Leading the surveillance work at Essex is Professor Peter Fussey, based in our Department of Sociology.
In 2015, Essex launched the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology (HRBDT) project with £4.7 million of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. It is one of the first research programmes in the world to address the overall human rights impact of big data and emerging technologies in a truly interdisciplinary way. Professor Fussey is research director for the project and leads on the research on surveillance.
Together with a colleague, Dr Daragh Murray from our Human Rights Centre and School of Law, Professor Fussey conducted the first and, to date, only independent academic evaluation on the use of live facial recognition (LFR) technology by the Metropolitan Police Service. There were already concerns about the extensive societal impact surrounding the use of this technology and this report evidenced deficiencies in the legal basis and oversight regimes deployed by the Met. The evaluation also covered the relationship between of human discretion and AI-driven decision-making, findings that were recently published and made publicly and freely available in the leading journal, The British Journal of Criminology. The research sparked an international media debate with coverage across major national and international outlets, featuring on BBC Newsnight and US equivalent PBS Newshour, and generated over 300 stories across the world, including BBC Radio 4 (PM and File on 4), BBC News, the front page of the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Times, Le Monde, La Repubblica and Last Week Tonight among others.
Professor Fussey has established a working relationship with the Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office (IPCO) – which oversees the work of more than 600 public agencies in the UK and is primarily focused on the covert surveillance activities of UK intelligence agencies. Via a series of Essex – IPCO workshops, specific problems concerning surveillance oversight in the digital age, and how sociological research and human rights scholarship can inform the oversight of such practices, were discussed.
Professor Fussey now leads the human rights strand of a national strategy for surveillance oversight on behalf of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. His task is to scope out issues of human rights and ethics surrounding the use of overt surveillance, which is reported by the Commissioner and laid before Parliament on an annual basis. Most recently, the LFR research has informed national guidance for police uses of overt surveillance systems using facial recognition technology.
Over a number of years, Professor Fussey has positioned himself as one of the world’s ‘go-to’ academics when it comes to surveillance oversight. He has put himself at the heart of policy and practice formulation, working with organisations and individuals at the sharpest end of this emerging, but increasingly necessary, policy field.