One of the SRT Working Groups has been considering everyday surveillance with the aim of reporting to the General Assembly in 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 new 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. The Working Group has been focusing its discussions 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’ the group has reflected 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.
The report hopes to stimulate Christians who are both subjects and professional users of surveillance to affirm and challenge its value.
In March 2017 Dr Eric Stoddart of the University of St Andrews, and a member of the Working Group, is convening a research workshop in Edinburgh, ‘Religions Consuming Surveillance’. There are a few places for contributions from people who have particular experience in churches or other religious communities using data-gathering (of one form or another). Details are available here.
‘Why is everyday surveillance a religious issue?’ – a public lecture by David Lyon is online here.