Public defense PhD thesis by Tjerk Timan on 6 November 2013
On Wednesday 6 November, 16.30h Tjerk Timan defends his thesis:
‘Changing landscapes of surveillance – Emerging technologies and participatory surveillance in Dutch nightscapes.’
Surveillance is a current theme and locus of attention in Western societies. Accompanying this growing awareness, an increase in both number and type of surveillance technologies can be witnessed. One reason for this state of affairs lies in the reasoning that any evidence of a positive relation between surveillance technology and safety supports and encourages the deployment of surveillance technologies in a society. This agenda can be questioned, not only in terms of the necessity of developing technology for the sake of technology, but also in terms of the type of society we want to live in: what is a desirable future when it comes to surveillance technology in society?
Combinations of new and existing surveillance technologies create new aims in the world of surveillance, such as the creation of ‘blanket’ surveillance in public space, which means striving for a complete coverage of public space, or the ability to see everything all the time. Besides the technological challenges this brings about (challenges of aligning standards, formats, databases, code, storage times, hardware and so on), the goal of creating a totally covering surveillance network generates new problems in the ‘boundary-negotiations’ of surveillance in public space: e.g. that of losing control, or oversight, on what types of technology are actually ‘surveilling’ and who or what is surveilling who or what exactly. Combined with the emergence of more individualized ICT technologies in the same public spaces where surveillance technologies are in place, boundaries and relations between surveillor and surveilled become blurry. In the case of ‘old’ surveillance technology such a Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), there exists a sense of clear power relations that are at work: a government installs a camera and citizens in public space are the subject of surveillance for that camera. The cameras as well as the surveillance signs that can be encountered in public spaces communicate and inform on what is happening: you are a citizen and as such you are being watched. However, when, this gaze becomes decentralized and somehow ubiquitous, as we can witness with emerging social and mobile media technologies, it becomes more difficult to understand who is watching who and why: power relations and the boundaries of surveillance now have a multiplicity of negotiation-points in public space.
My dissertation shows that many acts of participation in surveillance, for instance by posting something on Facebook, are done non-deliberately or unconsciously insofar as the user of an upload-service or sharing-platform is ignorant of the potential of data being used by organisational surveillance. Participation goes beyond the scope of intentional or controllable action taken in a surveillance landscape: it also encompasses often invisible background networks where third parties are also involved in surveillance. I also show that the influence of emerging technologies, such as mobile phones connected to social media sites, creates new places of surveillance, and that through such technologies, surveillance is stretched from an in-situ and in-the-moment monitoring of public space to an extension of surveillance in time.
Emerging technologies such as the police-worn bodycamera or the citizen-carried mobile phone exemplify the point that through them, existing policies surrounding surveillance are being questioned. The challenge for design processes of these technologies lies in connecting local design choices concerning specific surveillance devices with a larger network of surveillance technologies. The landscape of surveillance has become more complex: this complexity should also be reflected in the creation and anticipation of future surveillance practices.