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Surveillance and Social Justice Report May 2017

image Published: Sep 06, 2017

Surveillance is not simply an activity of the security and intelligences services – as portrayed in the 007 or Bourne movies. Data-management is integral to, for example, identifying who needs to be supported through social welfare benefits. At the same time, surveillance systems can be almost insurmountable hurdles against receiving the benefits to which one is entitled. Ken Loach’s film, I Daniel Blake, tells a story which, although disputed by the government, many people testify to being an apt description of the injustices they face.

Experiencing surveillance can be quite different for people of colour than those who, because white, are considered generally to be less of a risk. Muslims, or people ‘looking Muslim’ encounter discriminatory surveillance in ways that are bound up political agendas and public misperceptions. This report focuses on three particular areas: bio-data in medical research, borders where people are required to identify themselves, and the bureaucracy of the benefits system.

Using the idea of ‘surveillance from the Cross of Christ’, we reflect on re-orientating surveillance in the light of God’s relational way of knowing, and what that might mean for treating privacy as a gift for human dignity and flourishing. It is hoped the report will stimulate Christians who are both subjects and professional users of surveillance to affirm and challenge its value.

View the full report here

Explore the individual sections of the report:

Section 1. Introduction
Sets the scene. Surveillance is part of everyday life. Ordinary people are subject to surveillance and use monitoring technologies in professional and personal roles.

Where do you, your family and friends, encounter surveillance? How do you practice surveillance?

Section 2. Rationale 
To address the positive and negative effects of surveillance. To make some preliminary connections to biblical examples of monitoring.

Where do you see fear in society? How might the ‘perfect love [which] drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18) respond?

Section 3. Aims
To help church members think critically – biblically and theologically – about everyday surveillance.

What values or qualities do you think ought to underpin surveillance today? Try to think of both positive and negative examples.

Section 4. Surveillance from the Data-centre
Offers a definition of surveillance from expert David Lyon. Explains our ‘digital footprint’.

When have you given consent to surveillance? How informed would you say that consent was/ is?

Section 5. Theories of surveillance
Introduces ‘the few watching the many’, ‘the many watching the few’, ‘surveillance from below’, and categorisation.

What prejudicial categories have you or your friends, families or colleagues encountered? Why might Christians be suspicious of surveillance that categorises people?

Section 6. Datafication 
How our lives are turned into data.

What movies or TV series have you seen that rely on people’s ‘digital footprints’ to drive the plot? How much do those movies alarm or reassure you about present (not future) surveillance?

Section 7. Security
Explains the notion of ‘securisation of identity’ and connections to rights to privacy.

How often do ‘national security’ concerns feature in the TV news programmes you watch, the newspapers you read, or the social media you follow?  How is that agenda shaping your perception of the world?

Section 8. Risk and mistaken public perception
Presents evidence of how badly wrong public perceptions can be, and how these influence support for surveillance of particular groups.

Challenge yourself by reading the ‘Perils of Perception’ report to see how accurate are your perceptions of life in the UK.
Section 9. Convenience and privacy
Tackles the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ argument around increasing surveillance.

Have there been times when you had something to hide? From whom, and why?

Section 10. Surveillance from the Cross
Poses contrasting experiences of knowing that God is watching.

When have you found it comforting to believe that God is watching you?  When have you been unsettled at the idea that you are always under God’s gaze?

Section 11. The Surveilled and Surveilling One
A quality of surveillance based on Jesus’ solidarity and compassion with those under surveillance.

Consider these narratives of Jesus being watched: [list of texts]. What do they suggest to you about the sort of surveillance that is an act of care?

Section 12. Relational knowledge
Explaining that God knows, but does not gather ‘information’.

What does it mean that God knows you rather than that God has information about you?  Have a look at Psalm 139 and examples from the Gospels of Jesus encountering particular people.

Section 13. Privacy as a gift for dignity
Introduces theological arguments for the importance of privacy.

What do these various perspectives tell you about what privacy is for?  How do you use your privacy?

Section 14. Visibility
Takes up the challenge that the bible does not emphasise privacy per se. Proposes we can find social practices in the bible that have some similarities to how we practice privacy today.

In what settings do you aim to make yourself less visible? When do you try to make yourself more visible?  Read the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and see where you can find different ways in which he makes himself (or is made) more visible than usual.

Section 15. Bio-data, Borders and Benefits
Proposes ‘surveillance from the Cross’ as a criterion against which to evaluate surveillance of digital footprints.

What opportunities do you have to influence surveillance practices in your context (e.g., at work, in your home, at school or university)?

Section 16. Bio-data
Affirms the value of this form of surveillance. Raises the problem of de-anonymised data.

When have you or a family member benefited from bio-data systems? How might de-anonymised data pose a threat to people’s privacy?

Section 17. Borders
Identifies borders are sites of acute surveillance. Links to issues of prejudice.

What do you consider to be a Christian response to people crossing borders as (a) refugees, (b) asylum-seekers, and (c) economic migrants?

Section 18. Welfare Benefits
Challenges the practice of a suspicion-drive welfare system.

You might find it useful to view the Ken Loach movies ‘I, Daniel Blake’ (on encounters with the UK welfare system) or the BBC series ‘Broken’ (a story about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a northern English city).

What does Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) suggest to you about responding to the situations of which the movie and TV series are fictionalised accounts?

Section 19. Conclusion
Calls for deeper reflection and a Christian counter-vision of surveillance.

Consider using the closing prayer by identifying where you find surveillance unnerving and tempting.

General Assembly Deliverances

Download the Bible Study Notes

Printed from on Wed, August 21, 2019
© The Church of Scotland 2019