Surveillance Pressure Points

Published on September 12th, 2018

Surveillance Pressure Points: An Assessment of Digital Rights Advocacy Work

During the past decade the digital rights landscape has changed so rapidly that it has become challenging to monitor and describe. Empirical research on digital rights often takes shape across different fields. Scholars in surveillance studies have investigated the politics of personal information collection by internet service providers, social media companies, and third party intermediaries. Media policy researchers have analyzed the shifting organizational structure of media industries in the context of digitization and deregulation, and the effects of these transformations on consumer rights. And advocacy groups such as Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Electronic Privacy Information Center have tracked emergent trends and informed publics about growing concern over digital rights and privacy issues.

This project, supported by the International Policy Lab at MIT, investigates how advocacy groups formulate digital rights agendas within a highly commercialized digital culture. Given companies’ proprietary claims to users’ information at every turn, how do digital rights advocacy groups determine where to target their efforts? What resources, tools, and information do their staffs rely upon to formulate advocacy campaigns and agendas? Is the work of digital rights NGOs having an impact, and, if so, what does it look like? The study provides a discussion and assessment of the work processes, resources, and impact of digital rights advocacy efforts. It then describes and assesses these efforts, and offers commentary and ideas about future digital rights research and advocacy work. 

Principal Investigators: Lisa Parks (MIT) and Jennifer Holt (UC Santa Barbara)