Steve Wright

Watching them: Watching us - where are the ethical boundaries?

This paper argues that the process of watching official and unofficial surveillance activities is guided by an 'uneasy ethics'. It can never be a neutral behaviour since someone is benefitting or being dis-benefitted from both being watched, or being the watcher. The role of the military, security, police, university, media entertainment, industrial complex is now core. Surveillance capacities are being rapidly expanded, whilst existing checks and balances prove both inadequate or in a state of erosion. What can be done in the face of such change and who will create the requisite reinforcement, the checks and balances to prevent surveillance remorselessly moving even further beyond the limits of the law? This paper argues that this is a core issue of applied ethics: it cannot and should not be a sterile exercise in social and political astronomy; not if constitutional democratic systems as we know them are to survive. It calls for a much wider debate on the notion of meaningful human control - and the crucial roles of both whistleblowing and research activism.

Keywords: algorithmic surveillance, uneasy ethics, research activism, human control


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Note on the contributor

Steve Wright is a Reader in Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett University. He was the head of Manchester City Council's controversial Police Monitoring Unit from 1984-1989 which covered alleged police excesses in surveillance and use of force and the 'Stalker Affair' concerned with the Northern Ireland so-called 'shoot to kill' policy. Wright went on to co-found the Omega Foundation in Manchester which does field work on the evolution and deployment of new technologies of political control, including advanced surveillance technologies.