Touring the digital through type

Tag: publication (Page 2 of 2)

Beyond Privacy: Articulating the Broader Harms of Pervasive Mass Surveillance

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I’ve published a new paper titled “Beyond Privacy: Articulating the Broader Harms of Pervasive Mass Surveillance” in Media and Communication. Media and Communication is an open access journal; you can download the article from any location, to any computer, free of cost. The paper explores how dominant theories of privacy grapple with the pervasive mass surveillance activities undertaken by western signals intelligence activities, including those of the NSA, CSE, GCHQ, GCSB, and ASD. I ultimately argue that while these theories provide some recourse to individuals and communities, they are not sufficiently holistic to account for how mass surveillance affects the most basic elements a democracy. As such, I suggest that academic critics of signals intelligence activities can avail themselves to theory from the Frankfurt School to more expansively examine and critique contemporary signals intelligence surveillance practices.

Full Abstract

This article begins by recounting a series of mass surveillance practices conducted by members of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance. While boundary- and intersubjectivity-based theories of privacy register some of the harms linked to such practices I demonstrate how neither are holistically capable of registering these harms. Given these theories’ deficiencies I argue that critiques of signals intelligence surveillance practices can be better grounded on why the practices intrude on basic communicative rights, including those related to privacy. The crux of the argument is that pervasive mass surveillance erodes essential boundaries between public and private spheres by compromising populations’ abilities to freely communicate with one another and, in the process, erodes the integrity of democratic processes and institutions. Such erosions are captured as privacy violations but, ultimately, are more destructive to the fabric of society than are registered by theories of privacy alone. After demonstrating the value of adopting a communicative rights approach to critique signals intelligence surveillance I conclude by arguing that this approach also lets us clarify the international normative implications of such surveillance, that it provides a novel way of conceptualizing legal harm linked to the surveillance, and that it showcases the overall value of focusing on the implications of interfering with communications first, and as such interferences constituting privacy violations second. Ultimately, by adopting this Habermasian inspired mode of analysis we can develop more holistic ways of conceptualizing harms associated with signals intelligence practices than are provided by either boundary- or intersubjective-based theories of privacy.

Download the Paper

Photo credit: Retro Printers by Steven Mileham (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/5m5pyK

Is Your ISP Snooping On You?

The Planet Data CenterLawful access legislation is upon Canadians. Introduced by Minister Toews as ‘with the government or with the child-pornographers’ legislation, lawful access will radically expand the scope of Canadians’ personal information that government authorities can collect without a warrant. Personal information would be turned over to the government under new powers regardless of whether an individual’s actions had violated the Criminal Code. Lawful access powers will be granted to formal policing organizations, including municipal, provincial, and federal police, to Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, and to the Competition Bureau. Since the legislation has been tabled, media and experts alike have been scratching their heads to understand the significance of changes between the previous and current versions of the bill. In a subsequent post, I’ll be writing about how the delimited subscriber information fields that authorities want to access is excessive, and I will demonstrate how these fields will be used and can be abused.

In this post, however, I am taking a step back from the legislation proper. Rather than talk about lawful access, I want to make available a book chapter, written for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, that unpacks some of the surveillance capacities within Canada’s current telecommunications networks. The chapter, titled “Is Your ISP Snooping On You?” (.pdf) first appeared in The Internet Tree: The State of Telecom Policy in Canada 3.0. Specifically, the chapter focuses on a technology that is popularly called ‘deep packet inspection.’ Canadian network agents, such as Internet Service Providers, have deployed these technologies to manage their networks, throttle some kinds of data traffic (e.g. P2P file sharing-related traffic), and track subscriber usage of the networks. This same technology, however, has significant privacy and surveillance implications, insofar as it examines the depths of a data transmission: it is the metaphorical equivalent of not just looking at a postcard, but examining the photo and colour of ink on the postcard to make decisions about how to deliver/treat the message on the card. It is with these network-based technologies in mind that we should reflect on the significance of expanded police access to digital transmissions.

Why is deep packet inspection significant? Because lawful access in Canada might be understood as ‘level one’ of a three-stage surveillance process. The United Kingdom is arguably at ‘level two’ at the moment, on the basis that it possesses an embedded surveillance culture and infrastructure that sees over half a million requests for ‘transactional’ (i.e. everything but the words/pictures of a postcard) data each year. The third level, also being contemplated in the UK, would see deep packet inspection devices repurposed/installed by law enforcement and national security organizations to monitor, mine, and mediate data transmissions between UK citizens in near-real time. Canada isn’t at level three – we’re not even at level two just yet – but our ISPs have experience with embedding technologies that make level-two and -three scenarios possible. Thus, to understand the potential surveillance trajectory associated with lawful access, Canadians must understand existing Canadian network configurations to recognize that this legislation is the first of many stages, and question whether we really want to start down this path in the first place.

Download a copy of “Is your ISP Snooping On You” (.pdf)

Publication: (Un)Lawful Access, Its Potentials, and its Lack of Necessity

Cover of the 2011 Winston Report (Winter)

Last year I was approached by the founder and editor in chief of The Winston Report to update and publish one of my postings on Canada’s forthcoming lawful access legislation. The Report is the quarterly journal of the Canadian Association of Professional Access and Privacy Administrators (CAPAPA). The updated piece that I contributed is more compact than what I originally wrote on this site, though I think that this makes it a stronger, more direct piece. I want to publicly thank Sharon Polsky for the opportunity that she provided to me, and for being so kind as to position my piece as the lead featured article in the Winter edition of the journal. I also want to thank my tireless editor, Joyce Parsons, for her incredible work strengthening my prose. A preprint version of my contribution, which retained a creative-commons license as part of my agreement with the editor in chief, is made available to you below under the normal Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial 2.5 Canada license.

Download pre-print .pdf version of (Un)Lawful Access:  Its Potentials, and its Lack of Necessity.

Publication: Is Your ISP Snooping On You?

Internet_TreeI’m happy to let my readers know that Marita Moll’s and Leslie Shade’s (eds.) The Internet Tree: The State of Telecom Policy in Canada 3.0 is now available for purchase. The book interrogates how Canada’s digital future does, and should, look in coming days by discussing present policies and proposing policies to enhance Canada’s position in the digitally connected world. The editors have done an excellent job in contacting academics, advocates, and solicitors from around Canada to develop an exciting and accessible edited collection on Internet and broadband in Canada. It includes scholars such as Dwayne Winseck, Michael Geist, Catherine Middleton, and Richard Smith, along with contributions from Steve Anderson (Open Media), Michael Janigan (PIAC), and a host of graduate students and researchers.

The book is published through the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The publisher and editors describe that book as a collection in which:

… committed public interest advocates and academics present primers on provocative digital policy issues: broadband access, copyright, net neutrality, privacy, and security, along with a consideration of structures of participation in policy-making and communication rights.

Contributors to The Internet Tree argue for a digital economy strategy that casts a winning vote for openness, broadband as an essential service, and community engagement and inclusion.

The Internet Tree is available for just $14.95 and is supportive of digital economy strategies that are guided by the principles of openness, broadband as an essential service, community engagement and inclusion, national sovereignty, and digital literacy programs. My own contribution (“Is Your ISP Snooping On You?”) explains the technical and social concerns raised by deep packet inspection to someone who doesn’t know a coaxial cable from a fibre node, with other authors similarly working to explain issues to the layman while offering suggestions to alleviate, mediate, or overcome the challenges facing Canada’s digital ecosystem. It’s got a great set of authors and I’d highly recommend it as a complement to Open Media’s recently published report on digital networks in Canada.

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