more knowledgable about the technology than their teachers. However, it looked like gender dynamics remained important in the mainstreams schools with students identifying boys but not girls as experts on the technology.

Daphne Esquivel Sada presented on Synthetic Biology or 'the route towards the engineering of life'. This examined the evolution of bio-engineering, kitchen-sink biology, and the modularisation of bio-bricks based around open source ideologies. This egalitarian logics allows anybody to contribute and upload genetic designs to communal databases, avoiding duplication of work, and allowing relatively amateur scientists to participate. There was the familiar discussion during the question regarding if this was 'democratisation' or not.

Michelle Robitalle (Montreal) presented on transhumanist political ideology in her paper entitled "Self-Determination and Optimization of Individual Capacities: Towards a Brand New Self-Made Body?". She did a really interesting analysis of the way that transhumanism took a series of liberal and libertarian rights and interpreted them in a particular technological way. So for example, the right to the body, because a right to improve the body through technological means. There were interesting discussion about the role of the state in this, and to what extent other people should pay to support these 'rights'. The transhumanist idea is based upon the three views of the body as perfectible, informational and obsolete. It would be interesting to take a Freeden inspired conceptual morphology look at Transhumanism.

Visual Methodologies (Link)

Collecting and Producing visual data and methodologies of analysis was crammed into a small room with a large number of people, suggesting that this topic might need more face in future given the interest that it attracts. I was interested in visual methodologies for various reasons involved with the VOME project, our use of video elicitation and also the surveillance theory perspective and my personal interest in photography.

Dario Da Re (Padua and Veron) presented on the visual tool kit. He advocated the use of computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (and suggested looking at Surry's offering in this area). He argues that manual analysis is impossible with video material, but that it can often be data heavy given the file size. Video, he argued, are particularly effective for understanding Proxemics (the way humans structure space, placement in social actions and social status) and Kinescics (body language, non-verbal polysemics, only 30-35% of communication is through language). He recommeded the use of ATLAS.ti based on a VISE principle (visualisation, integration, serendipity and exploration) for its ease of coding, retrieval, and memo functions.

Maciej Frackowiak presented some methodological and theoretical insights from his research project using photo elecitation to examine the boundary between erotica and pornography. He identified the challenge of non-stable imagery, where context is highly important in making the distinction. An image taken off the internet and rendered in the same format as a glossy art print destablises supposedly settled boundaries. He argued that images are a window and a puzzle. Maciej stated that photographic elicitation is a cultural practiced based upon a particular definition of a photo, and that the atmosphere of an interview is (as always) very important.

Lukasz Rogowski gave a very interesting talk on iconoclasm - the destruction of images. This was not limited to religion but drew in further examples of this tension, leading him to the argument that iconoclasts do not doubt the power or effectiveness of the image, but rather they are fearfully aware of the power of the image. He identified several types of iconoclasm. Transformative iconoclasm such as the destruction of the Berlin wall, or pulling down a statue of a dictator are used to mark epochal change. Everyday iconoclasm is where an individual would destroy photos to mark a change in their life, often done in solitude and silence. Digital/Virtual iconoclasm includes spoof sites and parodies online, pictures showing destruction and the digital creation of damage (end of the world images). This talk triggered off a lot of questions from the audience. It made me think of the fear of iconoclasm that drives resilience planning in the UK, and the on-going contestation over photographers rights in public spaces.

Dennis Zuev presented on an analysis of youtube video used for political purposes by activists in the Uyghor nationalist movement in China and how resistance occured in the fields of popular music and culture rather than in the open. He also showed how internationalised the Uyghor diaspora was and how it interacted in this online video conversation. It reminded me of the Chechen diaspora's use of the internet for political communication.

(mis) Understanding the Internet

I also got a brief introduction to Socio-Cybernetics courtesy of the Socio-Cybernetics research committee's panel on Understanding Cyberspace and the Internet. I went along, because I've got a take on understanding cyberspace and the internet that's currently sitting in the paper on cyber security. I didn't get too much from this panel, and the cyberspace/cybernetics link is possibly only an etymological one.

One paper was an intro to philosophy of science, featuring Kuhn and , the need to start science again from the beginning (?!) and the utterly solipsist claim that everything was happening inside the head of the presenter. I'm not sure. I felt painfully, really present. The one paper out of three that had anything to do with cyberspace and the internet used a generational analysis, arguing that the 'gameboy people' basically had different ways of thinking, and that this was problematic for developing critical thinking skills - they (we?) see the world as a screen, and can always start a new game if they loose the current one. The presenter asked 'what kind of political discourse is possible in 140 characters). The presenter suggested that he (and his generation) simply couldn't undestand why young people put personal information online.

The trick is not to assume it's because they're young, or have 'different minds' but to do some detailed examined of the infrastructure encouraging information sharing, the educational environment in which young people develop information literacy, and in the best case - ask them.

Sociology of the Military

This is an area with some overlaps with Security Studies in International Relations, which I used to teach at Birmingham, and still maintain a strong research interest in (especially where it overlaps with surveillance studies), so it was interesting to see it from a sociological perspective (and again it suggested there's not too much real space between the two disciplines). The one stand out presentation that I saw was from Orna Sasson-Levy, Edna Lomsky-Feder and Yagil Levy from Israel, presenting on their work with transcripts of the Breaking the Silence interviews. Breaking the silence is a group of Israeli former soldiers, who publish annoynmously the statements and testimony of Israeli soldiers of their abuses (and abuses they witnessed) in the occupied territories. For the first time, Breaking the Silence had published a report using the testimony of women soldiers. Making use of the interviews from this, the academics have done their own analysis (which I recommended they should share back with the research participants). They identify the particular way that women soliders would often criticse childish and immatures male behaviour (over-enthusiastic) in the military, whilst holding on to their own rationality in the face of accusations of emotionality. They identified a potential shift from 'republic motherhood' to combat experience as the standpoint for female critique of military practice. Finally, the idenfied that breaking the silence was unable (for reasons they saw as endemic to Israeli society) to critique the occupation per se, but only the way in which it was being carries out.

I popped into a couple of other sessions, but they're not relevant to the purpose of this blog. It was interesting to be a politics type spending time at a sociology conference, and could to spend a little time thinking about a broad range of sociological issues and themes. There were also plenty of ideas that I could apply back to my own research. Finally, I really liked what I saw of Sweden.

Monday, 12 July 2010

the facebook republic

website Visual Economics maps out facebook applications and pages as if they were a set of countries.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

ICS Book review: Goold and Neyland

My review of Ben Goold and Dan Neyland's book 'New Directions in Surveillance and Privacy (Willan: 2009) has been published in the journal Information, Communication and Society.

(There's a typo in the first line that snuck in since my last proof-reading)

New Issue of Surveillance and Society - Surveillance, Children and Childhood

There's a new issue of Surveillance and Society just published on the topic of surveillance, children and childhood. This is a really interesting topic, which I'm taking a bit of a look at currently in terms of privacy/online safety education for kids. I was switched on to the issue of surveillance and children by listening to two presentations that were part of the ESRC/Surveillance studies network seminar series 'The Everyday life of surveillance'. Mike McCahill and Rachel Finn's work is featured in this journal issue in an article 'The Social Impact of surveillance in three UK schools: Angles, Devils and Teen mums'. Also worth mentioning in this field is Torin Monahan and Torres's edited book 'Schools under Surveillance' (reviewed in the issue) and also Emmeline Taylor's work in the area of surveillance in schools.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Curfew - surveillace 'edugame'

The day after I start looking into educational games for discussing and learning about privacy, I find out about this. 'The Curfew' - a game about surveillance and authoritariamism from Channel 4, launching this summer. For young people 14+. The 'Shepherd Party' video (below) is chilling in its excellent graphics. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the subtance of this.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Social Network Bill of Rights

Derived from the conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy, this is doing the rounds at the moment. It does a good job of summing up the issues involved in social networking.

  1. Honesty: Honor your privacy policy and terms of service

  2. Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand

  3. Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification

  4. Empowerment : Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility

  5. Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies

  6. Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others

  7. Control: Let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first

  8. Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.

  9. Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data

  10. Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised

  11. Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.

  12. Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission.

  13. Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions

  14. Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data

Monday, 14 June 2010

Steve Graham at LSE - video & audio

Steve Graham gave a talk at the LSE last week 'Cities under Seige' about his new book. Worth watching. Video and Audio

Monday, 7 June 2010

Unauthorised Access

A Film by Annaliza Savage, 1994

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Surveillance in Wired - July 2010

I've got a subscription to Wired magazine. This might be very old fashioned way to access the content - in physical form, but I like it. I'm a big fan of the magazine (and it's various websites - especially the Danger Room and Threat Level blogs), especially now that it has a UK edition. It's pretty useful for keeping a handle on tech culture issues and developments.

and it's all about surveillance.

Well, it's not. This may just be the way that I'm reading it, with a particular interest and motivation, and a tendency to see surveillance issues in many things. However, there is a strong association between information technology and surveillance, which has been remarked on by many. Wired occasionally investigates the surveillant dimension of information technology head on, and at other times it comes up as part of a story written from a different perspective. Given the subscription, I thought I might pull out some of these topics, with a little commentary from each issue.

You're being tracked - Amber Marks (34-35) a neat graphic example of various attempts to create 'malevolent intent' detection - a lot of these coming from various university departments. These things thing that by detecting some sort of 'leaky signal' from the body, that you can spot somebody who is up to something malicious. Or more likely, the vastly more numerous population of people who are stressed, angry, upset, tired, late for work etc. Amber's the author of HeadSpace.

Shred the Evidence - Guy Martin (p.124-133)
An examination of attempts to digitally recover and re-create the shredded archives of post-soviet Eastern European secret police and intelligence services, including in East Germany and the Czech republic. These archives were truely massive. Whilst the article focuses upon the technical challenge of pulling thousands of sacks of shredded paper and mangled digital tape into something readable and searchable, there is some analysis of the way that this reconstruction is threatening to those people who had been state agents during the Soviet era, who may still be involved in political life. Its an interesting issue because of the competing imperatives of privacy (the archives were created as a tool of control, and probably contain a lot of information on the subjects of state surveillance), and the desire to undestand how the various systems of oppression and control functioned, and the desire to bring to justice those who participated in them (finding out who the agents were and what they did). The plans to open up certain archives in a fully searchable web-accessible form is interesting, as is the worry that the published databases are being hoovered up by the still functioning intelligence services of other states. Not mentioned in this article is the historical reality of the way that databases and files from one regime are often appropriated and used by their successors, conquerers, or 'liberators'. I was recently told how start up private military contractors in Iraq worked very rapidly to acquire records from Iraqi state ministries following the fall of the Sadam regime, upon which they started to develop databases now used for vetting Iraqi workers on US bases.

Space Jam - Evan Schwartz (pg.100-103) In this article about the sheer amount of junk floating in orbit around the earth (or rather hurtling around it at extremely high speed), and various attempts to remove some of it, we learn about the 'Space Surveillance Network' a USA military unit run by the Joint Space Operations Centre, whose job is to track as much of this space debris spinning around the planet as they can, to try and anticipate the major potential collisions. It's a nice little account of surveillance of the non-human (although with implciations for our use of space for communication, navigation, mapping etc). The 'big sky theory' (the idea that space is big (very big) so it doesn't matter what you dump in it, is a mistake with hindsight, but aren't we sort of still treating the sea in this way?

The Great Check-in Battle - Neal Pollack (pg92-97)
looks at the competion between location based social networking services (Gowalla and Foursquare) . Not read all of this yet, but there are clear surveillance implications for the increase in location-based services, and the sort of self-monitoring and revelation to friends pushed through a centralised social network service, that presumably gets its market share from doing something with that data, which mirrors what we've seen with facebook, but with an increased spatial component. John Battelle writes about how the 'check-in' adds an extra layer of detail to collected models of intention (the search, the purchase, the query, the social graph and the the status update).

A Robot that Spies (pg80) - a wi-fi controllable spy robot with webcam, microphone speaker etc. Controllable over the net, and even works as a VOIP phone. Can I have one of these please?

IDIS 2010

I attended the 3rd Interdisciplinary workshop on Identity in the Information Society (IDIS 2010) held in Rome, the week before last.

I've got very complete notes on the presentations, keynotes and question and answer sessions. However, the purpose of the workshop was to present and gain feedback on works in progress, so given that a lot of the papers need a bit more work before publication (my own contribution very much included), I'm not going to post those notes here.

I presented on public sector engagement in online identity management. We've looked at how various complexes of actors are coming together to produce educational and guidance material on how people can manage their personal information. It's part of the wider VOME attempt to examine how people think about privacy and consent online - Our hunch is that these guidance material (in the form of websites such as Get Safe Online) will play a part in shared understandings of personal information, privacy and consent online (although in a far from deterministic sense).

There were some interesting keynote presentations on Smart data agents, privacy by design and the future of subject access requests from George Tomaki, The Privacy commissioner of Ontario and Microsoft's Caspar Bowden respectively.

And I got to go to Rome.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tate Modern: Exposed: Voyerism, Surveillance and the Camera

There's an interesting new exhibition on at the Tate Modern in London
quoting from the website:

Exposed offers a fascinating look at pictures made on the sly, without the explicit permission of the people depicted. With photographs from the late nineteenth century to present day, the pictures present a shocking, illuminating and witty perspective on iconic and taboo subjects. ...
The UK is now the most surveyed country in the world. We have an obsession with voyeurism, privacy laws, freedom of media, and surveillance – images captured and relayed on camera phones, YouTube or reality TV.

Much of Exposed focuses on surveillance, including works by both amateur and press photographers, and images produced using automatic technology such as CCTV. The
issues raised are particularly relevant in the current climate, with topical debates raging around the rights and desires of individuals, terrorism and the increasing availability and use of surveillance. Exposed confronts these issues and their implications head-on.

I think I'll try and get down to this.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Lib-dem - Conservative coalition agreements

The coalition comitments between the Conservative and Liberal democrat parties have just been published: here - This idea of a Great Repeal bill has cropped up a few times this morning. There are some hopes for it to be the first wiki-bill. It would put a hell of a lot of things in a single bill, and not all of it is civil liberties inspired - on that page there's a lot of 'this burdens business' too.

"The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:
  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.

  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

  • Further regulation of CCTV.

  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences."


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

'Human-flesh Search' in China & JS Mill

Here's an interesting article in the New York Times about a Chinese trend of groups of internet users conducting a distributed form of investigative surveillance to focus upon suspected wrong-doers, find out information about them, and conduct vigilantte campaigns to get them fired from jobs etc.

There's a court case in progress about it relating to the suicide of the wife of a 'human-flesh search' target. Story about that here.

This isn't entirely new, and not isolated to China, although it's been given a name now (although one that sounds very creepy and body-horror to my ears). web-fora such as 4Chan or something awful have demonstrated quite substantial capability in this respect. What would occasionally happen was that commentators making use of the supposed anonymity of the web to make comments that in some way angered a critical mass of forum participants, would find that any online detail was being worked out - traced back along a pathway from their online username and comments they had previously made. Often this involved finding any potentially embarrassing material and firing it back at them in the forums, either to counter claims made (about identity or expertise e.g. 'I'm a former soldier' 'I'm a published writer') or simply in an attempt to embarass. However, in contrast to the Chinese cases discussed in the stories above, my impression is that in these cases, retreat from the forum signalled defeat, and the end of the investigative effort, nor were authorities involved, given the oft-anarchic (or at the very least irreverant) slant of some of the sites.

Here's one example that went a bit further here, the p-p-p-powerbook prank.

It's quite easy to find information online. That we probably all know. We're aware of state surveillance, and we're becoming fairly concerned about the data organisations like facebook, google or amazon might have about us, but there's this third strand where we might become the object of collective attention. It's synoptic but not quite in the way described in that article.

The most obvious political perspective that appears with regard to this is J.S Mill's understanding that society (as well as the state) can be sources of oppression. One of Mill's core contributions to political theory was that society can potentially be more oppressive because of it's willingness to judge and disapprove of individual conduct. The internet is interesting in that it can be potentially supportive of a lot of individuality, allowing people with relatively niche interests (or habits) to find others, establish communities etc, yet at the same time, has the potential to expose us to distributed peer-over-peer surveillance. Marc Andrejevic on lateral surveillance here. There's something here about the importance of compartmentalised identities (both online and offline) and the danger posed by easily linking those identities up online.

[thanks to Chris T for the p-p-p-pointer]

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Facebook Privacy + data visualisation

Two things of high interest to me and this blog, combined in one. Matt Mckeon has a visualisation of facebook's default privacy settings, the amount of people your data on facebook is likely visible too. The picture above is a capture of single frame of it - the full version found here animates and is interactive. Very nice work.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Times Square bombings

There's a discussion article in the New york Times about the failed bombing attempt in Time Square the other day. It rapidly turns into an assessment of the value of video surveillance in counter-terrorism.

Richard Clarke is surprisingly stoic, suggesting that we shouldn't panic, or assume that this means counter-terrorist efforts are failing. Steve Simon falls into the 'even if CCTV doesn't prevent this, we should still have more of it' trap and then goes on to use the UK as a positive example of how the United States should deploy CCTV. His argument is based upon post-event investigation. The 7/7 bombing investigation, although it is frequently visualised with the images of bombers getting on a train to London, was much more reliant on other, less visual investigative techniques. Evidence from the UK also suggests that the evidence value of CCTV is pretty small. Other research suggests that if many CCTV cameras were people, they'd be legally blind. Michale Black and Paul Eckman get this somewhat, although the former is pre-occupied with calibrating cameras so that they can spot people who are already on some list or database of potential suspects. Noah Shactman highlights the ease with which camera surveillance can be avoided (by a potential terrorist - it's still pointing at the vast majority of innocent people moving through the city, who perhaps shouldn't have to hide their faces).

The effect of video surveillance is often taken as almost axiomatic by security policy-makers. Kevin Haggerty recently called this the 'post-justificatory moment' in surveillance - where there doesn't have to be an explanation or justification for how and why a surveillance technology will effect a social problem - it is obvious that it will. In this case, obvious that video surveillance with help to counter-terrorism. There is something about the spectacle of the visual that makes video surveillance particualrly strong in this 'moment' (although the database is almost equally powerfully accepted - as Oscar H. Gandy's most recent book shows). Schneier points out that video footage of the bombing attempt "make for exciting television, but their value to law enforcement officers is limited."

Schneier highlights the importance of focusing efforts on investigation and effective post-event response, rather than on trying to identify specific targets - this was a problem that emerges in attempts to build in resilience. Firstly, a strong case had to be made that a specific site was a target for terrorists, and that this risk was high enough to merit the extra costs of building in counter-terrorism resilience. This case could rarely be made, firstly because of the low incidence of terrorism (it rarely happens, the chances of it happening to particular given place are extremely low, outside of some very high profile exceptions) and secondly because of speed with with 'targets' can change. The worrying response here would be to attempt to secure all locations (which at times seemed to be on the agenda).

Update - this bombing attempting has already been called 'The NY FAILbomb' in part because it was rubbish; a 'Rube Goldberg contraption' made of propane tanks and fireworks, made by somebody with 'more desire than ability'.