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Dissertation: Reading for Surveillance Ethics

24th February 2017:

The administrative ball is picking up speed back home in Durham. Consequently,  I’m thrilled to be able to confirm that I’ll be working with Professor Geoffrey Scarre on this project next year. Geoffrey taught one of my favourite modules last year, Moral Theory, and is a wonderfully engaging lecturer (and a lovely man!). His work in applied ethics, particularly on the privacy of the dead, punishment and political justice should prove to be especially pertinent to my line of enquiry. I’m looking forward to learning a lot – and being challenged a lot – over the course of next year!

It’s still early in the process, but some threads are coming together regarding a direction for this piece of work. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent the final dissertation follows what I have in mind now, but hopefully, it will resemble ‘A Normative Critique of Untargeted Mass Surveillance’.

Thus far, the attacks on mass surveillance have looked to a mostly legal justification for their criticism, with relatively little attention in the literature (see below for some notable exceptions – e.g. Just War Theory, adapted for peacetime use on the domestic population) paid to ethical or normative reasons for objecting to such large scale invasions of privacy. I aim to add a voice to this effect, likely drawing on contractualism and liberalism in defence of limiting surveillance to only targeted cases, not the wholesale fishing expeditions that legislation like the Investigatory Powers Act enables.

22nd July 2016:

Looking ahead to 2017/18, work on my dissertation will begin in earnest on my return to Durham. But, with a year abroad in the interim, I thought it best to initiate the research stage of the process as early as possible. After all, Surveillance Ethics (and its privacy repercussions) is a topic that deeply interests me and has led to all manner of debates amongst friends and family, so widening my knowledge of the area is something I would be doing anyway, albeit in an unstructured manner. Writing about it keeps me organised.

Looking back on the first two years of university, a couple of things seem clear. Firstly, that the more time you let your subconscious wrestle its way through issues, the better a result you are left with in the end (thanks to what Daniel Kahneman would call your slow thinking). Secondly, after some reflection, I  believe that I could have been more academic during my early university career. I enjoyed many other facets of university life early on. To now really apply myself in any small yet meaningful way to an academic problem that is at the forefront of the contemporary debate in Political Philosophy and Ethics is thus an electrifying change of pace and an occasion to learn from what I’ve done in the past.

This year is a chance for me to soak up a whole host of opinions, arguments and principles in preparation for the hard work of a final undergraduate year. What follows is a running list – a little diary entry, if you like – of the texts that I have been reading and am about to study to inform my opinion. As such, it will be intermittently updated to reflect my current readings.

Finally, this marks the beginning of my foray into the world of ‘commonplace books’. Having learnt of the practice of keeping one of these from Ryan Holiday (see more on what he thinks about them here), I too am attempting to catalogue my reading in a similar way. I’m sure a future post will talk about this more.

Now, without further ado, the list.

N.B. These are affiliate links to Amazon, which means I get a portion of the profit if you buy through them. For more information, read my full disclosure.

The Reading List

Books (Non-Fiction)

Angwin, J. ‘Dragnet Nation‘. Times Books, 2014.

Grayling, A.C.. ‘Liberty in the Age of Terror‘. Bloomsbury, 2010.

Greenwald, G. ‘No Place to Hide‘. Penguin, 2014.

Books (Fiction)

Orwell, George. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four‘. Penguin, 1949.


Allen, Anita (2008). ‘The Virtuous Spy: Privacy as an Ethical Limit‘. The Monist, 91(1), 3-22.

DeCew, Judith, ‘Privacy‘. in The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.

Macnish, Kevin (2014). ‘Just Surveillance? Towards a Normative Theory of Surveillance.’ Surveillance & Society 12 (1):142-153.

Macnish, Kevin. ‘Surveillance Ethics‘. in The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.

Lyon, David (2001). ‘Facing the future: Seeking ethics for everyday surveillance.’ Ethics and Information Technology 3 (3):171-180.

Solove, Daniel J. (2007). ‘‘I’ve Got Nothing to Hide’ and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy.‘ San Diego Law Review 44: 245.