Surveillance, Information Ethics and Privacy – University of Copenhagen

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Surveillance, Information Ethics and Privacy

This research group is preoccupied with questions that arise from the conception of a present-day surveillance society. We are concerned with historical, philosophical, ethical, aesthetic, cultural, and con/textual dimensions of information, information and communication technology, digital media, and information and cultural institutions.  We conduct critical analyses and empirical investigations of the political, ethical, and conceptual ramifications generated by the digital information society. In short, we are interested in surveillance as a socio-cultural phenomenon that emerges and takes shape within a distinct historical context.

Digital technologies permeate our societies, economies, cultures and identities. Data and information about individuals are collected, stored, and processed creating infrastructures of surveillance. The shift towards the datafication of everyday life dissolves traditional structures of power and creates new networks of control which requires new analytical concepts and understandings. In the surveillance society data is transformed into a commodity, bought and sold by e.g. data brokers. It is a society where public institutions see data as a means for streamlining welfare services leading to increased control.
The individual’s opportunities and limits in society are increasingly defined by algorithmic decision-making with an assumption of data and information as objective reflections of the “analogue” individual and natural world. Thus, the digitalization and commodification of personal data and people’s participation in digital data processes generate questions in relation to conceptualizations of information and data, as well as human agency, ethical dimensions of data handling in state, businesses, and private organizations, etc.
The links between surveillance, privacy, and human autonomy and agency raises questions about how people experience, interpret, and navigate a surveillance society.

The group curiously engages in the members’ individual research interests and together we work to explore the nexus of surveillance, information, ethics and privacy.

Research interests

Sille Obelitz Søe: Personal Information and Algorithmic Profiles

Sille investigates the interconnections between algorithmic profiles, personal information, and informational privacy – proposing a reconceptualization of personal information. She challenges the presupposition that personal information is an objective commodity by arguing that what people do (their footprints) are determined by intentions, meaning, context, motives, and the like – all concepts which need to be reflected within a notion of personal information. She is currently engaged in the collaborative, inter-disciplinary research project: “Don’t Take it Personal” – Privacy and information in an algorithmic age.

Gry Hasselbalch Lapenta: Data Ethics: Renegotiating Human Agency in Industry Data Innovation. 

Gry sheds light on the interests and the economic, social and cultural contexts of the meaning creation of data ethics. A specific focus for her is the creation of business ethics and standards as they are evolving right now in the context of a new European data protection legislation. Her aim is to create transparency in the societal ongoing negotiation process of data ethics in the digital data age.

Karen Søilen: Atmospheres of Surveillance

Karen combines perspectives from Surveillance Studies and Affect theory, and contributes to understanding the complexities of lived experience in contemporary surveillance culture where surveillance practices range from control and discipline to care, communication, consumption, entertainment, and pleasure. Specifically, her aim is to identify and conceptualize the affective atmospheres of surveillance societies post 9/11 seen through the lens of a selection of artworks falling into the category of ‘Surveillance Art’.

Laura Skouvig: History of Surveillance

Laura explores surveillance from a historical point of view. Surveillance has a much longer history that needs to be explored for better understanding surveillance in present society.  From our present perspective the attempts of e.g. early modern states to surveil and control their territories seem rather in-comprehensive compared to the pervasiveness of digital technologies. Thus, Laura focuses on surveillance in absolutist Denmark and investigates how information and surveillance got intertwined in the bureaucracy of government.

Jens-Erik Mai: Information Control

Jens-Erik is concerned with basic questions about the nature of information phenomena in contemporary society — he is concerned with the state of privacy and surveillance given new digital media, with classification given the pluralistic nature of meaning and society, and with information and its quality given its pragmatic nature.  He is currently engaged in the collaborative, inter-disciplinary research project: “Don’t Take it Personal” – Privacy and information in an algorithmic age.

Externally funded research project


Lapenta, Gry HasselbalchPhD fellow +45 353-21363E-mail
Mai, Jens-ErikHead of Department +45 93 56 59 80E-mail
Skouvig, LauraAssociate professor +45 353-21320E-mail
Søe, Sille ObelitzPostdoc +45 353-21409E-mail
Søilen, Karen Louise GrovaPhD fellow +45 353-30228E-mail