Rethinking privacy law in a sensor society

26 Nov 2015

We live in a time of unparalleled technological change that is producing surprising innovations. Our devices are being used in ways that were previously unimaginable. Car makers can see when we speed, smartphone apps can predict our moods and even gaming systems can used to protect national borders.

These new developments significantly challenge traditional notions of privacy law and surveillance, as Dr Mark Burdon explains

“Our networked devices now act as ‘sensors’ recording details of our whereabouts, activities, environments, calling patterns and even our moods.”

“However, as cars, phones, and computers get ‘smarter’ the information they collect means they know a lot more about us than they used to – and so do the companies that provide them.”

And it is not just human activity that is being recorded.

“It’s not just about us humans – thanks to the proliferation of sensing devices and the growing embrace of information and communication networks, both wired and wireless, almost everything can be monitored almost everywhere: air quality, ocean currents, fish migrations, traffic flows, and so on.”

The advent of this ‘sensor society’, in which everything about everything is collected, will give rise to significant legal challenges.

“A world in which this level of information is collected about individuals and entire societies challenges our notions of privacy and surveillance since everything we do, everywhere we go, all our interactions will be monitored, recorded and analysed,” Dr Burdon said.

Dr Burdon is therefore working on new ways to consider the positive benefits of this new world against the potential negative impacts.

“These issues need serious consideration, because it is clear there is no going back; sensors and the forms of data mining they enable are now an embedded part of our lives and they will be more so in the future,” Dr Burdon said.