Becky @SensorPublics on Calculating & Countering Surveillance Risks


5-7 April, 2017
Becky has presented at the ‘Sensor Publics: a Workshop on the Politics of Sensing and Data Infrastructures‘ organized by Laurie Waller and Nina Witjes, Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), Technical University Munich. An abstract of her presentation ‘Calculating & Countering Surveillance Risks in an Environment of Ubiquitous Sensors‘ can be read below.



From the geopolitics of remote sensing satellites, to the political-economy of urban sensor networks, the domestic economy of home sensing devices or the democratic promise of participatory citizen-sensing, we are interested in how sensing and data infrastructures become publicly controversial and invested with political and moral capacities. How do sensor publics unsettle relations between political actors and their environments? In what ways do they problematise the governance of big data or the regulation of real-time surveillance? And, can sensor publics provide occasions for democratizing relations between politicians, experts, activists and citizens?

Calculating & Countering Surveillance Risks in an Environment of Ubiquitous Sensors.

With the proliferation of digital surveillance, how to act under the presumption of monitoring and tracking has become a central subject of concern to civil society. The responsibility of the ‘surveillance subject’ extends to the ability to anticipate the likelihood of one kind of ‘digital threat’ over another; to apply risk management strategies to determine the appropriate course of action under fearful circumstances; and to own responsibility for the impacts of any ensuing threats. The extent of this responsibility leads civil society actors to call upon the assistance of security experts, who harden the information infrastructures of civil society organisations, develop security-centric software such as encrypted message and email programs, and push for the standardisation of risk management processes such as threat modeling and adversarial analysis. This push for risk standardization presents an interesting moment of translation among different ‘communities of security practice’. It comes at a time in which ubiquitous sensor networks present new risks and threats to civil society actors. Current security resources aimed at civil society actors are only beginning to address, for example, how activists can safely protest when their every move is tracked across devices and physical spaces with technologies such as advanced facial recognition and mobile phone surveillance. What are the frameworks and practices that civil society and technical communities turn to in order to calculate and counter these new risks and threats of surveillance? This conference paper draws upon my doctoral research, which is done through participant observation, document analysis, and extensive semi-structured interviewing, crossing national boundaries in order to trace the interactions of different communities of practice. In order to conceptualize the interactions between non- security focused communities and security experts, the study draws upon Susan Leigh Star and Geoffrey Bowker’s work on communities of practice in relation to boundary infrastructures and boundary objects. The study bridges science and technology studies approaches to the study of information infrastructures with the work of critical data and critical security scholars such as Louise Amoore and Claudia Aradau, in order to conceptualize how risk epistemologies are produced and circulated throughout different communities of security practice. The paper presentation draws upon one year of desk research and three months of field work.