VIDEO: Rebuilding Trust in the Surveillance State

Speaker: David Lyon

March 26, 2019

VIDEO: Rebuilding Trust in the Surveillance State

The state has always been engaged in security-related activities, but these have changed over time — particularly in the twenty-first century. Today, state surveillance cannot be considered without noting the role of data flows — including personal data — between private corporations and government agencies.

In this video, David Lyon walks us through the history of state and surveillance. From the advent of computer-based communications, to the events of September 11, to the rise of social media and, finally, to the revelations made by Edward Snowden, we see that as surveillance and data collection have become more ubiquitous, trust is eroding.

Lyon points toward a future that is not absent of surveillance, but where data and how it is collected are subject to norms of justice. For this to happen, citizens and policy makers alike must rethink fair and proportional use of the public’s data. Ultimately, Lyon concludes that surveillance affects everyone and, therefore, everyone should be concerned.

There’s always some power involved in the question of surveillance. There’s always power over others by some. So, there’s bound to be some tension in the notion of surveillance. From the twentieth century, we see state surveillance growing quite rapidly with the development of computer-based communications and computer-based storage and collection of data. 9/11 was a turning point — it was a turning point for a number of reasons. But what was unprecedented was the response to it — the immediate creation, for example, in the US of the Department of Homeland Security, which very quickly was turning, actually, to corporations for their source of information on how to understand a situation such as had just emerged.

After 9/11, you have, just a very few years later, the development of the, one of the very earliest major social media platforms, which was Facebook. And the data from social media, which originally people thought, “oh, well this has to do with content of communications.” But the critical thing was that there were other kinds of data involved — what get called metadata. So, in other words, the source of data about data. Who made it? Who was the recipient? How long was the call or how complex was the message and what were the locations of those two people?

And so, once that was realized, it wasn’t just the commercial usefulness of those metadata, it was the security consequences, or the security potential. A dozen or so years after 9/11 you have the astonishing revelations from Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency, the NSA. The revelations that Snowden made were that the data that customers had entrusted to the corporations were actually being used by the NSA in their national security intelligence gathering. There’s an increasing challenge today to anyone who would try to rebuild trust.

As a means to that, I think there are ways in which we can think of data itself as being an entity that is subject to norms of justice. What is a fair use of my personal data? What is a proportional use? I think it’s important for us to pay attention, not only to what the outcomes are, but to start way back with the collection. Is it reliable data in the first place? Data that may be skewed in terms of race or gender or socio-economic position. This is something that affects all of us, and therefore all of us ought to be concerned.

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