Keeping an eye out for the PCS  

Nov. 4 event to focus on the delicate balance between surveillance and privacy

By Russ Cooper

Magnifying glass

Cameras secretly peering at you from hidden locations. Software tracking your every click. Machines that know exactly where you are at all times. Whether you like it or not, you’re being watched.

Some say it’s for safety, some say it’s for control. In today’s society, where is the line between protection and privacy?

This issue will be at the centre the second edition of the President’s Conference Series (PCS), Nov. 4 in the D.B. Clarke Theatre. Under the theme of Every Breath You Take: Surveillance, Security and the End of Privacy, the conference will examine the complex social, political and technological relationship between individual privacy and public security.

“We know we’re being watched, but we allow these things to happen,” says Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens, one of the conference’s key organizers. “We want to ask, ‘does this help or hinder our society? Why do we allow such infringements on our privacy? Have we irreversibly accepted this state of supervision?’

“The jury is still out about whether heightened surveillance is to the benefit or detriment of society,” he says. “This is why we want to have this conversation.”

This second edition builds upon the overwhelming success of the inaugural conference, Understanding Desire, in April. Organizers have again invited leading researchers from Concordia to share their unique perspective and stimulate discussion about this topic that permeates many disciplines and facets of life.

As well, organizers are inviting more Concordia, CEGEP and high school students than last year to participate in the discussion (by attending either in person, by webcast or by Google video chat). Organizers have received interest from numerous Montreal high schools, as well as schools from northern Quebec and upstate New York.

Attracting this audience is notably pertinent, says Dyens, since it’s a population that’s the most accepting of the current state of heightened surveillance thanks in part to their affinity for choosing to display their private lives online via prevalent social media websites such as Facebook and Flickr.

Dyens is confident the event will create dialogue that resonates both within the internal and external Concordia community, and help to generate discussion between the two.

“In this, as well as many other fields, we have some of the top researchers in the world. It’s our responsibility as a leading university to tackle difficult issues and engage the community so they can make more informed decisions about the ways they live.”

The conference will be divided into three sessions:

• The morning session (10 to 11:30 a.m.) will welcome Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering Professor Mourad Debbabi and special guests from the RCMP, Competition Bureau and Sûreté du Québec to discuss cyberforensic technology;

• The afternoon session (2 to 3:30 p.m.) will present chemistry and biochemistry Professor John Capobianco, Centre for Pattern Recognition and Machine Intelligence Director Ching Y. Suen and Communication Studies Professor Kim Sawchuk to discuss the science of surveillance;

• The evening session (7 to 8:30 p.m.) will welcome Communication Studies Professors Yasmin Jiwani and Tim Schwab, and History Professor Shannon McSheffrey to discuss the question of balancing privacy and security through sociological and historical lenses.

Visit PCS site to learn more about the event and speakers. The site also hosts valuable information about surveillance and security, including an extensive bibliography and helpful tips on protecting your identity in the virtual world.


Concordia University