Organization

Simon Fraser University

Project Description

Surveillance Coping Strategies and Citizenship

Project Abstract

In this proposal we suggest that a new front needs to be opened up in our research on the influence of surveillance technologies in society – the potential role they play in fostering or hindering democratic participation. The argument for seeing surveillance as an influence in this regard goes like this: Democracy is built by freedom of thought, which leads to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression requires freedom of movement and freedom of association -- so those freely expressed thoughts can have some impact on others (MacPherson, 1977). Movement, however, requires means of transportation. Most of us now live in urban areas, especially in Canada, and people need transit to move through urban areas, either because of the cost of other modes, the time constraints, or even by legislation/penalties (for example the growing influence of taxes on fuel or parking charges, even London’s "Congestion charges").

Therefore, in order to associate effectively and make democracy active, people ride transit. In our city the major system for public transportation is known as “SkyTrain,” a light rail transportation system built for the 1986 World’s Fair and since expanded to include a second line. The transit system is a key part of major as well as routine exercise of civic rights by Vancouver citizens. Instances of notable civic events that involved the SkyTrain include: the 1994 Grey Cup (and riot in the aftermath), the 1998 ‘Riot at the Hyatt’, the 1997 APEC summit and the Stanley Cup Riot (Chief Constable, General Manager of Engineering Services, City Clerk, Directors of Social Planning and Risk and Emergency Management, & Emergency Management Committee, 1995), (Garr, 2001), (Brunet, 2003). 

It is not uncommon these days for people to suggest that “civic space” is under threat during significant events in the city. In the words of one writer regarding the APEC summit, “democracy did not exist in Vancouver in the days and weeks surrounding the… summit. Such basic freedoms as speech, assembly, thought and dissent had somehow mysteriously disappeared” (Isitt, 1999). This research will explore the possibility that one of our key “enablers” of civic life – the transit system – is affected (negatively or positively) by the use of surveillance technologies. A positive impact would occur when people feel safer, ride transit more frequently, and attend more meetings. A negative impact would occur if people feel that they are being watched, that they are not trusted – and therefore shouldn’t trust others – and participate less.

While people are riding public transit they are also (potentially) engaged in freedom of speech and public debate -- it is a classic element of bus conversations with both anecdotal and official recognition: the "productivity" of citizens while in transit has been recognized by the bureau of labour statistics. (Metropolitan Knowledge International, 2003)

This research focuses on a type of surveillance, transit surveillance, that occurs in what some are calling "quasi-public" space (Byers, 1998; Crawford, 1995). In a 2000 paper on surveillance and changing urban space, Koskela makes reference to "publicly accessible space" and how it is changing because of surveillance (Koskela, 2000). Although legally the space is private property, as it is owned by the transit companies, the space is used almost exclusively by the public for mobility in their work and social life.

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