This SSHRC funded project is led by SSC Director David Lyon, with a team of five co-investigators, eleven collaborators, and ten national and international academic and non-academic partners from public policy and activism groups.

The goal of the 'Big Data Surveillance' project is to understand big data surveillance by examining the relationship between big data and surveillance in three linked streams: 1. Security, 2. Marketing and 3. Governance. Each stream involves personal datasets and the meshing of public-and-private sectors. This project examines both the internal dynamics of each and the practical connections between them, such as data-flows from one to another, in ways that affect practice.

Insight meets Connection in this partnership, promising to reinforce our grasp of the issues, revamp policy initiatives and reinvigorate public life today. Our objectives are to provide reliable baseline resources and solid research in each area, to show how big data affects change in these sectors and organizational practices, and to work with our partners to address emerging issues both practically and ethically. Open the big data ‘black box’ and we find a complex global collection of organizations (public and private), people (in commercial, governmental, academic and global regulatory organizations), and practices (proprietary, legal systems and devices that initiate and sustain new data flows, their manipulation and their use). Equally, terms such as surveillance and privacy have to be refined in light of big data.

Our partners rely on such nuanced definitions, critical analysis and updated research findings, as seen in the ‘Resolution on Big Data’ passed in October 2014 at the International Privacy Commissioners’ annual conference (International Conference 2014).

In each stream this project is investigates:

  1. How big data analytics open up new forms of surveillance, or accent existing trends, in their targeting and sorting practices (Barocas and Selbst 2014), not only size and scope.
  2. How big data contributes to laterally clustered surveillance, or reinforces powerful hierarchies, or both, in new ways. Either way, which groups are especially vulnerable.
  3. In what specific ways existing policy responses and instruments require radical overhaul and how far best practices may be developed to address emerging critical issues.

Inaugural Research Workshop:

Key Issues in Big Data Surveillance, Kingston, May 2016

Project Partners