Surveillance Culture: Who’s Watching Whom?


I know what you did last summer. So does everyone else.

From social media to security cameras to sensors in everything, we are being watched and tracked, and we are watching and tracking others. Privacy is a currency we value but one which we freely expend for personal or social advantage. We surveil for security, profit, community, greed, curiosity, power, love, and hate. Personal data are everywhere; they fuel of the 21st century. New technologies like Google Glass and subdural sensors will only increase the stakes. This course will examine surveillance and privacy in all their forms and with all their implications. How are we being surveilled and how are we surveilling others? Can you trust Facebook or Twitter? What about your government or your friends? And can they trust you? Let’s find out.

Contemporary society is challenged by technologies and practices which compromise privacy and facilitate enhanced surveillance. But while Big Brother is watching, it is also true that we are watching each other. And we are willing contributors to this by openly sharing even the most personal information through social media or other public methods. The digital panopticon has placed issues of privacy and surveillance at the center of being a 21st century citizen. We eagerly defend the importance of privacy as we easily give it away through online services and personal interactions. Similarly we decry government or industrial surveillance as we also use information technologies to track and follow the activities of our friends, acquaintances or even our rivals.

This course will explore the history, technologies, policies, and practices relevant to surveillance and privacy. We will examine the inherent contradictions at play in contemporary society and explore best practices for protecting (or undermining) privacy and for minimizing (or intensifying) surveillance. A key foundational perspective throughout the course will be the nature of individual rights verses other power structures (i.e. government, industry, persons of influence).

Students will research individual topics relevant to surveillance and privacy, and contribute to class discussions about these issues. Students will prepare for each class by reading or reviewing assigned materials, allowing them, in class and online, to reflect, discuss, and synthesize. A class project, a “Pop Up Surveillance and Privacy Kiosk”, will allow for individual and team engagement and the creation of an outcome from the course that will involve members of the campus community.