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 methods.

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.

I have supervised a number of MA and PhD students over the years, including the following:

Recently completed and supervised graduate students in political science:

Smith Oduro Marfo (PhD 2021) “Surveillance for Development:  Debating Citizen Identification Systems in Ghana.”

Jesse Gordon (MA 2019) “When Data Crimes are Real Crimes:  Voter Surveillance and the Cambridge Analytica Conflict”

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.