Having spent the last few months reading, writing and refining my research questions, I’m now at a stage where I have a good idea of what I want this project to cover. While these questions will doubtless undergo further development and change over the coming months, I think they provide a good starting point. This project began with a desire to further explore some of the ground broken in Sheila Brown’s excellent article “The criminology of hybrids: rethinking crime and law in technosocial networks”, in which Brown makes a convincing case for the opportunities which Science and Technology Studies could afford the study of crime and law in high-technology societies. As identified in Majid Yar and David Wall’s work, criminology’s theoretical engagement with cybercrime tends to wrestle with how the features and properties of internet-mediated communication (including the “force multiplier” effect, the paradoxical surveilability and anonymity afforded by online interaction and the disinhibiting effects of online communication) provide new contexts for existing crimes (fraud, harrassment, drug dealing, etc.) and new opportunities for high-tech crimes (“hacking”, Denial of Service, etc.). Clark, Lessig and many others have, however, put forward that the technological properties of the internet we have today were by no means pre-determined, rather they are designed; contingent on the power relationships, values and politics of the context in which they were developed. As such, a criminology which seeks to address the internet as it stands or gain insights into its possible futures should understand the history of its present – the people, processes and mechanisms by which the technologies which make it up came to have the properties they possess.
While bringing concepts from STS into criminological study of cybercrime would be an interesting and worthwhile task in itself, I have elected to carry out a case study centred around one of these qualities – the “surveilability” of online space. Following the relevations of Edward Snowden and others in the past few years, with several pieces of upcoming legislation (including the IP bill in the UK) and a renewed public debate on mass surveillance, questions about the balance between police and state security power and personal liberty and privacy have reached a new prominence. We may well be gearing up for another period analogous to previous “cryptowars” such as that waged in the 1990s – times when these issues of surveillance, encryption and crime undergo fierce public negotiation, challenge and resistance. For this and other reasons, the Tor browser and the community of developers, activists and academics connected to it provide a vital point of coming-together of these negotiations, debates and practices, and it is on this that I wish to focus as the main subject of my research.
My research questions as they currently stand – they will likely evolve over the coming months – are as follows:
- The next cryptowars – key debates and developments in surveillance and resistance, and their implications for anti-surveillance technology
- How are members of the Tor community reacting to the changing character of contemporary state and corporate surveillance?
- How do novel refinements of algorithmic data processing techniques, sophisticated mass data collection and analysis etc. change the nature of their work as anti-surveillance technology developers
- What do they see as the emerging challenges they face – what are the big debates in which they are engaging? How are these debates and discussions conducted?
- How do these values, identities and politics and their deep technical engagement with the technologies of surveillance influence constructions of crime and surveillance; privacy and security, and, in turn, their sense of their role as a community engaged in developing anti-surveillance technology?
- How do these values and politics circulate within the community and between connected communities of activists and advocates?
- How do ideas about crime and surveillance then go on to shape technologies of resistance in high-tech, networked societies?
- How are these ideas and values translated into qualities and properties of the anti-surveillance technologies they develop?