Christopher Parsons

Christopher Parsons

Doctoral Candidate
Department of Political Science, University of Victoria

Citizens are increasingly moving their communications and forms of expression onto social media environments that encourage both public and private collaborative efforts. Through social media, individuals can reaffirm existing relationships, give birth to new and novel communities and community-types, and establish the classical political advocacy groups that impact government decisions and processes. In coming together online for their various reasons, citizens expect that their capacity to engage with one another should, and in some respect does, parallel their expectations of privacy in the analogue world.

In this presentation, I first outline expectations and realities of privacy on and offline, with an emphasis on data traffic (i.e. non-content) analysis born from Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), and SIGINT’s use in civilian governmental practices. I then proceed to outline, in brief, how social media generally can be used to identify associations and a few reasons why such associations can undermine the communicative privacy expected and needed for the long-term survival of vibrant constitutional democracies. Rather than ending on a note of doom and gloom, however, I suggest a novel way of approaching privacy-related problems stemming from massive traffic data analysis in social media networks. While the language of freedom from unjustified searches is often used to resist traffic analysis, I draw from recent privacy scholarship to suggest that freedom of expression and association offers a novel (and possibly superior) approach to defending privacy interests in social media from SIGINT-based surveillance.

Christopher Parsons is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. He is a member of the New Transparency Project and holds a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate doctoral scholarship. Christopher’s work focuses on how privacy (particularly informational privacy, expressive privacy and accessibility privacy) is affected by digitally mediated surveillance, and the normative implications this has in contemporary Western political systems. His research currently focuses on the technologies that enable digitally mediated surveillance, such as deep packet inspection, behavioral advertising, social media, and radio frequency identification. He is particularly curious about how these technologies influence citizens in their decision to openly express themselves or engage in self-censoring behaviour, and in how technologies are politicized through policy and institutional dynamics. His current thoughts and ideas concerning developing technologies and practices as they relate to surveillance and privacy can be found at his website.