Understanding resistance to digital surveillance: Towards a multi-disciplinary, multi-actor framework

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Aaron K Martin
Rosamunde E van Brakel
Daniel J Bernhard


Despite being central to the dynamics of surveillance, the concept of resistance remains underdeveloped within the surveillance studies corpus. We review theoretical work on surveillance before summarising the main treatments of resistance from within surveillance studies. We find that the majority of resistance literature in surveillance studies is focussed on resistance relations between the surveyor and the surveilled, and neglects other relevant actors. To expand the list of relevant actors, we look to what other disciplines have to say about the who and the how of resistance. Using these lessons, we then elaborate a multi-actor framework to better understand complex resistance relationships. Beyond the surveyor and the surveilled, surveillance authorities, commercial enterprises, international governmental and non-governmental agencies, and the surveillance technologies themselves form a complex resistance nexus, capable of resisting and being resisted in a diversity of ways. Further, we conclude that these distinctive roles produce unique methods, directions and opportunities for resistance.  The roles of these additional actors will be demonstrated through a discussion of the United Kingdom National Identity Scheme, where we believe they are presently engaged in a series of multi-level, multi-actor resistance relationships at various stages of the scheme’s development.

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