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Politics and International Relations (PIR): Research


An introduction to Information, Surveillance and Privacy

In their lay person’s introduction to the surveillance society, the Surveillance Studies Network explains that:

Surveillance societies are societies which function, in part, because of the extensive collection, recording, storage, analysis and application of information on individuals and groups in those societies as they go about their lives. Retail loyalty programmes, website cookies, national identity schemes, routine health screening and no-fly lists all qualify as surveillance. Each features, in different measure, the routine collection of data about individuals with the specific purpose of governing, regulating, managing or influencing what they do in the future…Thinking about society using surveillance as a concept enables us to mount an ethical, social and spatial critique of the information processing practices which are part of the way society is formed, governed and managed. It enables us to question and evidence its impact on the social fabric: on discrimination, trust, accountability, transparency, access to services, mobility, freedoms, community and social justice.

CRISP research addresses precisely these issues. With our ‘information’ strand we acknowledge that the flow of information about individuals and groups and embodied in new information and communication technologies underpins surveillance processes. Within this strand of work we include the impact of freedom of information, the regulation and transparency of information processing, and the impact of the open data movement. Within the ‘surveillance’ strand we examine the social, ethical and organizational impacts of mass information collection, analysis and application for government or private sector purposes. Our ‘privacy’ strand allows us to examine the different ways in which individuals are affected by personal information processing, and the extent to which they can control others’ access to information about them. We also assess the historical, cultural and moral emergence of privacy as a social value. In all three strands, the systems for regulating surveillance, privacy, and information processes are prominent foci for academic and policy-relevant research.

CRISP Annual Lecture 2014: Digital Rights Critical for Europe in the face of Mass Untargeted Government Surveillance

The 2014 annual CRISP lecture was presented by Claude Moraes MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee, at the London School of Economics on 21 November.  Mr Moraes spoke on ‘Mass Surveillance, EU Citizens and The State’. His central theme was LIBE’s enquiry into Surveillance in Europe, for which he served as Rapporteur, and its 8-point Action Plan for setting up a Digital Bill of Rights for all EU citizens.

Mr. Moraes began by discussing civil liberties and the revelations of Edward Snowden about mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies. As Moraes argued, whilst the revelations were symptomatic of a failure on the part of the NSA and its allies to protect its sources, they also highlighted how mass, untargeted surveillance was a clear goal for national security elites. He outlined the profound concern that mass surveillance activities had compromised not only fundamental privacy rights but rights of freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly. As a result, an EU Digital Bill of Rights was proposed by the European Parliament and will be strongly promoted over the next five years. It will focus on internet governance, stronger IT security in the EU, the swift adoption of the EU data protection package, the conclusion of EU-US agreements, and stronger protection mechanisms for journalists and whistle-blowers.

Mr. Moraes went on to explain the deliberations and conversations that have flavoured the LIBE enquiry and the EU response to digital rights breaches. He revealed that there had been widespread agreement in governments on both sides of the Atlantic that some national intelligence agencies had overstepped the mark in relation to their intelligence powers. He argued that it is now widely acknowledged and accepted, both in the US and EU, that judicial and governance bodies were deceived by these agencies. Indeed, in response, the US government has initiated several internal enquiries. Europe has been slow to replicate these, and the UK has even attempted to extend its mass surveillance powers by introducing the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in 2014.

Mr Moraes concluded with a strong call to academics, activists, artists and journalists to remain aware and to continue to push for a critical agenda on issues of digital rights, privacy and mass surveillance. He argued that, without continued debate and reflection on the proportionality and necessity of surveillance-based security interventions, trust in over-zealous security agencies is likely to remain low.