Graduate Research

Graduate Student Research in Surveillance and Privacy Issues

In the popular mind, the word “surveillance” tends to imply video monitoring or espionage. I regard it as a far broader phenomenon that structures relations between individuals and organizations, and indeed between individuals and individuals. It has become a routine aspect of modern life: who we are, what we are doing and where we are doing it. Everybody surrenders his or her personal information in exchange for a range of perceived benefits. Sometimes that surrender is voluntary and transparent; at others it is more secretive and coercive. The upshot is that one does not have to be a “suspect” anymore to be a subject of surveillance.

The topic is therefore rich with contention over the relations between surveillance and power, over complex questions of structure and agency, over the place of new technologies, over the impacts on groups and individuals and over the appropriate means of resistance, and whether that challenge should be framed in terms of the language and practices of “privacy protection” or whether it should be conceived in broader terms. Surveillance is a condition of modernity, integral to the development of disciplinary power and new forms of governance. It is that important, and consequently generates profoundly significant disputes over concepts, theory and method.

Surveillance is also a central feature of the Internet. To what extent, in what ways and to whom, individuals actually surrender their “personal” information when they surf, search, blog, e-mail, network and so on, is a matter of huge controversy. So research on the politics of personal information contributes to our understanding of cyberspace and digitally mediated communication more generally.

There is, therefore, enormous potential for student research, particularly on the political dimensions of surveillance and privacy. I am very interested in working with honours, masters and PhD students who have broad interests in theoretical and empirical work in these areas, and who wish to advance their research skills. Through currently funded projects, a certain amount of funding is available for graduate research assistants to assist me in my ongoing work, as well as to support their graduate education in the Department of Political Science.

Current students are working on the following projects:  privacy advocacy and activism, identification systems in Ghana, the electronic ID system in Russia, and micro-targeting in Canadian elections.

Recently completed graduate students in political science:

Lauren Yawney (MA, 2018) “Understanding the Micro in Micro-targeting:  An Analysis of the 2018 Ontario Provincial Election”

Adam Molnar (PhD, 2014): “In the Shadow of Spectacle: Security and Policing Legacies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics” (Adam took up a tenure-track position at Deakin University in Australia in 2014)

Christopher Parsons (PhD, 2013): “The Politics of Deep Packet Inspection: What Drives Surveillance by Internet Service Providers?” (Chris now has a post-doctoral position at the Citizen Lab at the Munk Center, University of Toronto)

Pablo Ouziel (MA, 2009): “The Spanish National Identity Card: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Surveillance” (Pablo is now studying for his PhD within the UVic Department of Political Science)

Other students have written theses on: identity cards, the Canadian enhanced drivers license, ID scanning in bars, aboriginal health databases, online advertising and surveillance, and human resources databases.