In this talk, I will revisit a paper Arun Kundnani, Joris van Hoboken and I started writing in 2014 and published in 2016. In the backdrop of our writing sessions in New York were the Black Lives Matter protests that started in Ferguson and spread nationwide, and human rights advocates disputing surveillance programs targeting muslim communities in New York and New Jersey. While counter-surveillance was at the heart of all these developments, they flourished in communities and spoke to constituencies that were mostly distinct from another group that some of us were circling in: privacy advocates, progressive security engineers, and policy makers, who following Edward Snowden’s revelations of US and UK surveillance programs had been seeking to win majority support for countering surveillance. The paper studies this discrepancy by taking a closer look at the activities, discourse and solutions propose by the latter group. It describes the ways in which advocates of privacy framed the problem as the replacement of targeted surveillance with mass surveillance programs, and identified the solutions as predominantly technical and involving the use of encryption – or ‘crypto’ – as a defense mechanism. The paper further illustrated that by raising the specter of an Orwellian system of mass surveillance, shifting the discussion to the technical domain, and couching that shift in economic terms undermined a political reading that would attend to the racial, gendered, classed, and colonial aspects of the US and UK surveillance programs. We asked then: how can this specific discursive framing of counter-surveillance be re-politicized and broadened to enable a wider societal debate informed by the experiences of those subjected to targeted surveillance and associated state violence? During the talk, I hope we can revisit this question anew given how in 2020 COVID-19 has come to normalize surveillance in the name of public health, replacing the "war on terror" with the "war on the virus" and we see the rise of a fresh wave of global protests around Black Lives Matter.
Seda is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Multi-Actor Systems at TU Delft at the Faculty of Technology Policy and Management, and an affiliate at the COSIC Group at the Department of Electrical Engineering (ESAT), KU Leuven. She is also a member of the Institute for Technology in the Public Interest and the arts initiative Constant. Her work focuses on privacy enhancing and protective optimization technologies (PETs and POTs), privacy engineering, as well as questions around software infrastructures, social justice and political economy as they intersect with computer science.