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.