David Lyon

David Lyon

Professor Emeritus

B.Sc. (Soc. Sci.), Ph.D. (Bradford)


Queen's University


(613) 533-6000 ext. 74489

Mackintosh-Corry Hall, D526

People Directory Affiliation Category

  • Surveillance and Social Sorting
  • Big Data Surveillance
  • Identification Regimes
  • Privacy
  • Information Technologies
  • Christian Social Critique

David Lyon's research, writing, and teaching interests revolve around major social transformations in the modern world. Questions of the information society, globalization, secularization, surveillance, and debates over “post-” and “digital” modernity feature prominently in his work. Lyon was formerly an editor of Surveillance & Society and is Associate Editor of The Information Society. He also serves on the international editorial boards of several other journals. His books have been translated into eighteen languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.


Surveillance Studies has been Lyon’s major research area for the past 25 years. He brings a sociological perspective to bear on the issues raised by personal data processing in a database-dependent world. His surveillance interests include border and airport controls, social media, organizational routines, video camera surveillance, citizen registration and identification systems and social media. His concerns include, prominently, the social sorting capacities of contemporary surveillance, along with an exploration of their ethics and politics.

From the mid-1980s, Lyon's broad concerns prompted a critical examination of the much-hyped ‘microelectronics revolution’ that gave way to the so-called ‘information society.’ In the 1990s, Lyon focused his analyses on the social origins, incidence and consequences of processing personal data, arguing that surveillance has become a major dimension of modernity in its own right. This aspect of his research has expanded considerably, especially since 9/11, and involves extensive collaboration with colleagues and students. Surveillance is a globalized phenomenon, and Lyon's work focuses increasingly on the global south and on encouraging the development of Surveillance Studies networks around the world.

From 2008-2010 David Lyon was a Canada Council Killam Research Fellow, investigating the current rise of national ID card systems in a cross-national comparative perspective. The work complements some of his other studies of surveillance and contributes to both empirical and theoretical understanding of contemporary smart, biometrics-based ID systems.

Currently, Lyon is working towards a book on surveillance critique, Surveillance and the Eye of God.

David Lyon and Surveillance


While he is best known for his work in Surveillance Studies, David Lyon’s research and writing span several other areas as well. Starting in Historical Sociology in the 1970s, his early work was on secularization processes – and the critique of some key theories -- in the modern world. Today, he tries to keep abreast of debates over the "post-secular" with an emphasis on the work of Charles Taylor. Following this, his main research directions explore other forms of social transformation that are both characteristic and constitutive of modernity.

As Director of the former Surveillance Studies Centre, Lyon worked with a multidisciplinary and international team on several related initiatives from primary research to theoretical development as well as associated media, policy and advocacy activities. The most recent team project was on “Big Data Surveillance” (‘BDS’ 2015-2020) and was funded by the SSHRC Partnership Grant program. It has streams on security, marketing and governance. Among other things, the project produced a major report, Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom and Fairness and an edited book, Big Data Surveillance and Security Intelligence: The Canadian Case, edited by David Lyon and David Murakami Wood (2022).

In 2005, Lyon was awarded a Queen’s Research Chair in Surveillance Studies. In 2007 Lyon received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association Communication and Information Technology Section and in 2008 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2012 he received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Canadian Sociological Association, in 2015 an Insight-Impact Award from the SSHRC and in 2016 an honorary doctorate from the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Switzerland. In 2017, Lyon received a Queen's University Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision. And in 2020 Lyon was nationally recognized in Canada with the Molson Prize.


Surveillance: A Very Short Introduction, (forthcoming, Oxford University Press 2024)

Pandemic Surveillance, (Polity 2022)

The Culture of Surveillance: Watching as a Way of Life (Polity 2018)

Surveillance after Snowden (Polity 2015)

Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada / Vivre à nu: la surveillance au Canada (Athabasca University Press, co-authored, 2014) also at http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120237/

Liquid Surveillance (with Zygmunt Bauman, Polity 2013) 

Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance (Polity 2009)

Playing the Identity Card: Surveillance, Security and Identification in Global Perspective,
(co-edited with Colin Bennett, Routledge 2008)

Surveillance Studies: An Overview, (Polity 2007)

Theorizing Surveillance: The Panopticon and Beyond, (editor; Willan 2006)

Surveillance after September 11, (Polity 2003)

Surveillance as Social Sorting: Privacy, Risk and Digital Discrimination, (Routledge 2003)

Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life, (Open University Press, 2001)

Computers, Surveillance and Privacy, (co-edited with Elia Zureik; Minnesota 1996)

The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society, (Polity 1994)

Contemporary Society

Postmodernity, (Open University Press 1994; second edition, revised, 1999)

The Information Society: Issues and Illusions, (Polity 1988)


Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, (Polity 2000)

Rethinking Church, State and Modernity: Canada between Europe and America, (co-edited with Marguerite Van Die; University of Toronto Press 2000)

Living Stones: St James’ Church Kingston 1845-1995, (Quarry Press 1995)

The Steeple’s Shadow: On the Myths and Realities of Secularization, (SPCK 1985)