Stream Three: Governance

Stream Leaders:

Valerie Steeves and David Murakami Wood

Jessica was driving home from work when police pulled her over for rolling through a stop sign. Her interactions with the officer were strained because Jessica is among the 420,000 Canadians who are listed on the Canadian Police Database despite never having committed a crime. Years ago when Jessica was struggling with a serious bout of depression she sought help from the police. But her – slightly incorrect -- personal details remain on the main criminal database. Because this data is shared with American border officials she will soon find that she cannot travel to the United States.

This stream will examine how big data surveillance reshapes the citizen’s experience of privacy and autonomy. In particular, it will look at how citizens’ lives are logged through mundane policy such as smart meters and will catalog police information practices, to find out which privacy and fairness principles are being overwhelmed by big data practices.

Strict limits on police powers to place citizens under surveillance go to the heart of democratic governance. Big data challenges these limits, in three interrelated ways.

First, current regulatory frameworks draw sharp lines between private spaces (which are protected from warrantless access on the part of the state) and public spaces (which are not). However, this clear divide is blurred when police link location data from a variety of sources (cell phones, social media, video traces) with data continuously collected and shared by smart environments and surveillance drones.

Second, although police are not allowed to search the body or the home, e.g., without a warrant, data that emanate from those sources is increasingly collected by corporations and later voluntarily shared with police. Big data promises to exponentially increase this flow (a trend identified in our MCRI) as sensors embedded in our bodies, homes and electronic devices routinely collect information about our communications, interactions, physical health and state of mind. The blurring of public and private spaces and data flows, enable police to capture the intimate details of daily life, changing their relationship with citizens.

Third, big data logic may overwhelm the legal mechanisms we rely upon to ensure that the police cannot overreach their authority and upset the democratic balance of power between state and citizen. The law assumes that judicial oversight limits police use of surveillance, that is itself tied to the stated investigation, and to a specific place and/or period of time. Big data analytics works very differently, preemptively collecting all data, however mundane, on an ongoing basis and analyzing it for unknown patterns. Police use of big data threatens to reverse the presumption of innocence because the algorithm treats all citizens as potential criminals who must be monitored and controlled.

We ask: How does law enforcement in Canada use big data for investigative and preventive purposes? How far is this a new “new surveillance”? How should privacy and fairness be secured in this circumstance? How do emerging big data technologies affect the experience of citizenship for crime suspects and ordinary citizens?

Research Workshop

A Deliberative Dialogue with Citizens: Regulating BIg Data Surveillance, 2020

Project Partners