Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)
Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

The Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's

All global citizens are affected by purposeful data collection. Whether through the use of supermarket loyalty cards, enhanced driver’s licenses, biometric passports, DNA databases or social media, our lives are being profiled and classified as never before. These issues garnered international attention when, in June 2013, Edward Snowden released a set of documents revealing the secret activities of the US National Security Agency to the media and wider public, stirring worldwide controversy.

The Surveillance Studies Centre (SSC) at Queen’s University is committed to research on the development of expanding surveillance practices. This work began in the early 1990s and grew rapidly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Formally established in 2009, the SSC has grown into a broad network of faculty and students undertaking research that is both multi-disciplinary and international. Through this work, the SSC is actively drawing critical attention to the widespread implications of the rapid acceleration of new surveillance technologies.

Tracking surveillance trends

Investigating the roots and growth of surveillance and ‘surveillance societies’ globally and locally, the SSC tracks general trends as well as national and regional variations in colonial, authoritarian and democratic societies. By understanding the issues, the SSC hopes to inform policy and legislation.

Their examination of key surveillance trends starts with the rather obvious one:  surveillance has grown exponentially in the twenty-first century. What may be less-than-obvious, however, is just how much data is gathered on each of us and how often. This makes us increasingly visible to organizations that are decreasingly visible to us. Other trends include the ways that ‘security’ has become a major driver of surveillance, how surveillance is embedded in everyday environments such as homes, buildings, vehicles and how it often depends on data taken from our bodies by biometric technologies such as body scanners or voiceprint recognition. Also evident are the globalization of surveillance and the ways that we interact more than ever with surveillance using social media.

Recent SSC research has explored drones, camera surveillance, ID systems, biometrics, border and airport controls and ‘dataveillance’– referring to what can be uncovered about our lives in the data trails we leave behind wherever we go. Indeed, surveillance is any kind of ‘monitoring for management,’ or any systematic and focused attention to personal information for purposes of entitlement, security, protection or control.

Collaborative research

The SSC facilitates collaboration between its members and beyond, advancing the surveillance studies field through workshops, lectures and seminars, empirical work, visiting scholar programs, publishing, community outreach, liaising with policy and activist groups, and student training.

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The SSC has also partnered with agencies such as the Canadian federal and provincial privacy commissions, and with civil liberties (The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group), human rights (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association) and internet advocacy groups (OpenMedia). The SSC also hosts Surveillance & Society, the online journal of the Surveillance Studies Network, with which the SSC has a close relationship.