Security Intelligence & Surveillance in the Big Data Age

October 19-20, 2017

A Research Workshop of the Big Data Surveillance partnership project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Location: University of Ottawa

The final report arising from the workshop may be found here.


Security intelligence is in a state of flux. 

New technological developments are challenging older ways of working, most notably the ubiquity of surveillance devices in the lived environment, the growth of social media and open source intelligence (OSINT), the corresponding increasing volume of so-called ‘Big Data’ from these and other sources, and the vulnerability of the information systems on which society now depends to breakdown and hacking. At the same time, ongoing transformations in the international political and economic context, including the rise of populist authoritarianism across the world, call into question longstanding cooperation and data-sharing practices and agreements.  Added to that, the economic, social and environmental challenges of climate change and mass migration pose serious questions to the modern system of nation-states and borders.

In Canada, the main security agencies (CSIS, CSE, and the RCMP) are faced with an uncertain regulatory environment and the seemingly incompatible demands of two trends: calls for the extension of their surveillance, data-gathering and disruption / intervention powers in the face of growing insecurities; and, especially after Bill C-51 and the extended revision process, calls for rolling back or controlling those powers while increasing accountability and transparency, in the name of democracy, human rights and justice. 

This workshop brings together leading academic and civil society experts with regulators to consider questions of security intelligence, surveillance, privacy and human rights in the ‘Big Data Age’. 


We welcome contributions from academics, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, partners and invited speakers in the following areas:

  • The challenges of Big Data for security intelligence
  • Big Data surveillance practices in security intelligence
  • Theorizing security intelligence in the Big Data age
  • Security intelligence, Big Data, Privacy and Human Rights
  • Data flow and security intelligence agencies (international, inter-agency public-private etc.)
  • Big data surveillance and the border
  • Big Data, Open Source Intelligence and mass surveillance
  • Cybersecurity and cyberwar
  • (Cyber)geographies of security intelligence
  • Targets of security intelligence 
  • 'Bill C-51’ and after
  • Oversight and regulation of security intelligence agencies
  • Reaction and resistance to surveillance by security intelligence agencies

 Other Activities:

The workshop will also feature at least one closed session conducted under ‘Chatham House rules’ (non-attribution) to which we will invite particular members of the Canadian intelligence community to discuss their perspectives on the concerns raised by the Big Data Surveillance partnership.

Outcomes of the Workshop:

The final report arising from the workshop may be found here.

All papers will be considered for inclusion in the two main published outcomes:

1.Edited book from University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. The first in a new series on surveillance and privacy, which will be available both as a printed volume and an open-access online format, this book will feature papers from the workshop, from both academics, partners and invited speakers at the workshop.

2.A public report on Canadian Security Intelligence in the Big Data Age. This will be based on draft papers and on discussion at the Workshop. It will be a much shorter (c. 50 page or 25,000 word) document, edited and written clearly for maximum accessibility for a target audience of policy-makers, regulators, civil society and interested citizens. While it will be about, and aimed at, the Canadian context, it will also have implications for other members of Five Eyes nations and indeed any country with security intelligence agencies. Authorship of the report will be collective, and in the name of the Big Data Surveillance research partnership. Individual authors and contributors will be listed within the report. 


June 16, 2017: deadline for proposed title and abstracts

June 30, 2017: notification of acceptance

September 30, 2017: deadline for draft papers 

October 9, 2017: papers distributed to attendees

October 19-20, 2017: Workshop, University of Ottawa

The workshop is organized by David Lyon, David Murakami Wood, and Thomas Linder (Queen’s University). Send all inquiries to

Fees and Other Information:

The workshop will take place at the University of Ottawa. Further details will be provided when abstracts have been accepted. Although there are no registration fees, all attendees must pre-register. Space is limited. Some funds may be made available through the Big Data Surveillance project for participants who otherwise cannot obtain support for economy travel and accommodation through their universities or other employers. Priority will be given to paper presenters. Please note that if your paper is co-authored, only one author will be eligible for Big Data Surveillance funds. Details on how to apply for Big Data Surveillance funding will be provided at the registration stage.

All enquiries should be sent to: 



Worshop Papers:

*Password protected for participants only

Big Data and Signals Intelligence in Canada

Resisting Big Data Surveillance

Regulatory Challenges of Big Data Surveillance I

Regulatory Challenges of Big Data Surveillance II

Big Data, Security and Policing in Canada

    • Michael Vonn, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) - Gleanings from SIRC about CSIS Bult Data Holdings
    • Stephane Leman-Langlois, Universite Laval - Big Data and Counterterrorism
    • Carrie Sanders, Wilfred Laurier University - Challenging Big Data Analytics in Policing

Government, Corporation and Big Data Surveillance

Technical Challenges of Big Data Surveillance