Scottish Universities Insight Institute : a development from the institute for advanced studies

a development from the institute for advanced studies


Surveillance and Society in the 21st Century

Surveillance: "any collection and processing of personal data, whether identifiable or not, for the purposes of influencing or managing those whose data has been garnered." (David Lyon, 2001)

In streets and shopping malls, in workplaces and schools, crossing borders and on the internet, surveillance technologies increasingly impinge on our lives: CCTV camera networks, DNA databases, speed cameras, automated number plate recognition, loyalty cards, border security, electronic monitoring of offenders, RFID chips in consumer goods, even mobile phone cameras.

Some contemporary surveillance practices originate in deepening (and perhaps exaggerated) concerns about national and global security, or in desires for order and safety that have arisen as traditional ways of sustaining them have frayed and declined. Others have roots in strategies to make commercial and social life more efficient and convenient.

Negative "Orwellian" connotations may be attributed too quickly to new surveillance technologies, resulting in the premature dismissal of practices which may make our world more convivial. But fears that they will not be used properly - that they will be used repressively and divisively - are by no means unfounded; we do not yet comprehend what it means to live in a "surveillance society".

We should make ourselves better informed about the technological realities (and possibilities) of surveillance, understand their impact upon us, and engage in proper democratic debate about ways to shape and regulate their development, using the full resources of the sciences, literature and art.

The "Surveillance and Society in the 21st century" programme brought together academics, technologists, business people, policy makers, campaigners and writers to stimulate discussion, engage with public policy, promote public understanding and awareness.


  • Modern Liberty
  • Surveillance Symposium

Key contact

The programme was organised by Prof Mike Nellis, Professor of Criminal and Community Justice, University of Strathclyde. 

Phone +44 (0) 141 950 3227