Watching Big Brother

February 27, 2008
Watching Big Brother
Kevin Haggerty will be studying post-9/11 population surveillance.

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not watching you.

Exactly who is being watched, who's doing the watching and how paranoid society at large should be are just a few of the questions that will be the focus of a new $2.5-million collaborative research project involving University of Alberta sociologist and criminologist Kevin Haggerty.

The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting, a seven-year project, was announced today as a Major Collaborative Research Initiative supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

"The starting assumption is that transparency surveillance has become the dominant organizational practice of contemporary society," said Haggerty. "Closed-circuit TV, dataveillance, e-mail tracking, cameras, satellite, all of these tools essentially make people and processes transparent to other groups and other institutions."

The researchers are interested in the processes and social implications of the rise of transparency.

The new project will examine the history, key characteristics and consequences of the new transparency. The areas of focus will include the role of technology companies in fostering surveillance; networking sites like Facebook; surveillance in conflict zones; inappropriate surveillance and, in Haggerty's case, post-9/11 developments, including profiling and surveillance at events like the Olympics.

"I want to look at how surveillance has become one of the key ways in which we are trying to respond to terrorist threats and the implications of that for movement, borders, globalization, marginal types of populations and those sorts of things," he said. "Muslim groups are the classic example, but any number of groups have become profile targets."

One of the main themes of the research will be to look at the concept of 'social sorting,' first introduced by project leader David Lyon, sociology professor at Queen's University.

"Surveillance practices are essentially used to sort us, people, into different categories and, depending on where we fit into those categories, we get different levels of service, different levels of access, different levels of institutional response," said Haggerty. "All of that is contingent on making us known in particular ways, what are our consumption patterns, what is our level of access, what's our password, all of that."

"The idea is that surveillance is part of the process of sorting people into these categories and then changing their levels of service, rights and responsibilities."

Furthermore, Haggerty says the study promises to not only explore how people are not aware of their own potential transparency, but the larger issue of where today's privacy draws a line in the sand.

"Do you need a realm of privacy in order for democracy to function? Technology is moving so fast and making our lives so increasingly transparent that we start to ask, 'At what spot do we reach a tipping point where we surrender our privacy completely?'"

Haggerty will be collaborating with a global group of researchers, including Elia Zureik, Laureen Snider and Art Cockfield at Queen's University; Kirstie Ball at the Open University, UK; Colin Bennett at the University of Victoria; and Andrew Clement at the University of Toronto. Researchers from a number of other countries will collaborate on the project, while representatives from industry and government will act in an advisory capacity.

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: Mucosal healing: An objective measure of disease activity?

Related Stories

Mucosal healing: An objective measure of disease activity?

November 21, 2017

The absence of inflammatory and ulcerative lesions in all segments of the colon, also known as mucosal healing, should be the end goal in treating patients with ulcerative colitis according to an editorial in the journal ...

More care is needed for cancer supportive care

November 20, 2017

The relentless efforts devoted to improving prevention, early detection, and treatment have resulted in more and more cancer survivors worldwide. In fact, there is a decrease in overall cancer mortality rate of about 1% per ...

If we can beat Ebola, why not sleeping sickness too?

November 7, 2017

The man sits on the edge of the bed, feet touching the floor but incapable of supporting his weight. He doesn't speak and his eyes stare vacantly ahead, despite the eight or ten people who have crowded in to see him. His ...

Walk this way—a better way to identify gait differences

November 9, 2017

Biometric-based person recognition methods have been extensively explored for various applications, such as access control, surveillance, and forensics. Biometric verification involves any means by which a person can be uniquely ...

Recommended for you

How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

November 22, 2017

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after ...

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe

November 22, 2017

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic ...

Ancient barley took high road to China

November 21, 2017

First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.5 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2008
The bizarre word on this page is "transparency". Whatever else we're going through as we speak, transparency is not one of the obvious words to describe it! When something is transparent, as you may have noticed last time you looked through your glasses, or a window, the light passes through equally in both directions.

As you may also have noticed, the light in the surveillance society is more like a torch beam being focussed arbitrarily on the citizens without our being able to see who's holding the torch or why they're pointing it in our direction.

The torch wielders, particularly in the Police State of America [ http://www.fullmo...rica.htm ] have not only ensured a lack of Transparency, but have actually criminalised it. If you don't yet fully understand how America got into its present dangerous and delinquent position, you might benefit from watching this:

In any case, the solution to the problem of the Police State is not total Transparency. Although being able to see both ways would be a major improvement, the downside would be the complete eradication of the Privacy we need to maintain our sanity. The true solution is total (but always optional) Accountability which we achieve by ensuring that we are all in possession of the data we need to account for our actions. It must always remain our decision as to when and whether we ever choose to share that data, but if we all have the ability to account for ourselves we will eventually transform society.

In particular, we can begin by insisting that, from now on, those to whom we delegate any level of authority are made formally accountable with strict rules governing their behaviour. No instruction would be legal, for example, unless it was recorded on an immutable audit trail. Similarly, it would illegal to implement any instruction unless you first verify that is on the audit trail. Once that practice is in place, should any complaint be made by a Citizen regarding the conduct of an elected representative or an agent employed by the State, the complaint would be automatically upheld in favour of the Citizen unless the State is able and willing to present the evidence from the audit trail which justifies its policy and practice.

This rebalancing of power in society from State to Citizen can only be accomplished - without bloodshed - by forcing such levels of accountability into the system. This is what I am trying to describe here. [ http://www.fullmo...ards.htm ]You can join in any time!
1 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2008
Just because you write an article (or pointless rambling comment)in a worthless "science" rag doesn't mean it's not stupid either.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.