Surveillance in the Wires

Surveillance in an Networked World: Privacy Advocacy And Activism

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Colin Bennett

In every advanced industrial society, there exist disparate groups who have tried to spotlight excessive levels of surveillance, online and offline. They have protested ID cards, video-surveillance programs, intrusive marketing practices on the Internet, the integration of personal databases, and so on. They have attempted to “out” excessively intrusive organizations, and to render transparent their surveillance practices. There is plenty of evidence that these groups have become more active and more visible. But who are the “privacy advocates”? What are their main strategies, and why have their activities assumed a greater importance? The range of issues surrounding the collection, use, processing and dissemination of personal information by public and private organizations employing the most sophisticated information technologies is commonly assumed to be one of the critical issues of the “digital age.” But how do the advocates attempt to translate a strong, but vague sense, of public unease about privacy into meaningful social action? Is there the potential for a more coherent and international social movement to coalesce around these issues of similar strength and visibility to the environmental movement?

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