Food for Thought: Thinking about Surveillant Assemblages

This week’s class focused on issues related to surveillance, privacy, and the law. We covered a wide range of surveillance practices, from the macro (SIGINT surveillance through the Five Eyes network) to the micro (the implications of signing in to your mykwantlen account). Uniting this conversation were a number of key themes: the rhizomatic nature of surveillant assemblages, the relationship between surveillance and social sorting, the proliferation of fragmentary ‘data doubles’, and the notion of exchanges (privacy for service) as a governing principle of the social relations of surveillance. We also drew on Ericson’s (2007) discussion of counter-law to make sense of some of the forces driving the expansion of surveillant assemblages – in particular, efforts to understand, forestall, and otherwise manage uncertainty. It was a lot of material to cover in one class, but I think we managed it!

Food for Thought:

Today, rather than posing a single question, I want to offer a selection. You may respond to any (one) of the following questions. Regardless of your choice, your response must (1) engage with relevant materials from today’s class, (2) engage with relevant external sources, and (3) adhere to the guidelines set out in your syllabus (in terms of length, citations, etc.). Enjoy!

  1. Draw on a socio-legal theory that we have covered (but not Foucault) to make sense of the expansion of surveillant assemblages outlined by Haggerty and Ericson (2006).
  2. Discuss the merits of the arguments made by the participants in the 2014 Munk Debate on ‘State Surveillance’, and state and support your own position.
  3. Outline the main features of an ideal privacy law (that is, a law governing who may collect and access your personal information, when, under what circumstances, and for what purposes), and explain why these features are appropriate. If you choose to respond to this question, you should spend a few minutes looking into existing privacy laws (in BC and / or Canada).
  4. Respond to the second ‘Critical Thinking Question’ on p. 45 of your syllabus.
  5. Draw on socio-legal theory and the materials we covered today to prepare a response to the following statement: “In terms of surveillance, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.
  6. Write a brief commentary on a one-week ‘snapshot’ of your data double, and discuss the implications that could arise from the linking of some or all of the fragments of this ‘digital trail’.

Posts prepared in response to one of these questions must be submitted before class on December 2.

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