Gallery Project , , , ,

Screening Surveillance: Mapping, Monitoring, and Future-Ing Big Data Surveillance

sava saheli singh
University of Ottawa

Screening Surveillance
https://www.screeningsurveillance.com

Gallery Project Statement

In light of recent surveillance developments — social media breaches, smart city ventures, and workplace monitoring — we need to pay more attention to and analyse the logics and practices that underpin, enable, and accelerate big data surveillance. As these interoperable systems map and monitor the movements and behaviours of populations, they cast long data shadows and draw inaccurate data portraits. The flaws of these systems remain points of academic discussion, but as these portraits are propelled forward in space and time perpetuating existing inequalities, more public input is needed on these futures and their implications for people and places.

As part of an international multiphase project on Big Data Surveillance, in 2018- 2019 the Surveillance Studies Centre, led by sava saheli singh, produced three short films speculating surveillance futures and the effects of deeply embedded and connected surveillant systems on our everyday lives. Intended as public education tools to spark discussion and extend understandings of surveillance, trust, and privacy in the digital age, each film focuses on a different aspect of big data surveillance and the tensions that manifest when the human is interpreted by the machine.

Blaxites follows the story of a young woman whose celebratory social media post affects her access to vital medication. Her attempts to circumvent the system lead to even more dire consequences.

In A Model Employee, an aspiring DJ has to wear a tracking wristband to keep her day job at a local restaurant. To her annoyance, it tracks her life during and outside of work, even using location-based surveillance to nudge her. She figures out a way to fool the system, but a new device upgrade means trouble.

In Frames, a smart city tracks and analyzes a woman walking through the city. Things she does are interpreted and logged by the city system, but are they drawing an accurate picture of the woman?

The films raise issues in our understandings of trust and surveilled relations, while making visible the underlying systems that map and manipulate us.

[Note: For an extended discussion of Frames, please see the companion paper “Vulnerable Bodies (Mackinnon and singh) which explores futures of the urbanite body and smart city surveillance.]