Queen’s University report sheds light on big data surveillance in Canada

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Report released by the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s finds that thoughtful, decisive action is needed to confront the evolving world of surveillance

Tuesday, May 17

Kingston, ON - Today, Queen’s University released a new report entitled " Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom and Fairness," the first of its kind in Canada to note the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on data surveillance. Authored by David Lyon, Professor Emeritus and Former Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre , the report - based on research from 2016-2021 - identifies key challenges and areas of opportunity in data surveillance, including the need for more transparency in data collection and analysis, and calls for new digital rights and data justice for Canadians.

The report examines the rapid growth of surveillance worldwide, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. An example of this noted in Canada is the use of smartphone data for public health analysis. It argues that regulations have not updated quickly enough to keep up with the ever-changing technology.

The report also finds that as big data and monitoring have evolved and been augmented by artificial intelligence and machine learning, Canadians have little idea of what personal data is being collected. Furthermore, some populations-like women, Black people, and Indigenous groups-are more exposed to surveillance than others.

"To imagine that surveillance problems reside mainly in cameras on the street or in the building you enter is to live in the past. You carry the primary surveillance technology in your pocket-your phone," said Dr. Lyon. "Surveillance is now a major public issue that demands attention on many levels, requiring not only data rights but data justice as a goal."

Recommendations from the report include the need to:

  • Move beyond privacy protection to data rights and data justice as big data proliferates and personal data is extrapolated and sorted at a mass level.
  • Increase collaboration between researchers - in social and computing sciences - regulators, and civil society.
  • Enable public and popular awareness of how Canadians are being impacted daily by data monitoring.


To coincide with the release of the report, the Surveillance Centre is hosting a virtual and in-person conference May 18-19 at the University of Ottawa.

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