Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom & Fairness

Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom and Fairness

The conference agenda is here.

The Final Report is now available:

The videos are now posted: watch the videos.

The Big Data Surveillance (BDS) project, centered at Queen’s University, and funded by a Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), is organizing its final research event to be held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on May 18 and 19, 2022.

This is a major public event, to showcase the research carried out on Big Data Surveillance over the past six years and to debate its practical impact on Canadian life in a digital society. Conference panels are populated with MPs, civil society representatives, information and privacy regulators, digital activists, artists and filmmakers. They are moderated by research team leaders. Two high profile keynote speakers—Elizabeth Denham and Jim Balsillie—will address the conference and hands-on researchers will present thumbnail summaries of their work. The conference is a limited-size in-person conference, with a livestream over Zoom for registered remote participants.

"We are in a moment of opportunity as the pandemic becomes less severe and as we learn to live with it. Many have spoken in 'apocalyptic' terms about the pandemic, stressing its disastrous effects. But 'apocalypse' in its Greek origin speaks not only of catastrophe but also of unveiling, laying bare. And the pandemic has laid bare—has revealed even more—the rapid rate of growth of new forms of surveillance—data-driven, smart, and evolving in ways that go far beyond the capabilities of privacy and data protection to ensure that surveillance is used only for positive purposes. Surveillance is now a major public issue that demands attention on many levels. Privacy is still important, but today’s surveillance also calls for serious attention to new harms that it causes, new dimensions of social life in which it is implicated—making visible, identifying, representing and treating people in new ways, requiring not only data rights but data justice as a goal, and finally, data as public infrastructure that demands fresh approaches in order not only to minimize harms but to enable human flourishing in a digital era." ---an excerpt from our upcoming final report

David Lyon, Principal Investigator
Professor Emeritus, Queen's University

Venue and Directions

The conference takes place in the Faculty of Social Sciences Building (Room 4007) at the University of Ottawa. (120 University Private, Ottawa ON, K1N 6N5. Google Maps).

Keynote Speakers

Elizabeth Denham

Former UK Information Commissioner (2016-2021), and previously the Information and Privacy Commissioner British Columbia and Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada

"Reflections of a Regulator in three headlines"

Bio: Elizabeth Denham was appointed the UK’s Information Commissioner in July 2016 for a five year term, building on her previous experience as Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia and Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Over two decades, Elizabeth was committed to being a firm but fair regulator protecting information rights and supporting innovation and economic growth. She has overseen an expansion of the ICO and has led on pioneering work safeguarding the public including setting standards for children’s privacy and introducing a regulatory sandbox. Her investigation work has focused on complex data ecosystems explaining to the public how and why their personal data is being used. This includes an investigation into mobile phone extraction by police from victims and witnesses of sexual offences, and an investigation into the use of personal data by data brokers in direct marketing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Elizabeth has led the ICO’s efforts to provide timely, practical advice on complying with data protection while preventing and detecting the spread of the virus. She provided evidence to parliamentarians on spoken to ministers about finding practical privacy-friendly solutions.

In December 2020 she was the inaugural recipient of the Society Medal by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT for her contribution to making digital technology good for society. In 2019 she was awarded a CBE for her work in protecting privacy and in 2022 she received the Global Leadership Award by the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

She is currently International Advisor, Data and Tech for law firm Baker McKenzie and a foundation board member of 5 Rights, a children’s online safety group.

Jim Balsillie

Founder, Centre for Digital Rights Founder and Chair, Centre for International Governance Innovation

Jim Balsillie“Privacy, Prosperity & Security in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism”

Bio: Jim Balsillie’s career is unique in Canadian business. He is the retired Chairmanand co-CEO of Research In Motion (BlackBerry), a technology company he scaled from an idea to $20 billion in sales globally. Mr. Balsillie’s private investmentoffice includes global and domestic technology investments such as cybersecurity leader Magnet Forensics and space technology leader MDA.He is the co-founder of the Institute for New Economic Thinking in New York, the Council of Canadian Innovators based in Toronto, and CIO Strategy Council, aswell as founder of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, the Centre for Digital Rights, the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and theArctic Research Foundation. He currently chairs the boards of CCI, CIGI, Innovation Asset Collective (Canada’s IP Collective) and co-Chairs CIOSC. He isalso a member of the Board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Advisory Board of the Stockholm Resilience Centre; an Honorary Captain(Navy) of the Royal Canadian Navy and an Advisor to Canada School of Public Service. Mr. Balsillie was the only Canadian ever appointed to US Business Council andwas the private sector representative on the UN Secretary General’s High Panel for Sustainability. His awards include: several honorary degrees, Mobile WorldCongress Lifetime Achievement Award, India’s Priyadarshni Academy Global Award, Canadian Business Hall of Fame, Time Magazine’s World’s 100 MostInfluential People and three times Barron’s list of "World’s Top CEOs.”


PANEL A, Questioning C21st Surveillance in Canada

This panel introduces the BDS Report, and how main themes are exemplified in responses to COVID-19.

Chair: David Lyon, Principal Investigator of the Big Data Surveillance Project, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Law, Queen’s University

David Lyon is the Principal Investigator of the Big Data Surveillance Project (2015-2021). He is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Socioiogy and Law at Queen's University and is the former director of the Surveillance Studies Centre. Educated at the University of Bradford in the UK, Lyon has been studying surveillance since the mid-1980s. Credited with spearheading the field of “Surveillance Studies”, he has produced a steady stream of books and articles that began with The Electronic Eye (1994) and continued with Surveillance Society (2001), Surveillance after September 11 (2003), Surveillance Studies (2007), Identifying Citizens (2009), Liquid Surveillance (with Zygmunt Bauman, 2013) and Surveillance after Snowden (2015). His most recent publication is The Culture of Surveillance (Polity, 2018) and he is currently working on Surveillance: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford). He has also co-edited a number of other books, mostly the products of team projects on surveillance, with research funding totalling almost $8 million. He is on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including Surveillance & Society and The Information Society. Most recently awarded the Outstanding Contribution Award by the Surveillance Studies Network (2018) and the SSHRC Impact: Insight Award (2015), Lyon has also received numerous awards for his work, from Canada, Switzerland, the USA and the UK.

As Principal Investigator of the Big Data Surveillance project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, David Lyon is co-leading (with Stéphane Leman-Langlois and David Murakami Wood) research Stream One: Security. This stream examines the scope and impact of big data-dependent ‘national security’ surveillance of communications in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. They culminated in an edited publication Security Intelligence and Surveillance in the Big Data Age: The Canadian Case (UBC Press, 2021).


  • Charlie Angus, MP, Timmins-James Bay
  • Brenda McPhail, Director, Privacy, Technology & Surveillance, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Tim McSorley, National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
  • Meghan McDermott, Policy Director, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

PANEL B, Vulnerability and Manipulation: Surveillance Capitalism and the Social World

This panel provides an overview of the lived experiences of big data/machine learning systems. The panel starts with a screening of #tresdancing, the latest instalment of the Screening Surveillance films. #tresdancing follows the experiences of a high school student in the near future dealing with algorithmic education technology. Following the film, we will have a panel discussion of experts who will speak to:

  • The discriminatory elements of machine learning systems, especially with regard to race and age, and gender and age
  • How machine learning systems shape social interactions
  • The nature of algorithmic prediction and the (in)ability to predict what humans will do

Chair: Valerie Steeves, Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

Valerie Steeves, B.A., J.D., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa. Her main area of research is in human rights and technology issues. Professor Steeves has written and spoken extensively on online issues, and has worked with a number of federal departments, including Industry Canada, Health Canada, Heritage Canada, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, on online policy. She is also a frequent intervener before parliamentary committees, and has worked with a number of policy groups, including the International Council on Human Rights Policy (Geneva, Switzerland), the House of Lords Constitution Committee on The Impact of Surveillance and Data Collection upon the Privacy of Citizens and their Relationship with the State (United Kingdom), and the Children’s Online Privacy Working Group of the Canadian Privacy and Information Commissioners and Youth Advocates. Her current research focuses on children’s use of networked technologies, and the use of big data for predictive policing. She is the co-principal investigator (with Jane Bailey) of The eQuality Project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which is examining young people’s experiences of privacy and equality in networked spaces. She is also the lead researcher on the Young Canadian in a Wired World project (YCWW), which has been tracking young people’s use of new media since 1999.

As a co-investigator of the Big Data Surveillance project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Valerie Steeves is co-leading (with Stéphane Leman-Langlois) research Stream Three: Governance. This stream will examine the use of big data for policing and other forms of social control.


Chris Gilliard is a professor at Macomb Community College. He is also a Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center Visiting Research Fellow, a member of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry Scholars Council and a member of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Advisory Board.

sava saheli singh is a research fellow at the Centre for Law, Technology and Society at the University of Ottawa. She is also the creator of #tresdancing.

Jane Bailey is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and is the co-leader, with Valerie Steeves, of The eQuality Project.

Daphne Guerrero is the Manager of Public Policy and Research at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Panel C: Complex Surveillance: Understood by Fewer 'Insiders' and 'Outsiders'

In this panel we explore how algorithms and artificial intelligence further complicate the public’s understanding of surveillance. Whilst citizens can readily identify the direct gaze of a camera and feel its effects, AI and big data surveillance is subtle and opaque in its influence. The Canadian Federal government has attempted to introduce the Algorithmic Impact Assessment as a top down measure, yet how is algorithmic surveillance experienced and understood by citizens? Further how may citizens engage with, imagine, understand and negotiate algorithmic surveillance in everyday life?

The panel explores the challenges involved in helping citizens to understand and counter the complex, algorithmic surveillance underpinned by Big Data. It foregrounds the voices of artists, activists, advocates and academics who working with different publics to disentangle the opaque complexities of algorithmic surveillance today.

Chair: Kirstie Ball, Professor, School of Management, University of St. Andrews, UK

Kirstie Ball is Professor of Management at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on surveillance, security and privacy, particularly as these issues affect organizations. Her current empirical work focuses on the impact of national security on the private sector, particularly on front line workers; the public understanding of security, surveillance and privacy; surveillance and democracy; and privacy and the quantified self. Her theoretical interest concerns subjectivity and surveillance. Kirstie has been collaborating with Queen’s University since 2001. She was featured as a research collaborator in ‘The Globalization of Personal Data’ and as Co-Investigator in ‘The New Transparency’. Kirstie has held grants from many of the major European social science funders, including the European Union Framework Programme, EPSRC, ESRC and The Leverhulme Trust. Her published work almost exclusively appears in journals such as New Technology, Work and Employment, Labour History, Tourism Management, Work, Employment and Society and Organization. She has recently published the monograph ‘The Private Security State? Surveillance, Consumer Data and the War on Terror’ with Copenhagen Business School Press. She has also edited ‘The Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies’, with Kevin Haggerty and David Lyon, and ‘The Surveillance-Industrial Complex’ with Laureen Snider. Kirstie was a founding editor of Surveillance and Society and a founding director of Surveillance Studies Network.

As a co-investigator of the Big Data Surveillance project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Kirstie Ball is co-leading (with Colin Bennett) research Stream Two: Marketing. This stream will examine how massive data accumulation, analytical techniques and applications associated with big data are reconstructing practices of consumer marketing and political campaigning.


Jerrold McGrath, Managing Director, UKAI Projects, Toronto. Title: You won’t understand this

Jerrold is a creative practitioner and President of UKAI Projects, an organization exploring new cultural forms in the face of Artificial Intelligence and other contemporary developments. In 2019 and 2020 he was also program lead for Goethe-Institut Toronto’s two-year Algorithmic Culture series.

Rashida Richardson

Rashida is appearing in a personal capacity at this event. Rashida is a law and technology policy expert who researches the social and legal implications of Big Data and data-driven technologies. Her research has a racial justice focus and examines the social and civil rights implications of data driven technologies, including artificial intelligence.

Janis Wong, The Alan Turing Institute, London. Title: The Challenge of Data Stewardship

Janis' research focuses on data protection, stewardship, and governance as it related to artificial intelligence, ethics, and public policy. She draws on her expertise in data protection and information regulations, data stewardship and data governance, human-computer interaction (HCI), and science and technology studies (STS) to address power imbalances and stakeholder tensions when designing, building, and deploying innovative technologies.

Kate Robertson, Criminal and Regulatory Lawyer and Research Fellow at The Citizen Lab, Toronto.

Kate is a Fellow at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, where she consults on law and policy issues relating to privacy, law enforcement and surveillance. She is also a legal advocate specialising in criminal and regulatory litigation.

PANEL D, Data-Driven Elections: Democratic Engagement, Information Asymmetries and the Protection of Voter Autonomy

Modern political campaigns around the world are now meant to be “data-driven” to consolidate existing support and to find potential new voters and donors. Campaigns construct detailed profiles on individual voters to “micro-target” increasingly precise messages to refined segments of the electorate, through the major social media platforms. These practices can be regarded as legitimate forms of democratic engagement; they may also be regarded as highly intrusive, and further evidence of creeping and unacceptable levels of surveillance. This panel (a combination of academics, advocates and regulators) will engage with this larger debate, and serve as an update to the Victoria workshop on “Data-Driven Elections.” When does legitimate political engagement turn into illegitimate and intrusive surveillance? Is there an argument that political organizations and actors (because of their essential role in the democratic process) should be subject to different rules and standards concerning the processing of personal data? What should now be done in Canada to bring our political parties within the larger regulatory framework of privacy law and regulation?

Chair: Colin Bennett, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria

Colin Bennett received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Wales, and his Ph.D from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since 1986 he has taught in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria, where he is now Professor. He has enjoyed Visiting Professorships at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Center for the Study of Law and Society at University of California, Berkeley, the School of Law, University of New South Wales and at the the Law, Science, Technology and Society Centre at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. His research has focused on the comparative analysis of surveillance technologies and privacy protection policies at the domestic and international levels. In addition to numerous scholarly and newspaper articles, he has published six books, including The Governance of Privacy (MIT Press, 2006) and The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance (MIT Press, 2008), and policy reports on privacy protection for Canadian and international agencies. He is co-investigator of a large Major Collaborative Research Initiative grant entitled “The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting” which has culminated in the report: Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada. He is also currently researching the capture and use of personal data by political parties in Western democracies.

As a co-investigator of the Big Data Surveillance project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Colin Bennett is co-leading (with Kirstie Ball) research Stream Two: Marketing. This stream will examine how massive data accumulation, analytical techniques and applications associated with big data are reconstructing practices of consumer marketing and political campaigning.


Michael McEvoy, Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC

Michael McEvoy was appointed to a six-year term as BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner by unanimous motion of the Legislative Assembly in 2018. Immediately prior to his appointment he helped lead the Information Commissioner’s Office of the United Kingdom’s investigation into Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

Fenwick McKelvey, Associate Professor Communication Studies, Concordia University

Amidst discussion of the Internet of Things, Fenwick McKelvey studies the Internet as Things. Investigating the machines, bots, artificial intelligence, bots, algorithms and daemons that make up the digital world around us. He also studies political communication, exploring social media and politics, computational management in political campaigns, political bots and the influence of memes in Canadian politics.

Jason Woywada, Executive Director, Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Since 2020, Jason has been executive director of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association of BC. Jason began his career as a broadcast journalist in Manitoba during the 1990s. From 1999 to 2014, he worked in a variety of roles at the legislative assembly in Manitoba, including as the Director of Caucus Services for the New Democratic Party for over a decade. He was also a Senior Legislative and Policy Analyst within the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Ministry of Citizens’ Services in BC.

Sara Bannerman, Canada Research Chair in Communication Policy and Governance, McMaster University

Dr. Bannerman researches communications policy and governance. She researches traditional forms of governance such as copyright, intellectual property, and privacy law, as well as governance undertaken through non-state actors: governance by code, technologies, and private companies. She has also written about digital campaigning in Canada, and about the application of privacy rules to Canadian political parties.

PANEL E, Regulating Surveillance: Unlawful Activities, Transparency Deficits, Public-Private Partnerships and Current Legal Challenges

Chair: Stéphane Leman-Langlois, Canada Research Chair, Professor of Criminology, Université Laval

Stéphane Leman-Langlois is professor of criminology at Laval University, Québec. He holds the Canada Research Chair on Surveillance and the Social Construction of Risk. He is director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Research Group and of the Centre on International Security at Laval University. He is also co-director of the Observatoire sur la radicalisation et l’extrémisme violent (OSR).

As a co-investigator of the Big Data Surveillance project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Stéphane Leman-Langlois is co-leading (with Valerie Steeves) research Stream Three: Governance. This stream will examine the use of big data for policing and other forms of social control.


  • Colin Freeze, Journalist, Globe and Mail
  • Chris Parsons, Senior Research Associate, Citizen Lab, Toronto
  • Alana Saulnier, Assistant Professor, Sociology, Queen’s University
  • Gabe Ménard, Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Ottawa

PANEL F, Regulating Big Data Platforms: Can it be done?

Chair: David Murakami Wood, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Queen's University

Educated at Oxford and Newcastle, UK, David Murakami Wood is the Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, and former Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies (2009–19). He is an interdisciplinary specialist in surveillance, security and technology in cities from a global perspective, working mainly in Canada, Japan, the UK and Brazil. He is a leading organizer in the field of Surveillance Studies as co-founder and now co-editor-in-chief of the international, open access, peer-reviewed journal, Surveillance & Society, co-founder of the Surveillance Studies Network, co-editor of Surveillance Studies: A Reader (Oxford University Press, 2018), Big Data Surveillance and Security Intelligence (UBC Press, 2021), and the forthcoming International Handbook of Surveillance Studies (Edward Elgar).

  • Chris Beall, Policy Lead, Platform Governance, CIGI
  • Matthew Green, MP for Hamilton Centre (NDP)
  • Tracey Lauriault, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
  • Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
  • Bianca Wylie, Senior Fellow, CIGI and co-founder, Tech Reset Canada (remote panelist)

Three Minute Research Briefs

The Three Minute Research Briefs provide an opportunity to observe what some of the SSC’s past scholars are doing now. In three minute videos they enlighten us on their current research projects.


  • Midori Ogasawara, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria
  • Jessica Percy Campbell, PhD Candidate, Political Science Department, University of Victoria
  • Sachil Singh, PhD, Surveillance Studies Centre, Department of Sociology, Queen's University
  • Debra Mackinnon, Assistant Professor, Dept of Interdisciplinary Studies, Lakehead University
  • Janis Wong, Postdoctoral Research Associate, The Alan Turing Institute, UK
  • Roger von Laufenberg, PhD, Senior Researcher, Vienna Centre for Societal Security
  • Tommy Cooke, PhD, Fellow, Surveillance Studies Centre, Queen’s University
  • Anuj Puri, PhD, University of St Andrews, UK
  • Scott Thompson, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Saskatchewan