Privacy. In our age of escalating reliance on and interface with networked digital devices, the word has taken on new meaning. Traditional concerns about being spied on – or having one’s personal space invaded by unwelcomed voyeurs – have escalated to include fear of losing one’s autonomy and identity. Each time we log-in, sync-up, perform a search or conduct a transaction online, our movements are tracked and analyzed. We’re all subject to government and corporate interest in collecting individualized Big Data – volumes of history about what we do and where we do it that help market us ideas and sell us things.
But this increasingly intensive, unrelenting surveillance has raised red flags and rebellious rumblings over the last several years. One of the loudest dissident voices is that of Simon Davies, a 25 year veteran of privacy advocacy and founder of watchdog group, Privacy International. John Cabot University is very pleased to announce that Professor Davies is teaching a class this fall on Surveillance, Privacy and Social Identities – helping degree seeking and study abroad students understand precisely what it means to live under the ever-watchful eye.
Davies: Redefining The Value Of Privacy
It’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified than Davies to lead a discussion on privacy protection. Earlier this year, Davies gave two lectures at John Cabot on his work with Privacy International to expose government and corporate threats to personal privacy. In the UK, his company lobbied against the implementation of a national identity card and registry that would collect fingerprints, face scans, and a comprehensive list of every place each citizen had ever lived. Once Davies and his team made the public aware of what the registry would entail, support for it was radically reduced. Legislation was put forth against the act, and eventually the initiative was abandoned. For over two decades, Davies has dedicated his time and resources to causes like this – preserving the value of personal privacy, and exposing the implications of its surrender.
Students who choose to study abroad in Rome are uniquely positioned to appreciate the scope of Davies’ new course – CMS/BUS 385: Surveillance, Privacy and Social Identities: Practices and Representations. As an American university in Italy, John Cabot offers students an international experience and broad vantage point across cultures; knowledge and experience they will draw upon to appreciate Davies’ discussion of the globalized mediascape and its impact on personal privacy. The course will also explore specific surveillance practices, looking at everything from government programs to pop culture and social media.
Bartering Convenience for Privacy
During one of his last talks, Davies spoke out to students about our increasing reliance on mobile devices and social networks. Although he acknowledges that sharing is only human, and in many ways should be encouraged, these particular devices and platforms are designed with tracking in mind. He suggests switching the smart phone for an older model, and auditing more carefully what we post on Twitter and Facebook. Davies cautions, as we give up more of our identities online, so do we relinquish control over who gets to see and manipulate our private selves. A large focus of Davies’ upcoming course will be to inspire students to reflect on what privacy means to them, and to what lengths we should go to protect our anonymity.