Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada

The New Transparency project is coming to an end, and we are launching our major final report, Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada / Vivre à nu: La surveillance au Canada, in Ottawa on Thursday 8th May (which is also my birthday!). The report is being published as a book by Athabasca University Press, so it is available in all formats including a free-t0-download PDF. We want as many people in Canada (and elsewhere) to read it as possible.

The launch will be covered by the Canadian press and was already blogged in the Ottawa Citizen a few days ago.

A website with resources and summaries will be here very soon, and there is also a promotional video / trailer here in Youtube.


New Privacy Survey released

Simon Davies, AKA Privacy Surgeon, and the London School of Economics have a great new survey of privacy predictions for 2013 out now. Key quote from the press release:

“More aggressive action by companies to monetise personal information through advertising will inevitably fuel further controversy, while consolidation of markets such as social networking may induce emerging players to engage dangerous privacy practices.”

Whether 2013 is the tipping point in this regard that the survey suggests or not, it is certainly the case that various ‘lines in the sand’ are being crossed on a regular basis at the moment and if the public aren’t as concerned as the experts surveyed for this report, then privacy may even lose even its tactical utility as a way of opposing surveillance, let alone mean the same thing to most people as it used to.

New UK report on the future of identity

There is yet a another major surveillance-related report out, this one from the UK, on Future Identities – Changing identities in the UK: the next 10 years. It is part of the UK government’s Foresight program, and is available from their website. Their other major current project is on the future of manufacturing. Although the cancellation of the last New Labour administration’s ID card scheme is not explicitly mentioned in the background it seems clear that this report was originally commissioned as a ‘what now?’ exercise – to open up a much wider debate. The Foresight project say this about the final report:
“This Report provides an important opportunity for the Government to consider how identities in the UK are changing and the possible implications for policy-making in the next 10 years. It has involved over 100 academics and stakeholders and is supported by 20 published evidence papers.
It shows that the economic downturn, the effects of globalisation, and increasing international migration have all been influential on notions of identity, while the impact of social media and modern communications technology have created a new digital UK. In particular the report discusses an emerging trend of hyper-connectivity and the ubiquity of the internet enables people to be constantly connected across many different platforms. The detailed findings of the report have implications for a wide range of policy areas and will support the design and evaluation of robust, innovative, open policy-making.”

New European Report on Surveillance

There’s a big new European report out on surveillance – I haven’t read it yet, but here’s the Press Release in full, and contact details for those who want it…

EC-funded project calls for greater transparency and accountability re use of surveillance systems
Press release, 17 Jan 2013

The IRISS project, funded by the EC under the 7th Framework Programme, has just published a major 412-page report entitled Surveillance, Fighting Crime and Violence. The report analyses the factors underpinning the development and use of surveillance systems and technologies by both public authorities and private actors, their implications in fighting crime and terrorism, social and economic costs, protection and infringement of civil liberties, fundamental rights and ethical aspects.

The IRISS consortium has identified the following trends: (1) a substantial growth of public sector demand for surveillance bolstered by the adoption of identity schemes and terrorist detection technologies and markets, (2) an increase in the demand for civil and commercial surveillance, (3) the development of a global industry in surveillance, (4) an increase in integrated surveillance solutions, and (5) a rise in the government use of cross-border surveillance solutions.

“The role of surveillance in law enforcement is expanding,” says IRISS project co-ordinator Reinhard Kreissl. “There has been a shift in its use in identifying offenders before they have committed a crime. This has affected the presumption of innocence in a way that citizens are now considered suspects (a shift to a presumption of guilt).” With the growth of encompassing preventive surveillance, the presumption of innocence as an important legal safeguard is gradually hollowed out.

“There are numerous open questions about the usefulness and effectiveness of surveillance technologies and their possible rebound effects, specifically in relation to surveillance measures introduced to fight terrorism and organised crime without knowledge of their effectiveness and consideration of their negative side effects.”

Among the report’s other findings and recommendations are these:

Important social costs of surveillance include the social damage caused by false positives of suspects of criminal and terrorist activities, the categorical suspicion and discrimination of members of certain social or ethnic groups, the marginalising effects and social inequalities caused by invasive monitoring of those of lower social status, the inhibitory effects of surveillance which can undermine social and democratic activities, and the erosion of trust in society.

There are gaps and deficiencies in the law and in jurisprudence as they struggle to keep pace with technological development and institutional practice, perhaps especially in an online environment and in a climate of enhanced law enforcement and counter-terrorist policy.

Data protection authorities as external overseers and regulators typically focus upon the privacy-related implications of surveillance and find it difficult to embrace a wider perspective of values in their regulatory exhortations and enforcement practice. The laws within which they operate do not normally give them a licence to roam across the range of values to invoke when they seek to limit surveillance.

The European surveillance industry is developing at a rapid pace and is expected to continue doing so. However, surveillance companies from Europe face stiff competition from companies from outside the European Union.

Europe requires a multi-level strategy to build resilience in society vis-à-vis surveillance. The consortium recommends that industry associations develop surveillance-related guidelines and codes of ethics, and foster greater corporate social responsibility practices.

Greater transparency and accountability for the surveillance industry might come through the adoption of privacy impact assessments (PIAs) or surveillance impact assessments (SIAs) and through the development of standards and certification requirements for surveillance technologies.

This report is the first of several expected from the IRISS project. Other reports will address the key features raised by social, political and legal perspectives of surveillance and democracy; comparative empirical evidence concerning the impact of surveillance on democratic and open societies based on five case studies; citizen attitudes towards surveillance; the exercise of democratic rights under surveillance regimes; and options for enhancing social, economic and institutional resilience in “democratic” surveillance societies.

The report was produced by a consortium of 16 partners from universities, research institutes and companies from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom. IRISS is the acronym for “Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies”, a three-year project which began in February 2012. The consortium prepared the report for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research & Innovation.

For more information, including a copy of the report.
Reinhard Kreissl, Project Co-ordinator

 David Wright, Work Package 1 leader

Billions wasted on airport ‘security’

A new report from the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) say that the industry is wasting billions on unnecessary and ineffective security procedures which are slowing down travel and damaging the whole sector’s economic prospects, according to The Guardian. This comes only days after the German government decided not to introduce body-scanners after trials showed them to be unreliable.

The argument is not particularly surprising, but there seem to be interesting aspects of the issue (apart from the basic human rights problems which we should never forget). The first is that clearly someone is benefitting economically, even if it is not the air transport sector, and that someone is the security industry – although as it happens, a whole range of people and companies have benefitted from the aftermath of 9/11. The Guardian article mentions that UK-based scanning company, Smiths, has tripled its profits this year to near $1Bn, despite the problems with scanners. However, it isn’t all bad. In European domestic and regional markets, airlines have lost out to railway travel, and this can only be a good thing in terms of environmental concerns.

The second aspect is that IATA is using this to push the revival of integrated ‘trusted traveller’ plans coming out of the USA. Many countries have bilateral schemes, but the idea is for travellers with ‘nothing to hide’ to submit personal information to a central body that would validate them without the need for time-consuming checks on the airport. So far, such schemes have been largely restricted to business-class passengers, raising the strong possibility of confusion between really improved security and simply buying more convenience. However, there is another problem from the point of view of security here too: one of the major concerns for security is so-called ‘clean skins’, terrorist who have never triggered any suspicion because they are either entirely new converts to the cause, or have been deep undercover for years cultivating an unblemished record.

In any case, it appears that the security companies are trying to get past the criticism by producing new seamless and less intrusive scanning technologies that would not require long waits and would be integrated into the architecture of airport corridors etc. Of course, the delays and inconvenience of obvious security and surveillance procedures have a purpose and are not just by-products. There is, theoretically at least, a consciousness-raising effect of what Bruce Schneier calls ‘security theater’. If these new gadgets work, and the German trial suggests that there is often more smoke than heat in claims about effectiveness, this effect would be diminished in favour of speed and convenience for an as yet unknown proportion of travellers and much greater inconvenience for the remainder. It’s an interesting conundrum for the authorities…