Virtual Society?

the social science of electronic technologies



Academic Workshop
Privacy, Surveillance, Trust and Regulation

Privacy, Surveillance, Trust and Regulation

A workshop

9-10th March 2000

University of Edinburgh


Thursday 9th March 2000

3.15: Registration/tea

3.30: Introduction (Charles Raab, University of Edinburgh)

3.40: Lucas Introna (LSE) - 'Workplace Surveillance and Organisational Justice'

4.20: David Mason (University of Plymouth) - 'On The Poverty of A-Priorism: Technology, Surveillance in the Workplace and Employee Responses'

5.00: Robin Chater (Personnel Policy Research Unit) - 'The Use and Misuse of Employee Data: Towards a Code of Practice'

5.40: Discussion

6.00 Close

7.30 Dinner: Chapterhouse Restaurant (at venue)


Friday 10th March

9.30: Registration

9.45: Brian McGrail (Open University) - 'Confronting Electronic Surveillance: Desiring and Resisting New Technologies'

10.25: Clive Norris (University of Hull) - 'The Future of CCTV: Computers, Databases and Algorithmic Surveillance'

11.05: Coffee

11.20 Discussion

12.10: Lunch

13.10: Theo Vurdubakis (UMIST) - 'Trust, Security and the "Virtual Marketplace"'

13.50: David Oswell (Brunel University) - 'Internet Content Regulation and Child Protection'

14.30: Charles Raab (University of Edinburgh) - 'Surveillance and the Co- regulation of Trust'

15.10: Discussion

15.40: Discussion: The Future of Research on These Topics

16.00: Tea and close



Lucas Introna (‘Workplace Surveillance and Organisational Justice’) gave a persuasive philosophical and theoretical analysis of surveillance and privacy in terms of a Rawlsian conception of justice-as-fairness which and posed the possibility of a new theoretical departure with important policy implications. This prompted a very lively discussion. David Mason’s paper (‘On the Poverty of A-Priorism: Technology, Surveillance in the Workplace and Employee Responses’) was held over until the next day owing to late arrival as a result of travel difficulties. A further paper on workplace surveillance was Robin Chater’s (‘The Use and Misuse of Employee Data: Towards a Code of Practice’). This formed a useful bridge between the workplace surveillance and the regulatory policy themes that was to be discussed on the second day. Chater described his work for the Data Protection Registrar (now Commissioner) which resulted in an investigative report and a draft Code of Practice which may be implemented soon. A stimulating plenary discussion followed these two papers.

On the second day, David Mason’s paper, presented on behalf of his research team, reported some findings from his project, and challenged conventional wisdom about the nature of workplace relations between employers and employees, and some erroneous a prior assumptions about workers’ attitudes towards surveillance and about employers’ understanding of surveillance capabilities. In line with the first two papers, these findings and the questions they raised provoked a round of lively comment. The focus then shifted to CCTV, with Brian McGrail’s paper (‘Confronting Electronic Surveillance: Desiring and Resisting New Technologies’) reporting some of his research on high-rise housing in Edinburgh and Glasgow and on tenants’ attitudes towards video surveillance and the security it appeared to provide. One interesting finding was that the desire for CCTV may have much to do with the desire to have money spent on particular housing estates in order to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, rather than because of the utilitarian objectives of visual monitoring. Clive Norris followed on, concerning ‘The Future of CCTV: Computers, Databases and Algorithmic Surveillance’, which emphasised that the problem was not the ‘panopticon’ but how operators interpret and handle what is seen, and how the targeting of suspects is socially constructed. This paper criticised many current developments concerning CCTV and asked provocative questions about the proliferation of surveillance practices and about their effects. The use of automatic decision-making using algorithms built into monitoring systems raised important questions about its perhaps paradoxical implications. A variety of issues were raised in the following discussion, which linked back to the workplace surveillance and theoretical themes as well.

After lunch, Theo Vurdubakis looked at ‘Trust, Security and the ‘Virtual Marketplace’, a paper arising from David Knights’ project. He discussed technological safeguards for electronic transactions and how they relate to the question of trust. One problem was the acceptability in everyday commerce of biometric and other technologies which have had their origin in the criminal justice systems. David Oswell’s paper, ‘Internet Content Regulation and Child Protection’ re-introduced the theme of regulation, in this case not concerning surveillance and privacy, but with regard to the use or misuse of the Internet. Devices for filtering and content classification, the question of where control should lie (i.e., with the parent, the service provider or the content provider) were discussed, and Latour’s notion of the ‘oligopticon’ - plural and partial supervision rather than a centralised mode - was brought to bear. Finally, Charles Raab talked about ‘Surveillance and the Co-Regulation of Trust’, continuing the themes of regulation and trust concerning surveillance in the broad sense of the collection, use and transmission of personal data through various technologies. His project investigated a range of regulatory solutions, including laws and their enforcement; organisational self-regulation through codes and standards; privacy-enhancing technologies; and individual or market-based strategies in which the question of an informed public was relevant. He emphasised the importance of finding integrated or ‘joined-up’ solutions across various strategies, but raised the question whether (and where) regulation was possible given global, trans-jurisdictional flows of personal data. The plenary discussion of these papers raised further points for consideration.

The workshop concluded with a brief session on the future of research. Among the possibilities were work on the effects of rapid technological change, on the monitoring of compliance with regulations, and on research to ascertain whether certain findings were either temporally or contextually dependent or else fairly stable across time and place.


11th March 2000

Charles Raab
David Mason
Brian McGrail

For more information, please contact Professor Charles Raab (


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