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16.05.2020 13:59 Alter: 13 days

Ethical Governance of Surveillance Technologies in Times of Crisis

Call for Papers

Theme: Ethical Governance of Surveillance Technologies in Times of Crisis
Subtitle: Global Challenges and Divergent Perspectives
Type: A Multi-Session and Online Conference
Institution: Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges, Utrecht University
Location: Online
Date: 30.10./5.11.2020
Deadline: 15.7.2020

The Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges invites submissions for this
interdisciplinary online workshop examining how crises and
crisis-narratives interact with the ongoing transformation in the
governance of surveillance technologies in different parts of the
world. This event is organised by the research platform on Disrupting
Technological Innovation? Towards an Ethical and Legal Framework
within Utrecht University’s Centre for Global Challenges:


The increasing sophistication and globalisation of surveillance
technologies has intensified concerns about whether existing
governance structures and human rights principles provide adequate
protections for individuals. At the same time, the urgent need for
effective coordination of responses to global crises has strengthened
calls for solutions that rely heavily on surveillance technologies.
Faced with these conflicting concerns, many states are increasingly
invoking ‘extraordinary circumstances’ to legitimate the heightened
surveillance of individuals. But there are profound differences
between and within countries in how much weight is given to appeals
to crises.

The Covid–19 pandemic provides a particularly compelling illustration
of this constellation of issues raised at the intersection of
surveillance technology, divergent perspectives, and crisis
narratives. Taking the Covid–19 pandemic as a point of departure, the
workshop will emphasise a comparative approach to this intersection
of issues – including comparisons with the role of surveillance
technologies in other global crises – with special emphasis on
divergent perspectives from across the globe.

One of the defining characteristics of the Covid–19 pandemic has been
the heightened awareness of the extent to which one’s behaviour can
have dramatic effects on others. In order to change behaviour and
monitor threats, governments around the world are taking a number of
‘emergency’ measures within, or even outside, existing legal
frameworks. Contact tracing via smartphones is one prominent example
of surveillance technology being used either to produce behaviour
change or monitor compliance or both.

Typically, these measures are presented as temporary. Yet it is
widely known that some of the governmental responses to previous
crises have been normalised and perpetuated. A similar concern arises
with governmental responses to the Covid–19 pandemic and other global
crises. But the ethical governance surveillance technology is merely
a matter of protecting the individual actors from government
interference with privacy. Private actors also need to be held
accountable. As the UN’s Special Rapporteur David Kaye articulated in
his report entitled ‘Surveillance and Human Rights,’ in the
development and use of digital surveillance tools, public and private
sectors are close collaborators. Such public-private collaboration
regarding digital surveillance can be even intensified during the
times of crisis.

While the Covid–19 pandemic is a global crisis, governments differ in
terms of how they intend to track individuals’ movement and data.
This variance gives rise to a further question of the varied
acceptability of digital surveillance among different societies. As
the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation
acknowledged its June 2019 report, concepts and expectations of
privacy ‘differ across cultures and societies,’ Different
justifications can be readily put forward in balancing individuals’
privacy against other interests during the times of crisis.

The workshop will examine various national and regional initiatives
taken in response to Covid–19 pandemic in order to collect, store,
analyse, and transfer individuals’ data. The workshop will take a
comparative approach, so that we can compare some of the responses to
the pandemic to those of previous so-called crises.

The Workshop Format

In order to facilitate participation from a wide range of global
perspectives, the workshop will take place online during two
sessions: Friday 30 October (9:00 – noon, Central European Time) and
Thursday 5 November 2020 (14:30–17:30, CET). Each interactive session
will include presentations, discussions in breakout groups, and
plenary panel discussion, integrating input from the breakout

Workshop Themes

We welcome papers that address one (or more) of the following
thematic perspectives:

- Politics and science: What are the roles of expertise and
 scientific narrative in changing the use of surveillance
 technologies in times of crisis?
- Human rights and ethics: How can human rights and/or ethics provide
 effective limits to the governance of surveillance technologies in
 times of crisis?
- Language and culture: What roles, if any, do cultural and/or
 linguistic factors play in the use of surveillance technologies in
 times of crisis?

In addressing one (or more) of the aforementioned thematic
perspectives, we welcome papers that engage with some of the
following aspects of governance in times of crisis:

- Institutional design for resilience
- Regulation in emergency powers
- Enforcement of emergency powers
- Exit strategies; transition back to a (new) normal
- Comparative aspects in terms of global crisis response (from
 terrorism to climate change)

We particularly encourage submissions from researchers and
practitioners from the broadly defined Global South. 

Submission of Abstracts and the Timeline

Abstracts for working papers should include a description of 300–500
words and institutional affiliation(s) of the author(s). The abstract
should be submitted by 15 July 2020 and include:

- Title of the paper
- Research question(s)
- Methodology and/or overall line of argument
- Expected findings, conclusions, and/or recommendations

Submissions should cover work that has not been previously published.

Abstracts should be submitted in PDF format to via the following
Dropbox ‘Request link’:

(Abstracts will be deleted once the programme is set. Only the
organisers can see your submission.)

Selected participants will be informed by 31 July 2020. At the
workshop, the invited authors should give a presentation based on a
working paper of 3,000–5,000 words (excluding references) that will
be submitted by 16 October 2020 for distribution to the other
participants. (Possibilities for publishing selected final papers in
a special journal symposium or an edited volume will be discussed at
a later date.)

For questions, please contact:
Joel Anderson (
Machiko Kanetake (
Lucky Belder (

PDF version available for download here: