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Past Project


The Surveillance project is drawing a map of the different forms and impacts of surveillance online. Funded by the MacArthur Foundation and run in collaboration with our partner institutions from the OpenNet Initiative on Internet filtering, the project will explore the various technical, political, and social issues involved in Internet surveillance through its blog, An Eye on Surveillance, and through a series of upcoming research papers.

As use of the Internet and other digital communication technologies have exploded over the past ten years, the accessibility of information has grown many times over. This increased access to information has been a source of individual empowerment in many, many ways. The Internet facilitates participation in grassroots political campaigns, allows individuals to publish their writing (and music, video, and other media) to the world at virtually no cost, and puts vast stores of data instantly at the fingertips of billions of users.

The flip side of the growth of the Internet is that it makes it much easier for a wide variety of different to collect, process, and search for information about individuals. A wide variety of entities now surveil individuals online in a wide variety of different ways -- by snooping on the network, by collecting information directly about individual Internet activity, by tapping into the vast ocean of data collected about individual Internet usage, by installing snooping software directly on individual computers.

In fact, a central challenge to the study of Internet surveillance is the very large number of different methods, actors, and cases and the number of technical, political, and social impacts of the surveillance. We will address this challenge by undertaking both broad and deep examinations of the subject, writing about both the overall technical landscape and about specific cases of Internet surveillance. In looking at the technical landscape, we will work through the variety of different method and actors to enable us to ask how any given form of Internet surveillance fits on the larger map.

We will look at the traditional forms of surveillance that enable governments to intrusively monitor their own (and other) citizens. We will also look at less traditional forms of surveillance that allow, among many other examples, advertisers to monitor consumers, criminals to monitor their victims, and service providers to monitor their customers. Along these lines we will produce maps of the high level technical and legal landscapes of Internet surveillance; a series of reports on Internet surveillance in individual countries exploring how the local technical, political, and social situations impact the practice of Internet surveillance in each country; and case studies of specific examples of surveillance involving advertising online, cloud computing, malware, and other examples of surveillance.

The project is supported in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Publications 04

Monday, Aug 1, 2011

Online Security in the Middle East and North Africa

A Survey of Perceptions, Knowledge, and Practice

The recent surge in digital activism that has helped to shape the Arab spring has been met with stiff resistance by governments in the region intent on reducing the impact of… More

Thursday, Oct 14, 2010

2010 Circumvention Tool Usage Report

This paper evaluates the usage of blocking-resistant circumvention tools, simple web proxies, and VPN services and finds that overall usage of circumvention tools is still very… More

Thursday, Mar 5, 2009

2007 Circumvention Landscape Report: Methods, Uses, and Tools

A large variety of different projects have developed tools that can be used to circumvent Internet filtering, allowing people in filtered countries access to otherwise filtered… More

Saturday, Dec 27, 2008

The Public and the Private at the United States Border with Cyberspace

In the twenty-first century, a state can come to know more about each of its citizens via surveillance than ever before in human history. Some states are beginning to exercise… More

News 10

Tuesday, Aug 2, 2011

New: Report on Online Security in the Middle East and North Africa

The Berkman Center is pleased to release Online Security in the Middle East and North Africa. This report describes the results of a survey of 98 bloggers in the Middle East and… More

Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011

OpenNet Initiative Releases 2010 Year in Review

The Berkman Center is pleased to share the OpenNet Initiative's annual roundup of "top instances of filtering, surveillance, and information warfare around the globe." 2010's high… More

Monday, Oct 18, 2010

New: Circumvention Tool Usage Report

The Berkman Center releases a new report on the usage of tools for circumventing Internet filtering, which finds that simple web proxies are more widely used than other… More

Thursday, Oct 1, 2009

The OpenNet Initiative reports on Internet filtering in Sub-Saharan Africa

ONI has released new research on Sub-Saharan Africa, including reports on Uganda and Nigeria, where ONI tested for the first time in 2008 and 2009... More

Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009

OpenNet Initiative releases 2009 Middle East & North Africa research

The Berkman Center is pleased to share an announcement from the ONI: the partnership has released new studies of Internet filtering in the Middle East and North Africa. Government… More

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Chinese Internet and Civil Society

Civic Engagement, Deliberation and Culture

The 7th Chinese Internet Research Conference starts today, at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania, and a raft of Berkman researchers and… More

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

Conjuring Conficker and GhostNet

malware in the news

Stories about the Conficker worm have been spreading, worm-like, through both online and offline media, while the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto has documented an… More

Thursday, Mar 5, 2009

Report release: 2007 Circumvention Landscape Report: Methods, Uses, and Tools

The Berkman Center is pleased to make available its report on techniques and tools for circumventing Internet filtering... More

Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009

Data Privacy Day

Today, the US, Canada, and a host of European countries are celebrating the second annual Data Privacy Day. In honor of the Day, we are re-presenting Digital Natives project… More

Friday, Nov 21, 2008

There is no privacy?

This week, over on the newly started "An Eye on Surveillance" blog, the first in a series of posts about egregious privacy intrusions -- "Snooping Browsing History through HTML"... More

Events 01

Dec 23, 2008 @ 12:30 PM

Watching Google AdWords: The Mysterious Mechanization of Meaning in the Google Brain

Hal Roberts

Google's AdWords system serves ads alongside about a quarter of all web traffic. In the process of serving those ads, Google actively processes the user browsing data in order to… More

People 04