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Politics of Surveillance Workshop May 2014

The Politics of Surveillance Workshop: Advancing Democracy in a Surveillance Society

An International Workshop, 8-10 May 2014 University of Ottawa, Faculty of Social Science Building, Room 4007 120 University Private, Ottawa, ON, K1N 6N5


Thursday May 8 (Public Event)

5:00-7:00pm BOOK LAUNCH: “Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada”, a publication by The New Transparency Project

Order of Events

  • Introduction: David Lyon, FRSC, Principal Investigator, The New Transparency Project; Director, Surveillance Studies Centre, Queen’s University
  • Website Demonstration: Valerie Steeves, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa; and Adam Molnar, Postdoctoral Fellow, The New Transparency Project
  • Commentary: Charlie Angus, MP (Timmins – James Bay); Ian Kerr, Faculty of Law, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology, University of Ottawa; Ian MacLeod,, Reporter, The Ottawa Citizen; Elizabeth May, MP (Saanich-Gulf Islands), Leader of the Green Party of Canada
  • Video Presentation: ‘Transparent Lives/Vivre à nu’ created by Josh Lyon, Principal at AKAFLK

Followed by a cocktail reception and book signing: 6:00 – 7:00pm.

(Media Release)

Friday May 9 (By Invitation)

8:15-8:45am: Continental Breakfast

8:45-9:00am: Welcome (TBD)

9:00-10:30am: Opening Plenary: Rendering Surveillance More Transparent

Citizens need to be able to assess the values of privacy, security and due process in an informed, open fashion. Canadians and their elected representatives also deserve timely, accurate information in order to discuss and debate those varying priorities of Government on their relative merits. That objective of openness, and the deliberations that result from it, must be grounded in concrete facts and operational realities, not speculation and theory. But is transparency around surveillance a silver bullet? Should it not be the basis for a broader debate about government’s intrusive powers? Or does on-going reporting simply provide a false sense of security and veneer of legitimacy?

(Moderator: Kevin D. Haggerty, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta)

11:00-12:30pm: Resisting Surveillance: Privacy Activists and Privacy Commissioners

What tools are used by privacy commissioners and privacy advocates to challenge excessive surveillance? How do these different actors use the media to advance the cause? Both speakers have experience in challenging the practices of Facebook – one as Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the other as a student activist. How do the strategies, tools and activities compare?

  • Elizabeth Denham, Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia
  • Max Schrems, Europe vs. Facebook

(Moderator: Colin Bennett, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria)

1:30-3:00pm: Using Existing Law: Complaining and Requesting

How effective is the law as a tool for checking excessive surveillance or privacy-invasive activities? This panel seeks to explore and assess a wide range of available legal tools for challenging privacy-invasive practices, spanning the lodging of internal complaints, regulatory action, litigation and the use of international complaints mechanisms. It will look at the suitability and shortcomings of these differing procedures for addressing different types of surveillance techniques, as well as challenges inherent in their employment.In addition to exploring the viability and effectiveness of these various processes, the panel will also examine the trade-offs inherent in employing different mechanisms. For example, litigation leads to binding decisions and strong deterrence, but is costly and complainants are forced to navigate rigid rules around proof and issue definition. Internal complaints mechanisms, on the other hand, can be low-cost and effective, but lack long term deterrence and precedent-setting value. Finally, the panel will explore how various processes can also reinforce each other — for example, regulatory complaints can provide essential factual input for litigation.

  • Robin M. Bayley, Linden Consulting, Victoria, BC
  • Alex Cameron, Fasken Martineau
  • Eric King, Privacy International
  • Murray Long, Independent

(Moderator: Tamir Israel, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic)

3:30-5:00pm: Educating Young Canadians About Surveillance and Privacy

Education has been an explicit part of Canada’s private sector privacy policy since PIPEDA was enacted in 2001. The federal privacy commissioner has been actively targeting youth in particular through a variety of innovative methods, including a graphic novel and YouTube channel, and provincial commissioners have posted educational modules aimed at children. Online corporations have created educational materials for youth and their parents, often bundling privacy with online safety issues. Canada is also home to one of the leading digital literacy organizations in the world, Media Smarts, which has created a number of multimedia games and teaching modules for use in the classroom. This panel brings together experts in the field to share best practices and identify the limits of education as a privacy protective strategy. It will address questions such as: What makes a good privacy education initiative? How do we assess success/failure? What is the difference between a communications strategy and an educational outreach program? Is education a way to control the message or empower citizens to critique policy? When is education not enough?

(Moderator: Valerie Steeves, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa)

Saturday May 10

8:15-8:45am: Continental Breakfast

8:45-9:00am: Welcome

9:00-10:30am: Using Technologies: How Can We Better Promote Usable, Effective, Privacy-Enhancing/Anti-Surveillance Technologies?

A common prescription for protection against surveillance is the use of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs), such as encryption and anonymizers. However, the adoption of PETs outside of relatively small tech savvy communities has been slow. In part this appears to be because they are difficult to use and ‘strange’ to regular users. The efficacy of encryption has been challenged recently by Snowden’s revelations that the NSA has compromised in various ways the more widely used encryption means. This panel examines the questions of: What PETs can be relied on to provide robust protections, in what circumstances? How can the reliable ones be more widely adopted in effective ways?

(Moderator: Andrew Clement, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto)

11-12:30pm: Campaigning: What Makes a Good Anti-Surveillance Campaign?

Advocates promoting (citizen) privacy and (government) transparency/accountability are increasingly challenged in creating effective public messaging and mobilization. Issues of surveillance are increasingly technically and legally complex, advocates are financially constrained and generally working without the benefit of market research that helps to shape messages that resonate with the public and are up against government and corporate interests with vast communications budgets and sophisticated marketing techniques. This panel explores past and current advocacy campaigns to map out lessons learned in strategy, messaging and coalition building.

  • Steve Anderson, Openmedia.ca
  • Wendy Armstrong, Consumers’ Association of Alberta
  • Phil Booth, NO2ID
  • Jay Stanley, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Lee Tien, Electronic Frontier Foundation

(Moderator: Micheal Vonn, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association)

1:30-3:00pm: Concurrent Sessions

CS1: Strategies for Resisting Surveillance (Room 4007)

  • “Educating Publics as Activists for Social Change”, Brenda McPhail and Joseph Ferenbok, University of Toronto
  • “Studying State Surveillance Practices in Canada: Opportunities, Limitations, and Headaches”, Adam Molnar, Queen’s University and Christopher Parsons, University of Toronto
  • “Queering the Politics of Surveillance: Historical Perspectives and Creative Strategies for Resistance in the Canadian Context”, Tyler Morgenstern, Concordia University
  • “The Politics of Personal Health Information Flows: PETs Alone Will Not Save Us”, Martin French, Concordia University and Helen Nissenbaum, New York University

(Discussant: Jay Stanley, American Civil Liberties Union)

CS2: Rethinking Surveillance Resistance (Room 4012)

  • “Thinking from scratch: a proposal for wireless autonomy”, Evan Light, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • “Promoting Anonymity in Domain Name Registration”, Stephanie Perrin, University of Toronto
  • “The EULA-fication of the digital security state”, Bryan Sacks, Rutgers University
  • “Rhetoric and Participation Mater! : Lessons of Resistance to be Learned from the Fall of the WWII British National Registration Program 1939-1952″, Scott Thompson, Queen’s University

(Discussant: Christopher Prince, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada)

CS3: Ottawa Statement (Room TBD)

(Session Leader: David Murakami Wood, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University)

3:30-5:00pm: Closing Plenary – Surveillance and Democracy

Reflections, conclusions and panel discussion.

(Moderator: David Lyon, Surveillance Studies Centre, Queen’s University)

This Workshop is part of The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting, an MCRI project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to investigate surveillance as the dominant organizing practice of our late modern world.


  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)

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