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Reminder: “Surveillance”, CRÉ/OBVIA workshop

Fifth CRÉ and OBVIA Day on AI Ethics: Surveillance

(Université de Montréal, February 2, 2024)

This study day on AI ethics is organized by Martin Gibert (U. de Montréal), Hazar Haidar (UQAR), and Alexandra Prégent (U. Leiden) with the Center for Research in Ethics (CRÉ) and the International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology (OBVIA). Proposals to be sent before October 2, 2023.

In the era of the Technological Revolution, surveillance has become omnipresent in our lives. In 2006, the SSN (Surveillance Studies Network) defined in its report to the British Information Commissioner, surveillance as: “We are in the presence of surveillance when we notice that deliberate, routine, systematic, and targeted attention is paid to personal details, for the purposes of control, law, management, influence, or protection,” (p.4).

Transcending the borders of security (Lyon, 1998, Goodman, 2022; Zuboff, 2019), surveillance is now also a valuable tool for marketing, public health, and daily life (tracking on an electronic map, real-time location sharing, etc.). It is now rare to be in contexts devoid of technological tools that observe, collect, and analyze our every move (Murakami Wood, (ed.), 2006); Doyle and Macnish, 2020; Saheb, 2022).

This extension of the surveillance field has generated new contrasting, if not contradictory, social phenomena. Digital exhibitionism (Koskela, 2002) and cyber-activism (or hacktivism) (Nissenbaum, 2009; Delmas 2018) are two examples. While many people volunteer to exhibit the smallest details of their lives (constant updating of Instagram, TikTok, Facebook profiles and stories, participation in reality TV), cyber activists develop sophisticated strategies to escape imposed surveillance. Increasingly efficient technological surveillance thus finds itself at the center of tensions between power, knowledge, culture, and human rights (Foucault, 1975, Nissenbaum, 2009).

During this 5th day on AI ethics, we invite authors to explore the issues of surveillance raised by new technologies.

Proposals for communication to be submitted before October 2, 2023, can address general questions on the ethics of surveillance or specific to domains such as workplace surveillance, health (Halsband and Heinrichs, 2022), for civil and military security purposes, agriculture, the environment, or in view of human rights (Hildebrandt, 2013).

Here are some leads (do not limit to them):

  • How to classify the different types of surveillance?
  • Does targeted surveillance (via profiles on social networks, internet of things, connected watch, health application, anti-suicide…) pose specific ethical questions?
  • What to think of the new forms of self-presentation, or even exhibitionism (is it?), emerging alongside new forms of surveillance?
  • How to maintain trust towards a state or employer that monitors its citizens or employees?
  • To what extent can the need for security justify surveillance? Is Nick Bostrom’s (2019) vulnerable world hypothesis realistic? Is it legitimate not to release large language models (like GPT-4) open source?
  • Is respect for privacy compatible with new surveillance technologies (automatic emotion recognition, voice recognition)? Should facial recognition (e.g., Clearview AI) (Almeida et al. 2022) be banned?
  • What ethical assessment can be drawn from tracking applications (Alert Covid, TousAntiCovid,…) against Covid-19?
  • What measures can be taken to address potential biases and disparities that may arise when using surveillance in public health interventions?
  • How can AI surveillance systems help public health authorities allocate resources and establish priorities in an emergency?

Presentations with a maximum duration of 20 minutes will be followed by a 15-minute question period. The workshop on February 2, 2024, will take place in hybrid mode, from 9:00 to 17:00 (Quebec time).

Send your proposal before October 2, 2023, to: hazar_haidar@uqar.ca

It must include:

  • A title (maximum 10 words)
  • An abstract (maximum 300 words)
  • Name and title, institution, affiliation, or organization.

Note that applications can come from various fields, including among others: philosophy, political science, criminology, cognitive science, psychology, bioethics, law, computer science, engineering, communication, and sociology. We encourage student applications.


Ali, M. A. and Mann, S. (2013) “The inevitability of the transition from a surveillance-society to a veillance-society: Moral and economic grounding for sousveillance,” (ISTAS) Social Implications of Wearable Computing and Augmented Reality in Everyday Life, Canada, pp. 243-254, doi: 10.1109/ISTAS.2013.6613126.

Almeida, D., Shmarko, K. & Lomas, E. (2022) The ethics of facial recognition technologies, surveillance, and accountability in an age of artificial intelligence: a comparative analysis of US, EU, and UK regulatory frameworks. AI Ethics 2, 377–387. https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-021-00077-w

Arendt, H. (1972) “Civil Disobedience” In “Crises of the Republic”.

Bandara P. (2023) “This Clothing Line Tricks AI Cameras Without Covering Your Face” PetaPixel. https://petapixel.com/2023/01/20/this-clothing-line-tricks-ai-cameras-without-covering-your-face/

Bostrom, N. (2019), The Vulnerable World Hypothesis. Glob Policy, 10: 455-476. https://doi.org/10.1111/1758-5899.12718.

Cobbe, J. (2021) Algorithmic Censorship by Social Platforms: Power and Resistance. Philos. Technol. 34, 739–766. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-020-00429-0

Delmas, C. (2018).« Is Hacktivism the New Civil Disobedience? », Raisons politiques 2018/1 (N° 69), p. 63-81

Doyle, T. et Macnish, K. (2020) The ethics of surveillance: an introduction. Ethics Inf Technol 22, 39–42 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-019-09513-2

Feenberg, A. (2003) Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom. IN R. Scharff & V. Dusek (Eds.), Philosophy of Technology (pp.652-665), Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishing. (Première publication  en 1992).

Foucault, M.(1975) Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison. Gallimard, 352 p.

Goodman, B. (2022) Privacy without persons: a Buddhist critique of surveillance capitalism. AI Ethics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-022-00204-1

Halsband, A., Heinrichs, B. (2022) AI, Suicide Prevention and the Limits of Beneficence. Philos. Technol. 35, 103. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-022-00599-z

Hildebrandt, M. (2013) Balance or Trade-off? Online Security Technologies and Fundamental Rights. Philos. Technol. 26, 357–379. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-013-0104-0 

Königs, P. Government Surveillance, Privacy, and Legitimacy. Philos. Technol. 35, 8 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-022-00503-9

Koskela, H. (2003) ‘Cam Era’ – The Contemporary Urban Panopticon Surveillance & Society, 1(3), 292-313. https://ojs.library.queensu.ca/index.php/surveillance-and-society/article/view/3342/3304

Lyon, D.(1998) The world wide web of surveillance: The internet and off‐world power‐flows, Information, Communication & Society, 1:1, 91-105, DOI: 10.1080/13691189809358955

Murakami Wood, D. (ed.) (2006) A Report on the Surveillance Society. For the Information Commissioner by the Surveillance Studies Network. UK

Nissenbaum, H. (2009) Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life, Stanford Law Books, 304p. 

Saheb, T. (2022) “Ethically contentious aspects of artificial intelligence surveillance: a social science perspective”. AI Ethics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-022-00196-y.

Vitak J. et Zimmer M. (2023) Power, Stress, and Uncertainty: Experiences with and Attitudes toward Workplace Surveillance During a Pandemic. Surveillance & Society, vol.21, n.1. https://ojs.library.queensu.ca/index.php/surveillance-and-society/article/view/15571/10610.

Zuboff, S. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Profile Books.