Surveillance, Privacy and Technology: Contemporary Irish Perspectives

Kenny Doyle

    Research output: Types of ThesisMaster's Thesis

    Abstract

    Surveillance is typically envisaged as the act of a person being physically watched, their movements and behaviour monitored in a given space and time. While this type of watching undoubtedly takes place, there is also the more subtle and pervasive monitoring of people through the data they accumulate in their daily lives. Contemporary Irish society is mediated by digital technology; the daily life of the typical person creates a mass of data which can offer many telling clues as to the type of life they lead. This form of surveillance is called dataveillance (Clarke 1988). It is unclear however exactly how much citizens know about these practices and how they negotiate with and respond to surveillance systems which have become integrated into the everyday lived experience in Ireland. This study aimed -by conducting focused interviews with Irish citizens – to explore the levels of knowledge regarding surveillance and privacy and to ascertain the importance placed on these concepts. Fifteen people participated in semi-structured interviews as part of this qualitative study. The interviews covered the participants knowledge of surveillance, privacy and technology in the three social roles of worker, citizen and consumer. Thus the three main themes of the interviews centred around work, security and consumption, with each theme opening up a series of discussions on normative expectations regarding surveillance and privacy. As well as exploring the level of knowledge regarding surveillance and privacy, a further aim to uncover any discursive repertoires used to describe how participants understand and interact with systems of surveillance. Broadly speaking the findings were that there is a very basic understanding of surveillance, who it is conducted by, and the reasons for its occurrence. While participants mostly identified themselves as being private, their actions often left them open to surveillance in ways which they knew very little about. This was particularly 3 evident in questions relating to consumer based surveillance, social networking and use of the internet in general. There was very little in the way of knowledge about the information economy as was most strikingly evident in the fact that most participants had no idea how either Google or Facebook make money. Many conceptions of surveillance see it in terms of it being a top down style exercise of power, as is evident from this study it is perhaps not quite so simple. Systems of monitoring and surveillance can be seen in some instances to work both ways and in the examples of both law enforcement and work supervision; surveillance was characterised as a means of holding power to account. This means that in some limited examples subjects of surveillance are capable of reflecting its gaze back on the people or organisations conducting it. In the case of work supervision for example, it was exhaustive systems of record keeping and oversight which made it easier for employees to hold their employers to terms of their contracts. In these terms workplace surveillance was welcomed as it allowed for greater transparency. A further finding which related mostly to the realm of policing and security was that of a form of ‘othering’ of targets of surveillance. This was usually tied in with the almost ubiquitous subject position of if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear. According to this logic it is those who are characterised as having something to hide who are the targets of surveillance and thus stand to lose out when it is in operation. This view creates a dualism in common consciousness between ‘us’ who obey the law and thus have nothing to fear, and ‘them’, drawn from the class of the criminal ‘other’. The creation of such simplified and dichotomous identities ensures the social desirability of surveillance and serves to inoculate its proponents against meaningful discussion about the necessity or validity of any surveillance measures. This logic also forms part of the explanation as to why systems of surveillance have spread so rapidly without much in terms of organised public opposition.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Culleton, Jonathan, Supervisor
    DOIs
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2013

    Keywords

    • Surveillance, technology

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