Research Papers


Violence and social networking in Mexico: Actors and surveillance technologies

by Nelson Arteaga Botello, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México

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Vernacular Resistance To Data Collection And Analysis: A Political Philosophy Of Obfuscation

by Finn Brunton & Helen Nissenbaum, Dept. of Media, Culture & Communication, New York University

Abstract: Computer-enabled data collection, aggregation, and mining dramatically change the nature of contemporary surveillance. Refusal is not a practical option, as data collection is an inherent condition of many essential societal transactions. We present one vernacular response to this regime of everyday surveillance, a tactic we call obfuscation. With a variety of possible motivations, actors engage in obfuscation by producing misleading, false, or ambiguous data with the intention of confusing an adversary or simply adding to the time or cost of separating bad data from good. Our paper develops a political philosophy of obfuscation, linking contemporary and historical cases to develop a descriptive account of obfuscation that is able to capture key commonalities in systems from radar chaff to BitTorrent.

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“I might not scratch my ass if I think there might be a camera taping it”: Public Perception of Surveillance Technologies in Everyday Life

by Arsalan Butt, PhD student & Richard Smith, Professor, School of Communication,  Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology, Simon Fraser University

Abstract: Surveillance is and has been an integral part of many cultures and civilizations. Social transformation and geopolitical events along with advances in information and communication technologies have led to several real and perceived needs of surveillance so much so that it is considered by several scholars as integral to modern societies. To that end, this paper looks at how people think about surveillance and how it impacts their everyday life. One hundred and one adults living in Vancouver were interviewed. The interview instrument consisted of fourteen open and seven closed ended questionnaires and an information sheet which was given to interviewees at a pre-determined point during an interview. Analysis themes that were guided by the research questions and informed by David Lyon’s (2007) description of surveillance sites and Gates & Magnet’s (2007) discussion of surveillance studies in Communication included consumer surveillance, media representations of surveillance, impacts of surveillance on privacy, and use of surveillance in crime control. This paper therefore explores people’s perceptions about surveillance in different domains of their social lives and how it impacts them. Preliminary analysis indicates no difference in perceptions or impact of surveillance between male and female research participants. While social media was recognized as a form of everyday surveillance by several participants, most of them indicated a presence of cameras (such as in shopping malls, traffic light, etc) forcing them to change the way they go by their normal life.

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Blurring Boundaries: Crime and Espionage Online

by Ron Deibert, Citizen Lab, University of Toronto

Abstract: Cyber attacks often take the form of malware attacks, including those that are targeted, that capture sensitive information or Denial of Service attacks that aim to punish, disrupt and censor. But there are numerous such attacks everyday; some are specific and targeted while others are automated and indiscriminate. Attackers may be highly skilled and well resourced adversaries or simply opportunistic amateurs. Some attackers may be individuals or groups engaging in crime motivated by financial gain, politics or status within their community. In other cases, attackers may be motivated by espionage or data theft and have implicit or even explicit ties to government or military entities.  Drawing from recent research undertaken by members of the Citizen Lab and its associated projects (OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor), including Tracking Ghostnet, Shadows in the Cloud, and the Russia-Georgia South Ossetia War of August 2008, this presentation analyzes the blurring boundaries between cyber crime, warfare, and espionage.


Online Collectivism, Individualism and Anonymity in East Asia

by Kenneth Farrall, Department of Media, Culture & Communication, New York University

Abstract: Entering the second decade of the 21st century, anonymity, appears to be under siege. While targeted behavioral advertising continues to expand and personal information becomes increasingly commoditized, government officials around the globe warn us that true anonymity is in conflict with not only national security goals but also the very notion of civil discourse itself. Indeed, there appear to be growing questions about its continued viability within the digital environment in the age of terrorism. Will anonymity turn out to be a relic of the 20th century or does it have a future?

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Viral Vigilantes: the Unblinking Panopticon and the Wheelie-Bin Cat Lady

by Matthew Fraser, Associate Professor, American University of Paris

Abstract: With the explosion of social media, we must now accept that everything we do risks being exposed by intrusive surveillance via viral Web platforms like Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Unlike top-down unidirectional surveillance by states over their populations, digitally-mediated surveillance is a horizontal, multi-mirrored Panopticon in which everyone can spy on everyone else. Digitally-mediated surveillance has become a “crowdsourced” form of social norm enforcement. This diffused power of “Little Brother” surveillance was illustrated, bizarrely, by the “Wheelie-Bin Cat Lady” incident in Coventry, England in the summer of 2010. A dowdy middle-aged English woman called Mary Bale picked up a friendly local cat, flung it in a large rubbish bin, and closed the lid before walking away. Two CCTV cameras caught Bale’s perplexing gesture on video, which was soon posted on the Web and went viral in England and around the world. The outrage to Bale’s inexplicable gesture was so intense that local police tracked her down for her own protections while a media frenzy descended on Coventry. The Wheelie-Bin Cat Lady story illustrates how the power of normative enforcement through surveillance and punishment is no longer a state monopoly, but has been diffused to everyone – posing the danger of viral vigilantism. The enforcement of social norms, and punishment for their transgression, have taken on radically new forms of coercion via DMS. The Web also present familiar challenges as states and advertisers master surveillance techniques offered by social media to extend and strengthen their capacity for monitoring and control.

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Translating privacy into digital designs: technical
strategies to counter everyday surveillance

by Seda Guerses, K. U. Leuven & Jason Pridmore, Hogeschool Zuyd

Abstract: Privacy policies, data protection frameworks, and privacy (enhancing) technologies exist as a conglomeration of strategies that seek to counter issues arising from the proliferation of digitally mediated surveillance in everyday life. Systems designers and policy makers have proposed the introduction of privacy related measures into Information Technology (IT) systems at their inception and during their development in recent years as an effort to limit potential harms created by the intensification of digitally mediated surveillance. These attempts to design in privacy from the outset are interpreted and implemented in different ways, often in the form of lists of ‘design principles’ and desired system properties. In this paper, we suggest that the process of designing systems that maintain privacy are reliant upon particular translations of privacy; translations that address privacy and subsequently surveillance and related issues, in different ways. That is, they re-interpret, re-represent and re-appropriate the notion of privacy in ways that fit particular objectives for differing stakeholders in their use of new technologies. This paper provides a taxonomy of three significant proposals to maintain privacy in systems design and discusses their usefulness and drawbacks in different contexts in relation to digitally mediated surveillance. We argue that a dynamic and nuanced approach toward privacy as a mechanism to minimize and reduce surveillance is necessary to ensure that the desire to design in privacy legitimately counters the intrusive potentials of new digitally mediated surveillance.

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Paranoia and Public Responses to Cyber-surveillance

by David Harper, School of Psychology, University of East London, [email protected]

Abstract: A common trope in popular discourse about digitally mediated surveillance is that its increasing penetration into our lives renders us paranoid. However opinion polls give a much more mixed and ambiguous picture revealing attitudes which are not only conflicted but which respond to world events and fluctuate over time and which, in the UK at least, have not led to a sustained and systematic anti-surveillance campaign. In everyday discourse about surveillance, one of the contours which people negotiate is how to talk about it without being seen as paranoid. Adopting too suspicious a position can leave one vulnerable to this charge. Yet with the spread of surveillance and the development of increasingly sophisticated and often invisible surveillance technologies it is ever more difficult for the public to sense whether they are adopting a paranoid position. For Jameson (1992) conspiratorial narratives were a response to the problem of adequately representing such unimaginable global networks, leading him to term them the ‘the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age’ (Jameson, 1988, p.356). In this paper, I examine how 31 adult interviewees from the South East of England talk about surveillance.

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Mobilizing the Cyberspace Race: the Securitization of the Internet and its Implications for Civil Liberties

by Catherine Hart, Masters student, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University

Abstract: In this paper I seek to explore the way in which the increasing regulation of networked computing through digital controls and surveillance is being justified using a securitizing discourse. I argue that the dominant frame of ‘cybersecurity’ has become one based on national security, due to the potentially debilitating effect that a breakdown of the network would have on society, the economy, the military, and government. This understanding caused President Obama, during his 2008 presidential campaign, to declare the U.S. information infrastructure a ‘strategic asset,’ a move which positions the Internet as a significant issue for the military (Clarke, 2010, p.116). Within the Copenhagen School’s perspective on International Security Studies, this is known as a ‘securitizing move’; an attempt to frame something as essential to national security. I seek to examine the application of this securitizing discourse tonetworked computing and its development into an issue of ‘cybersecurity’ over the past threeU.S. administrations. To do this, I will apply the Copenhagen School’s framework to each administration’s official policy on cybersecurity, in order to assess whether the securitization is successful, and what impact proposed responses may have on civil liberties.

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Lighting the back alleys of the Internet: A review of Barack Obama’s Surveillance Policies Against the Background of the National Security State

by Sunny Skye Hughes, Assistant Professor of Communications and Journalism, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Maine

Abstract: In the 20th and 21st centuries, the United States has moved towards what can be seen as a National Security State, defined by a world crisis of insecurity. In this security state, a security elite has evolved to conduct surveillance and intelligence gathering beyond the scope of Constitutional protections for citizens. This paper will focus on the motives of government agencies advocating for more advanced surveillance techniques, with an analysis based on Harold Lasswell’s “security elite” model from his 1950 book National Security and Individual Freedom. This paper will use the National Security State as a backdrop to review the Obama Administration’s intelligence policies both before and after his presidential inauguration. The relationships between Congress, communication carriers, citizens and law enforcement—as well as extra-legal agencies—will be analyzed against the idea of a security state. In conclusion, the paper will connect these analyses into a broader conversation about the necessity of sacrificing personal liberties such as privacy for the broader societal purposes of national security.

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Reconfiguring the House of Mirrors: Narrowing Digitally Mediated Surveillance on Facebook

by Deborah Johnson, University of Virginia & Priscilla Regan, George Mason University

Abstract: In ongoing and previous work, we develop a house of mirrors metaphor to shed light on digitally-mediated systems of accountability involving transparency and surveillance. Facebook is framed as an accountability system alongside campaign finance disclosure, Secure Flight, user tracking by Google, and the American Red Cross blood donation system. The house of mirrors metaphor provides a framework for understanding the movement and transformation of personal information that takes place in these systems and the normative implications. In a house of mirrors the subject is viewed as fragmented, split into selected parts, with some parts exaggerated and others shrouded. In the case of Facebook, users select a subset of information about themselves, highlighting and shading certain dimensions of their selves. Facebook then transmits this data—like images in parallel mirrors, infinitely multiplied—not only to “friends” and “friends of friends,” but also to marketers who target users based on their selected activities, interests and expressed tastes.

Although the house of mirrors metaphor can be used broadly to understand digitally-mediated systems, our central concern in this paper is to address the tension between privacy and the display of personal information that seems to be inherent in social networking sites. We focus exclusively on Facebook and we ask in particular how the house of mirrors might be reconfigured to limit and mitigate surveillance. We ask whether revising and refining privacy notices effectively controls the movement of personal information within a hall of mirrors. Will imposing technical controls or standards over the flow of information is an effective mechanism? Will government regulations over the revelation, collection and exchanges of information be necessary? Or is there some other leverage point to limit surveillance that is revealed by the house of mirrors metaphor? The focus of our analysis extends beyond traditional studies of policy tools as it specifically examines the processes in socio-technically configured halls of mirrors. We begin with a brief summary of the house of mirrors metaphor and how it applies to Facebook. Next we explore how relationships and accounts of an individual are rendered in the Facebook house of mirrors. Finally we provide an analysis of how the mirrors might be reconfigured to better protect the privacy of Facebook users.

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Integrated Intelligence and the Internet

by Elizabeth Kirley, Barrister & Solicitor, Doctoral Candidate, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Abstract: A decade into the new millennium, the Internet has moved front and centre as the principal tool for intelligence sharing between law enforcement communities and intelligence agencies. Enabled by new surveillance capabilities and new legal powers to monitor internet users, police have gone pre-emptive, with new ‘integrated’ intelligence teams that track and profile terrorist suspects within their dark network to build evidence and plan capture. Law abiding citizens are caught in this wide net as well, however, and privacy has become the first casualty, with democracy and civil rights close behind. This paper examines this sea change in the drive to ‘serve and protect’ through a qualitative analysis of interviews with members of Canadian’s three levels of police services: the federal RCMP, provincial services and municipal agencies of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.  One hypothesis regarding adding ‘integrated’ to the lexicon of ‘intelligence-led’ police is that omniscient surveillance in the service of counter-terrorism is seen by police decision-makers as the only efficient response to an enemy of the people whom they can no longer second-guess. That ‘not on my watch’ approach to securing public safety might have insidious consequences for even the most well-intentioned of constabularies and the wards to whom they offer safe harbour.  At a more theoretical level – and a theory of intelligence has been urgently called for by the intelligence sector for most of the last century –this paper asks what it is to be ‘private’ in Canada and theorizes that Canadians locate their normative sense of privacy somewhere outside the realm of ‘dignity’ as in the Western European tradition, and of ‘liberty’ as in the American value system (Ewald, 1998). Within their sense of personal identity, perhaps?  It follows, if this is so, that police who hold the monopoly on internal, state-sanctioned powers of cybersurveillance and coercion intrude on our lives at the most undetectable level based on the presumption that Canadians value personal safety and security more than their sense of self.

Convergence Security: Cyber-Surveillance and the Biopolitical Production of Security

by Sean Lawson & Robert W. Gehl, Department of Communication, University of Utah

This paper examines cases of self-organized, online volunteers in the United States that are devoted to countering threats through or to cyberspace. These groups monitor and counter terrorist activities on the Internet, investigate and prevent cyberattacks, or patrol U.S. borders from the vantage point of cyberspace. Drawing from Hardt and Negri’s description of the “global state of war,” as well as the work of media studies scholars who have described the emergence of “convergence culture” and the “prosumer” as central to the “new economy,” our paper posits the emergence of “convergence security.” Just as new media technologies have been at the heart of the blurring boundaries between traditional producers and consumers of media products, so too are they at the heart of the blurring boundaries between the traditional producers and consumers of security. Cyber-surveillance has emerged as a key avenue for citizen participation in the regime of seemingly ubiquitous surveillance that is at the heart of the production of security in Western societies. In the cases examined here, we see the emergence of an often uneasy relationship between the traditional and new producers of security that is fraught with ambivalence, ambiguity, and danger.

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Protection against DMS within Social Movements and the Infrastructure as Adversary

by Oliver Leistert, University of Paderborn


The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life

by Alice E. Marwick, PhD, Microsoft Research New England

Abstract: A profile on a social network site or a Twitter account is created and constructed against the background of an audience—as something to be looked at. This paper argues that the dual gaze of social surveillance—surveying content created by others and looking at one’s own content through other people’s eyes—is a normative part of constant ongoing social media use. Social surveillance is distinguished from “surveillance” along four axes: power, hierarchy, symmetry, and individuality. Based on ethnographic work in the San Francisco technology scene from 2008-2009 and amongst teenagers in the Southeastern United States in 2010, I look at this surveillance, how it is practiced, and its impact on people who engage in it. I use Foucault’s concept of capillaries of power to demonstrate that social surveillance assumes the power differentials evident in everyday interactions rather than the hierarchical power relationships assumed in much of the surveillance literature. Social media involves a collapse of social contexts and social roles, complicating boundary work but facilitating social surveillance. Individuals strategically reveal, disclose and conceal personal information to create connections with others and protect social boundaries. These processes are normal parts of day-to-day life in communities that are highly connected through social media.

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Surveillance and regulating code: An analysis of graduated response in France

by Trisha Meyer, Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel & Leo Van Audenhove, Studies on Media, Information & Telecommunication, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Abstract: This paper analyzes a recent policy initiative in France to deter copyright infringement. In 2009, France passed two laws aimed at fighting online piracy through graduated response, a warning & sanction system. Under the graduated response policy, Internet users are monitored and when caught infringing copyright, are repeatedly warned about their illegal actions and ultimately sanctioned through the suspension of Internet access, fines and/or prison sentences. Graduated response depends on surveillance of Internet uses and encourages technological regulation, such as Internet filtering and blocking. In our analysis of the French copyright enforcement policy, we look at the rationales advocated for copyright and the Internet and the argumentation for surveillance and regulation through technology (code). This provides us insight into the rationale and motivations of actors towards copyright infringement, but more broadly also towards society and the Internet. The French approach towards copyright and the Internet focuses on economic rationales and gives priority to copyright over other democratic values, such as freedom of expression, access to knowledge and privacy. We contend that copyright is used as an informational power to gain control over core information processes and graduated response is contributing to an enclosure of the Internet. Surveillance is taken for granted and regulation through code is pursued. The Internet and technology cannot in themselves foster a democratization of society. They can, however, serve as enablers or barriers. We argue that graduated response is creating barriers to free expression, access to knowledge and participation in democratic life. Economic and social functions of copyright and the Internet can coincide, but in the end liberal democratic values should prevail.

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Mediating the Surveillance State

by Torin Monahan, Vanderbilt University

This paper will explore the digitally mediated surveillance functions of DHS fusion centres. Drawing upon government documents, media reports, interviews with fusion-centre staff, and site visits to fusion centres, the paper will document the activities and rationales of fusion-centre personnel. Of particular interest are the mechanisms by which localities translate DHS directives to address perceived local needs. Because the surveillance capabilities of fusion centres are open to interpretive flexibility, local mediation by “citizen agents” may simultaneously create opportunities for abuse and/or for humanitarian application of these law-enforcement tools. For instance, fusion-centre personnel may engage in illegal investigations of peaceful anti-war groups or they may support emergency personnel in the event of a natural disaster. Although there are some interesting activist responses to fusion centres, it is important to theorize the mediation of such surveillance systems by actors within the system as well. If scholars, activists, and others better understand the potential for democratic inflections to emerge organically from within state-based surveillance systems, they will be in a better position to encourage such developments.


DPI and copyright protection: A comparison of EU, US and China

by Milton Mueller, Andreas Kuehn & Stephanie Michelle, School of Information Studies, Santoso Syracuse University & Ben Wagner, European Union Institute, Italy

Abstract: This paper examines political conflict and negotiation over proposals to use deep packet inspection for online copyright enforcement. It conducts a comparative analysis of the way DPI (or other techniques that may be viewed as a substitute for DPI) has been promoted or employed in the battle against peer to peer file sharing in the EU, the USA and China. Applying the “technology aware policy analysis” framework developed in Bendrath and Mueller (2010), it contrasts the distinct actors, actor constellations and modes of interaction across institutional settings to see how similar or divergent the governance outcomes are.


Comparing the Android and Apple Operating Systems as Structuring Tactics in Cloud Surveillance

by David Phillips, Karen Pollock & Michael Murphy, University of Toronto, Canada

Abstract: This paper examines the motives and strategies of key actors in digitally mediated surveillance. In particular, it looks at how Google and Apple are attempting to structure surveillance practice in the nascent industrial configuration of cloud computing. Google and Apple compete in the cloud at one significant point: the handset and its operating system.  Each operating system instantiates cloud computing differently; in particular, each attempts to engage in different structures and uses of surveillance.  This paper is in four parts. The first compares the role of surveillance in the corporate strategies of Apple and Google. The second is a comparative ethnography of the iPhone and Android handsets, to understand what sort of cloud each understands and prefers to live in.  The third is an analysis of the resources and tactics that Apple and Google are using to make their handsets obligatory passage points in the cloud, and so to enlist other agents  into their understanding. Finally, we examine what is at stake in this conflict for less intentional participants in the construction of the cloud. We assay how each uses surveillance to mediate cultural, economic, and political power.

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Social Media and the Rise of Surveillance-based Advertising

by Elijah Sparrow, PhD student,Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Cruz

Abstract: The rapid rise of surveillance-based advertising has sparked heated debate, albeit one devoid of historical context. This paper traces the connections between surveillance in advertising and the development of social media, arguing that the two are born of common economic, technological, and cultural conditions. The Internet businesses that emerged most successful from the dot-com bust of 2000 found ways to flourish amidst a general profitability crisis by changing the relationship between producer and consumer, and, ultimately, embracing surveillance as a business model. This surveillance has intimate connections to the social media discourses of openness and empowerment, and developed as a response to tensions in the commodification of information.

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The Law Enforcement Surveillance Gap



by Christopher Soghoian, Doctoral Candidate, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University

Abstract: Third party facilitated surveillance has become a routine tool for law enforcement agencies. There are likely hundreds of thousands of such requests per year. Unfortunately there are few detailed statistics documenting the use of many modern surveillance methods. As such, the true scale of law enforcement surveillance, although widespread, remains largely shielded from public view. Prior to the widespread adoption of the Internet and mobile phones, law enforcement agencies’ use of third party facilitated electronic surveillance was largely limited to real-time interception of communications content (“wiretapping”) and non-content data (through the use of “pen register” and “trap and trace” orders). In order to increase its ability to perform effective oversight, Congress mandated that annual reports be created documenting the use of these surveillance powers. These reports are intended to enable policy makers as well as the general public to determine the extent to which such surveillance methods are used, and in the words of Senator Patrick Leahy, provide a “far more reliable basis than anecdotal evidence on which to assess law enforcement needs and make sensible policy in this area.” The existing surveillance statistics might be sufficient if law enforcement agencies’ surveillance activities were limited to wiretaps and pen registers. However, over the last decade, law enforcement agencies have enthusiastically embraced many new sources of investigative and surveillance data for which there are no mandatory reporting requirements. As a result, most modern surveillance now takes place entirely off the books and the true scale of such activities, which vastly outnumber traditional wiretaps and pen registers, remains unknown. In this article, I examine the existing electronic surveillance reporting requirements and the reports that have been created as a result. Some of these have been released to public, but many have only come to light as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests or leaks by government insiders. I also also examine several law enforcement surveillance methods for which there are no existing legally mandated surveillance reports. Finally, I propose specific legislative reporting requirements in order to enable some reasonable degree of oversight and transparency over all forms of law enforcement electronic surveillance.

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