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Queen’s University report sheds light on big data surveillance in Canada

Press Release

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Report released by the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s finds that thoughtful, decisive action is needed to confront the evolving world of surveillance

Kingston, ON – Today, Queen’s University released a new report entitled “Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom and Fairness,” the first of its kind in Canada to note the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on data surveillance. Authored by David Lyon, Professor Emeritus and Former Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre, the report – based on research from 2016-2021 – identifies  key challenges and areas of opportunity in data surveillance, including the need for more transparency in data collection and analysis, and calls for new digital rights and data justice for Canadians.

The report examines the rapid growth of surveillance worldwide, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. An example of this noted in Canada is the use of smartphone data for public health analysis. It argues that regulations have not updated quickly enough to keep up with the ever-changing technology.

The report also finds that as big data and monitoring have evolved and been augmented by artificial intelligence and machine learning, Canadians have little idea of what personal data is being collected. Furthermore, some populations—like women, Black people, and Indigenous groups—are more exposed to surveillance than others.

“To imagine that surveillance problems reside mainly in cameras on the street or in the building you enter is to live in the past. You carry the primary surveillance technology in your pocket—your phone,” said Dr. Lyon. “Surveillance is now a major public issue that demands attention on many levels, requiring not only data rights but data justice as a goal.”

Recommendations from the report include the need to:

  • Move beyond privacy protection to data rights and data justice as big data proliferates and personal data is extrapolated and sorted at a mass level.
  • Increase collaboration between researchers – in social and computing sciences – regulators, and civil society.
  • Enable public and popular awareness of how Canadians are being impacted daily by data monitoring.

To coincide with the release of the report, the Surveillance Centre is hosting a virtual and in-person conference May 18-19 at the University of Ottawa.

For more information, please contact:

Julie Brown
Media Relations Manager
Queen’s University

[email protected]

343-363-2763

About Queen’s University

Queen’s University has a long history of scholarship, discovery, and innovation that has shaped our collective knowledge and helped address some of the world’s most pressing concerns. Home to more than 25,000 students, the university offers a comprehensive research-intensive environment with prominent strengths in physics, cancer research, geoengineering, data analytics, surveillance studies, art conservation, and mental health research. Welcoming and supporting students from all countries and backgrounds to a vibrant, safe, and supportive community is an important part of the Queen’s experience. Diverse perspectives and a wealth of experience enrich our campus and our community. A core part of our mission is to engage our students, staff, and faculty in international learning and research, both at home and abroad.

Queen’s University has ranked in the top 10 globally in the 2021 and 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. The rankings measured over 1,500 post-secondary institutions on their work to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About the Surveillance Studies Centre

Camera surveillance, ID systems, biometrics, wearables, Artificial Intelligence, social media, platforms, smart cities, police surveillance, border and airport controls – surveillance of many kinds is increasing rapidly throughout the world. With its precursor, The Surveillance Project, the Surveillance Studies Centre has been committed to conducting high-quality research to understand these complex and politically challenging developments since 2000.

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