The Surveillance Studies Centre COVID-19 Update

The SSC is hard at work during the global Coronavirus pandemic. The surveillance dimensions of efforts to slow the spread of the virus are tremendous and far-reaching. Indeed, they are not only global but planetary. At such a time, health-related surveillance is proposed and practiced with great urgency in the attempt to save lives, reduce suffering and to restore some sense of (perhaps a new) ‘normality’ to life. We salute ongoing efforts by health-care workers and others to find all means possible to mitigate the effects of this contagion.

Our take is that while medical and health-care work is a vital priority, health remains as one among several crucially important considerations in defining the common good and human flourishing. With our special interest in surveillance, some key areas of concern relate to data justice, civil liberties and rights, including privacy and data protection. In many countries around the world the pandemic has prompted unprecedented surveillance activities both to trace the path of the virus in order to focus health-care attention and resources in badly affected areas and also to try to slow its progress through social intervention. In the latter case, variously, commercial data, social media data and smartphone geolocation data have been linked to medical and health data in order to police those whose activities may appear to jeopardize efforts to combat the disease and its ballooning expansion. These are just some of the issues raised for Surveillance Studies at this troubling juncture. Others are raised in the fine current issue of Surveillance & Society, especially the excellent editorial by Martin French and Torin Monahan.

Meanwhile, many regular activities at the SSC are paused, including some ongoing research and research applications, the SSC Seminar program, research workshops (such as the Big Data Surveillance project event on ‘Smart Surveillance,’ now a publication-oriented endeavour), hiring and of course, visits from professors, scholars, postdocs and PhD students from around the world. All this and more will resume as soon as possible once the current crisis is over. Watch this space!


David Lyon