Volume 2 issue 2 December 2014
Outsourcing Surveillance–Privatising Policy: Communications Regulation by Commercial Intermediaries
The Snowden revelations of mass online surveillance have provided unprecedented information on state-based surveillance mechanisms. However they have also directed our attention to the role of commercial actors and private intermediaries. Commercial social media platforms are engaged in large-scale data collection and have been at the core of several NSA/GCHQ programmes—sometimes unknowingly, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes willingly.
This article will discuss the role of private actors in surveillance strategies within the wider context of the privatisation of communication policy. It will demonstrate how intermediaries have not only been assigned a greater role in implementing laws and regulations, but have moved towards actively formulating and setting policy that deeply affects freedom of expression and data protection. I will discuss the implications for both legal and democratic processes, highlighting the problem of outsourcing control over key civic rights.
I will situate this emerging authority of commercial actors in broader trends of communication policy that include networked multi-stakeholder processes, standard-setting by technical developers, and civil society practices of developing model laws and regulatory proposals as a form of ‘DIY policy-making’.