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Public perceptions of surveillance and use of personal data (Darren Ellis)

March 23, 2010 6 comments

Hi, I’m Darren Ellis, a lecturer in UEL, HSS, Psychosocial Studies. I thought I’d just write a little bit about a cross-school project that I’m doing with some colleagues in the School of Psychology at UEL (Dave Harper and Ian Tucker). Recently (March, 2010) we managed to secure a small amount of funding to recruit two research assistants to help us collect some interview data regarding perceptions of surveillance and the use of personal data. As you may havce noticed, there has been increased public debate in recent years about the social impact of surveillance and the storage of personal information on databases due to the ever increasing technological capability of surveillance and database systems. In 2006 the Information Commissioner commissioned a Report on the ‘Surveillance Society’ followed in 2008 by a select committee inquiry (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee). Last year the Joseph Rowntree Trust published a report on the ‘Database State’ and have gone on to sponsor an ICM poll on privacy rights and even a film on the encroachment of surveillance on privacy (Erasing David) http://erasingdavid.com. These reports have generally focused on technological capabilities and human rights concerns, particularly about privacy. However, somewhat surprisingly, they did not include any empirical investigation of public perceptions of surveillance.

There has also been an ever increasing amount of theorisation about issues concerned with surveillance; beginning with ‘Foucault’s panopticon’ up to more recent Deleuzian theorisations of ‘rhizomatic surveillance assemblages’. Although these theories have been extremely useful in facilitating the development of compelling models of surveillance systems, they tell us very little about how the public generally perceive and experience them. Indeed one of the major gaps in the surveillance literature is a rigorous investigation of the dynamics of public perceptions of surveillance. So, to enable us to explore participants’ perceptions of surveillance in more detail we’re conducting a qualitative study which we hope will help to elucidate dynamic and contextual factors influencing perceptions.

We are interested in any thoughts you may have on this project, so do contact us:
D.Ellis@uel.ac.uk
D.Harper@uel.ac.uk
I.Tucker@uel.ac.uk

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