Research
31 Jan 2012

Security vs privacy: OU receives £450k to investigate

Privacy and security have always had a controversial relationship. On one hand security requires the collection of information about citizens, but on the other, it can be seen as infringement of their privacy. Dr Kirstie Ball, Reader in Surveillance and Organisation at The Open University, has received funding totalling £450k to investigate whether people view surveillance and the collection of information as acceptable in return for enhanced security - commonly positioned as a trade-off.

Kirstie said: “Surveillance has many positive uses, including law enforcement and investigating criminal activity, but it can also affect human rights and civil libertarian issues. Public perception and technology change over time, so surveillance techniques need to be reviewed to ensure they are still relevant and not infringing on people’s lives.”

Kirstie will be involved in two European Commission Framework 7 projects commencing in February 2012. The first, Surveillance, Privacy and Security: A large scale participatory assessment of criteria and factors determining acceptability and acceptance of security technologies in Europe, will re-examine the relationship between security and privacy. This relationship, both at state and citizen levels, has informed policymakers, legislative developments and best practice guidelines concerning security developments across the EU. Current security policy, however, needs to be reviewed in light of new research questioning the validity of the security-privacy trade-off, suggesting it may have over-simplified the impact and acceptability of current security solutions.

The second European project, Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies will use public attitudes towards surveillance to identify its impact on everyday life and gauge trust in political institutions. The focus will be on the effects of surveillance in combatting crime and terrorism, and how it affects citizens in open and democratic societies.

A third project, The New Transparency, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, investigates the role of technology companies in promoting surveillance internationally. The team will look at factors contributing to the general expansion of surveillance as a technology of governance and the social consequences for both institutions and ordinary people.

Editor’s Notes

1. Surveillance, Privacy and Security: A large scale participatory assessment of criteria and factors determining acceptability and acceptance of security technologies in Europe involves a team of academics from The Open University Business School, including Professor Sally Dibb, Dr Fahri Karakas and PhD student Sara Degli Esposti. Overall, the project involves 11 different partners across Europe and is being led by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

2. Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies is being led by the Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology, based in Austria

3. The New Transparency project is based at Queens University in Canada


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