Data Power Conference

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Panel Session 1a): Data and Surveillance (Chair: Mark Andrejevic)


Political Activism and Anti-Surveillance Resistance: Responses to the Snowden Leaks

Lina Denick, Jonathan Cable and Arne Hintz, Cardiff University

The publication of the documents first leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013 revealing the extent of data-driven forms of governance, surveillance and control have significant implications for our understanding of political activism and dissent. Based on research carried out for the ESRC-funded project ‘Digital Citizenship and Surveillance Society: UK State-Media-Citizen relations after the Snowden leaks’ hosted at Cardiff University, this paper will present preliminary findings on how the Snowden leaks have impacted on practices of prominent activist groups in the UK. In particular, it will discuss the extent to which we see the integration of anti-surveillance resistance into broader political activism and social movements either through combined campaigning efforts around issues related to surveillance, the use of sousveillance to shed light on surveillance, or through the use of online platforms and technical tools that are designed to circumvent the aggregation of data for purposes of surveillance. Based on interviews with significant civil society groups and organisations, it will consider the nature, possibilities and challenges of political activism in light of the Snowden leaks, and will seek to question what anti-surveillance resistance looks like in a Snowden era.


Surveillance, Trust and Big Data – The Socio-Legal Relevance of Online Traceability

Stefan Larsson, Lund University Internet Institute

Data – such as individual traffic data – makes many promises indeed, and therefore asks normatively relevant questions of who should have access to it and for what reasons. Never before have we been so measurable by the tools, platforms and infrastructure we depend on for our professional and private life. This is of course a potent pool of information for law enforcement when imposed by governmental legislation, but has likely a limit in terms of legitimacy by the people whose data is retained. Using Sweden as a case, this study empirically studies public opinion and social norms on online surveillance and governmental data retention, and makes an analysis in terms of trust, legitimacy and the role of personalized Big Data for law enforcement. Research questions that will be addressed are the following:

What are the limits of legitimacy and our trust for governmental agencies retention of our traffic data, for example, what type of information do we find acceptable to be collected and by which governmental authority and under what circumstances?

How does this public level of trust relate to contemporary legal development, such as the Data retention directive and increased political appeal for ISPs to store data for a longer time?

On the more speculative account, and bearing the present social acceptance of CCTV in mind albeit much debated when introduced, how could we understand and expect the public opinion on online traceability and data-driven tracking will shift over time?

We have in the DigiTrust research group performed a quantitative survey online with 1060 respondents in Sweden, which will be analysed and elaborated on in this study. The results so far indicates that it is of most relevance what authority that have access to information, and that this is assessed and approved by defined instances. It is the automated and routinized retention that the most do not approve of.


Access Denied! Exercising Access Rights in Europe

Clive Norris, University of Sheffield, and Xavier L'Hoiry, University of Leeds

In the context of big data, surveillance and democracy, the principles of consent, subject access and accountability are at the heart of the relationship between the citizen and the information gatherers. The individual data subject has the right to at least know what data is being collected about them and by whom, how it is being processed and to whom it is disclosed. Furthermore, they have rights to inspect the data, to ensure that it is accurate and to complain if they so wish to an independent supervisory authority who can investigate on their behalf.

This panel will present the results of our multi-partner project on surveillance and democracy as part of the IRISS project. In particular, we have focused upon the ability of citizens to exercise their democratic right of access to their personal data. Together with ten partner institutions, we conceptualised a research approach involving auto-ethnographic methods which sought to ‘test’ how easy or difficult it is for citizens to access their personal data by submitting subject access requests to a range of local, national and supranational institutions across both public and private sectors. We will present the overall findings of the ten country study and consider the strategies used by those who hold our personal data to facilitate or deny us access to what they know about us and how they process it.


The Veillant Panoptic Assemblage: Critically Interrogating Power, Resistance and Intelligence Accountability through a Case Study of the Snowden Leaks

Vian Bakir, Bangor University

The Snowden leaks indicate the extent, nature, and means of contemporary mass digital surveillance of citizens by their intelligence agencies; and the role of leaks as a form of sousveillant resistance to surveillance. As such, they form a rich case study on the interactions of ‘veillance’ (mutual watching) involving citizens (variously acting as whistle-blowers and as surveillance targets), journalists, intelligence agencies and corporations. This paper finds that Surveillance Studies, Intelligence Studies and Journalism Studies have little to say on surveillance of citizens’ data by intelligence agencies (and complicit surveillant corporations), or on how to resist surveillance - major lacunae given Snowden’s revelations and actions. However, these fields discuss the role of citizens and the press in holding power to account (‘public accountability mechanisms’) generating insights that allow critical interrogation of issues of surveillant power, resistance and intelligence accountability. This directs attention to the ‘veillant panoptic assemblage’ (a dystopian arrangement of unequal mutual watching) and facilitates evaluation of post-Snowden steps taken towards achieving an ‘equiveillant panoptic assemblage’ (where, alongside state and corporate surveillance of citizens, the intelligence-power elite, to ensure its accountability, faces robust scrutiny from wider society).