Privacy, surveillance and digital technology
  • University of Plymouth (venue to be confirmed)

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This school outreach event consisting of interactive talks and workshops on social media surveillance, tracking and human rights will focus on both individuals and businesses and will aim to raise pupils’ awareness about data protection, observation, safety and the use of social media. 

The event is aimed at pupils from Year 10 onwards. Professor Andy Phippen and other experts in the field (to be confirmed) will introduce pupils to the complexity of online safety, surveillance and human rights and the way individuals and businesses use digital technology. Raising awareness of these topics is essential as privacy is important and an inherent human right. 

Privacy is a fundamental human right recognised in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties. Privacy underpins human dignity and other key values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. For young and vulnerable people invasion of privacy can mean an breech of their safety. They will lead lives of unprecedented involvement with electronic communication and should learn to incorporate considered, routine safety practices from the start.

The 21st century is a century of collection and distribution of huge amounts of data on ordinary people as well as businesses. The widespread use of social media helps to facilitate the gathering and dissemination of information and surveillance is becoming universal but is conversely increasingly coming to be seen as an essential tool for the preservation of human rights.

Surveillance is usually understood as the purposeful monitoring of individuals by those in authority but more recently so called ‘participatory surveillance a type of surveillance where people willingly keep watch on each other through social media, has become the focus of concern. Surveillance practices go beyond facilitating online social networking to actually constituting voluntary espionage, as users continue to return to the site to update their own profiles, or to stay current on others’ activities. Self-disclosure is at the core of the most popular social media interaction, as users of Facebook, Instagram etc present themselves to the world through the release of information about their preferences, histories, activities and opinions.

Facebook is synonymous with surveillance; information is currency in the digital age, and governments are not the only ones interested in harvesting it. A number of commercial and private organisations and services collect and use the information gathered on social media. For example Facebook (Lee and Cook 2014, as cited in Fulton, J. and Kibby, M. 2017) collects and uses members’ data often without the knowledge of the users, even if they have inadvertently consented to its harvesting.

This event is only open to schools - please contact elena.novakova@plymouth.ac.uk or futurescentre@plymouth.ac.uk if you are interested in attending.

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Today's events

Biography: Elena Novakova

Elena manages and leads enterprise school engagement projects at the Faculty of Business. Over the last four years she has designed and delivered numerous regional projects and enterprising activities aimed at supporting pupils’ interest in business and entrepreneurship. 

She has been awarded funding from the ESRC for the last three years and has successfully delivered outreach events as part of the national Festival of Social Science celebrated annually at the University of Plymouth. Elena has also created many regional school competitions and enterprise days to raise aspiration for higher education. She has many years' experience in teaching and lecturing at every level from preschool and primary to university level. 

She has a degree in International Relations, a Masters in Steiner Philosophy and is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is actively involved in supporting faculty research and international projects.

Biography: Professor Andy Phippen

Andy's research interest lies in the exploration of the use of technology in relationships, online safety and digital resilience and the ethical and professional practices in the IT sector.

Andy has worked with the ethical and social responsibility, and how technology impacts in the social world, with companies such as BT, Google and Facebook. In the last ten years he has specialised in the use of ICT by children and young people, carrying out grassroots research on issues such as sexting, pornography, cyberbullying and online harassment.

Andy's research contribution to online safety for young people is vast, as is his impact on policy. His book Children’s Online Behaviour and Safety: Policy and Rights Challenges was published in October 2017.

About the ESRC Festival of Social Science

(extract from the ESRC* website)

The ESRC Festival of Social Science offers a fascinating insight into some of the country's leading social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future.

You may be surprised at just how relevant the festival's events are to society today. Social science research makes a difference. Discover how it shapes public policy and contributes to making the economy more competitive, as well as giving people a better understanding of 21st century society. From big ideas to the most detailed observations, social science affects us all everyday - at work, in school, when raising children, within our communities, and even at the national level.


Everyone - from schoolchildren to politicians - can take part in and hear about social science research in the festival's many engaging events.

This celebration of the social sciences takes place across the UK - via public debates, conferences, workshops, interactive seminars, film screenings, virtual exhibitions and much more.

Visit the ESRC Festival of Social Science website for more information about the festival.

* ESRC - Economic and Social Research Council.


Event photography and video
Please be aware that some of the University of Plymouth's public events may be attended by University photographers and videographers, for capturing content to be used in University online and offline marketing and promotional materials, for example webpages, brochures or leaflets. If for whatever reason, you or a member of your group, do not wish to be photographed, please make yourself known to staff working at the event on arrival or to the photographer.