Surveillance as Law

Griffith Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 4, p. 795 (2011)

22 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2012

Date Written: 2011


Since 9/11, many governments have amended their laws to make it easier for state actors to watch us for security (and efficiency) purposes. As discussed by Surveillance Studies researchers and others, at the same time surveillance technology developments have made it easier and less costly for the private sector and government to compile detailed profiles about us. When government surveillance undermines important democratic practices like privacy, the surveillance itself operates independently as a kind of law that shapes individual and social behaviour in ways that were not intended by the adopters of a security initiative. Traditional legal tools, such as federal or sub-federal laws that govern the information collection practices of government agencies, provide an insufficient safeguard against these worries. To re-establish an individualʼs actual and perceived control over personal information, governments need to develop effective institutions (with audit and investigatory powers) as well as new laws and policies to govern the conception, design, implementation and ongoing evaluation of new security initiatives. A 2010 reform effort by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada serves as an example of this approach.

Keywords: privacy, privacy law, surveillance, terrorism, security, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Cockfield, Arthur, Surveillance as Law (2011). Griffith Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 4, p. 795 (2011), Available at SSRN:

Arthur Cockfield (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Macdonald Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6 K7L3N6

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