I attended a lecture last week on the subject of surveillance (Surveillance after Snowden: Decoding the Snooping Scandal). The speaker was David Lyon, a professor at Queens and the Director of the Surveillance Study Center at Queen’s University.
When I hear the word surveillance, my mind immediately starts thinking about spy novels and John Le Carre, CSEC and Snowden and the NSA. I think about the law and the legality of tapping phone calls and tracking or spying on individuals. It seems to me that there is a real sense of right and wrong in these stories, there are clearly good guys and bad guys, and the tools used in these activities are right out of James Bond and the tech provided by Q.
While those aspects may be true, what Professor Lyon pointed out is that Surveillance is so much more than James Bond type spying. He commented that the collection of personal data has become the focus of much of the economy in order better target the selling of goods to consumers. He also commented that many commercial forms of surveillance are actively used under the banner of marketing.
This was not a connection I had consciously made before – the connection between marketing and surveillance. But, I do not have to look very far to see that he is telling the truth. I only have to look at Google who tracks my search activity to show me better ads, or Apple who tracks my iPhone through iBeacon to better understand what I am looking at RIGHT NOW.
I thought it was very appropriate when Professor Lyon commented that surveillance is not intrinsically good or bad, but it is never neutral either.
It really comes down to intent.