Key considerations for policy-makers, regulators, consultancies, service providers, the media, civil society organisations and the public

The aim of the IRISS handbook on Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies is to help increase resilience in surveillance societies. It is aimed at six main groups of stakeholders: policy-makers and regulators, consultancies, service providers, the media, civil society organisations and the public.
The term “surveillance society” came into widespread use, at least in Europe, with publication of a report produced for the UK Information Commissioner in 2006. Based on that report, then Commissioner Richard Thomas warned in August 2006 that the UK was “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”, by which he meant not only that surveillance was becoming ubiquitous in the UK, but that most people were unaware of its ubiquity, that there was little public debate about its ubiquity and its effects and how negative effects could be countered.

The report, prepared by the Surveillance Studies Network (SSN), defined surveillance as follows: “Where we find purposeful, routine, systematic and focused attention paid to personal details, for the sake of control, entitlement, management, influence or protection, we are looking at surveillance.” It added that “The collection and processing of information about persons can be used for purposes of influencing their behaviour or providing services.” But surveillance is more than that. Intelligence agencies and probably some companies not only use surveillance to discover what their enemies and customers are doing, but also to uncover the activities of their competitors, and even their “friends” and allies.

The IRISS consortium has defined a surveillance society as one in which the use of surveillance technologies has become virtually ubiquitous and in which such use has become widely (but not uniformly) accepted by the public as endemic and justified by its proponents as necessary for economic, security or other reasons. Even if there are democratic procedures, a surveillance society is one in which there is a parallel system of power exercised by large, oligarchic companies and intelligence agencies over which effective oversight and control are largely illusory.

With regard to resilience, there are many definitions, but in the context of resilience in a surveillance society, IRISS defines it as “the ability of people (individuals and groups) and organisations to adapt to and/or resist surveillance, recognising that, while some forms of surveillance may be acceptable or tolerable, others pose a serious challenge to our fundamental rights”.

This handbook is divided into three main parts. Part One provides some background on resilience in surveillance societies. It defines the terms and identifies features of resilience and today’s surveillance society. Part Two lays out a set of questions addressed to each of the stakeholder groups. The questions are intended to provoke consideration of a proposed or existing surveillance system, technology, practice or other initiative, whether the surveillance system is truly necessary or proportionate, whether stakeholders are being consulted. Part Three offers a list of measures that can be taken to increase resilience in a surveillance society and to restrict the scope of surveillance systems to what can be legitimately justified and to minimise the impacts of surveillance systems on the individual, groups and society.
While the stakeholders listed here are not the only ones concerned with resilience and surveillance, they have key roles in the fabric of socio-economic and political features of democratic societies. As such, these stakeholders can be considered as multipliers: by targeting them, this Handbook might benefit – indirectly – a wider group of stakeholders.

The handbook is not intended to be or replace a full-fledged surveillance impact assessment (SIA) or privacy impact assessment (PIA). However, the handbook may stimulate awareness that an SIA and/or PIA should be undertaken, especially in the context of a mass surveillance system.

The Handbook comprises the following sections

  1. Part One: Context
    1. Contextualising surveillance and surveillance societies
    2. Surveillance, democracy and resilience
  2. Part Two: Questions for increasing resilience in surveillance societies
    1. Generic questions
    2. Questions for policy-makers and regulators
    3. Questions for consultancies
    4. Questions for service providers
    5. Questions for the media
    6. Questions for civil society organisations
    7. Questions for the public
  3. Part Three: Measures for enhancing resilience in surveillance societies
    1. Political and regulatory measures
    2. Individual measures
    3. Societal measures

The handbook can be downloaded for offline use and printing here.

The handbook was developed by Trilateral Research & Consulting LLP, with contributions from the University of Edinburgh, Eotvos Karoly Policy Institute (EKINT, Hungary), Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Open University (UK), the University of Hamburg and the Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology (IRKS, Austria).

Suggested citation: IRISS Consortium, Handbook on Increasing Resilience in a Surveillance Society: Key considerations for policy-makers, regulators, consultancies, service providers, the media, civil society organisations and the public, IRISS project, EC Grant Agreement No. 290492, September 2014.