Taking surveillance apart? Accountability and Legitimacy of Internet Surveillance and Expanded Investigatory Powers

Digital technology has fundamentally changed communications, bringing benefits but also vulnerabilities which penetrate national borders. However, many cyber threats, such as hate speech or identity theft, are illegal online activities that create victimization among ordinary citizens, not the state. For some online users, the complexities of digital systems and the unknown extent of state surveillance within these systems can lead to unanticipated legal infractions. Thus the categories of legal/illegal, victim/offender, public/private and the borders between jurisdictional areas now seem ambiguous.

In this context the state authorities face challenges in protecting their citizens and maintaining stability within their territories, while also embracing transparency and accountability. In many European countries, such as the UK, Finland and Norway, there are heated debates about how surveillance legislation should be amended and whether to allow security agencies wider powers to monitor information networks and to analyse mass communications data.

The proposed project, Taking surveillance apart, will produce a deeper understanding of the legal provisions for the powers of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to monitor online communications data, and how surveillance, data collection and analysis is (or will be) regulated. The project will identify how the major stakeholders in the debate over surveillance powers articulate and justify their position. The project will also focus on citizens' online behaviour and their perceptions of surveillance and privacy. It will investigate the accountability and legitimacy of the existing and planned legislation and expanded powers for internet surveillance. A gap between citizens' and authorities' expectations and understandings could have unfortunate consequences. This project and its findings will enhance the integrity of the services and authorities involved.

The digital age also presents new challenges for theoretical understandings of borders, both in terms of the legislation and powers for law enforcement agencies, but also for citizens and how they perceive risks, limits and protection of their own online behaviour. Thus, the question of borders pertains to what is understood as legal and illegal behaviour, where the line is between public and private spheres, and the relationship between surveillance and security. These issues will be explored through a comparative analysis of Norway, Finland and the UK.