Civil Society In An Age Of Surveillance

First published by Civil Society Futures: With rapid technological development, both the means of collection and the uses of data are expanding rapidly. Vast amounts of personal data are now collected and shared across social media and digital platforms, smart homes detect our presence and movements, and smart TVs can listen to our conversations. Such data is collected and analysed by companies, shared and sold by the data industry, and used by state agencies.

Citizens are increasingly categorised and profiled according to data assemblages, for example through data scores used in the criminal justice system or by social credit scores, as developed in China. The purpose of such scores is to predict future behaviour and allocate resources and eligibility for services (or punishment) accordingly.

Data analysis thus denotes a particular mode of governance, one in which the prevailing logic is to predict human behaviour as a means to both manage populations and produce revenue – an information order described as ‘surveillance capitalism.’

The transformation towards data-based governance and the historic moment of the Snowden leaks have highlighted key challenges for the protection of citizens in a datafied environment. Policies pertaining to data collection, however, have hardly kept pace with technological change and have often empowered business and the state rather than the citizen. While data protection was strengthened in the US, with the USA Freedom Act, and in the European Union through the General Data Protection Regulation, surveillance capabilities of the state were expanded in countries like FranceGermany and the UK. In the UK, particularly, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 makes the state’s surveillance capabilities more transparent, but it allows for a wider range of data collection and analysis than before and, arguably, than anywhere else in the western world.


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