Insight award: David Lyon

David Lyon

Insight award:

David Lyon

Queen's University


David Lyon, 2015 Insight Award winner, is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on surveillance and personal data processing. As a research chair and director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's University, Lyon pioneered the study of surveillance, drawing critical attention to the implications of life in a “surveillance society.”

Lyon’s work is global in scope. His projects analyse and assess surveillance practices and processes across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. His findings have been applied by governments and NGOs to protect civil liberties and freedoms, informing decision-making and policy in Canada and internationally.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the United Kingdom’s Academy of Social Sciences, Lyon has received numerous honours and awards for his work. These include a Killam Fellowship from the Canada Council for the Arts, a Career Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association and an Outstanding Contribution Award from the Canadian Sociological Association.

Lyon is also a founding editor of the e-journal Surveillance & Society. He frequently engages in public policy debates across popular media.

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship.

SSHRC’s Insight Award recognizes outstanding achievement by an individual or team whose project has made a significant contribution to knowledge and understanding about people, societies and the world.

2015 Insight Award winner David Lyon shares his thoughts on surveillance research, changes in his field and the role of the social sciences and humanities in shaping Canada’s future:

The study of surveillance—including its social origins and development—is a major theme in your research. What first drew you to this field?

My interest was first piqued when I was researching aspects of the “information society.” As I began to see the potential for the growth of state surveillance using computer databases, I realized this could well become even more important over time.

What aspect of your research is most crucial for Canadians to better understand?

Really, that we're all implicated in surveillance today. The question today is not merely how we might retain our privacy and curb inappropriate or excessive surveillance, but also how we do surveillance—as a society and as individuals—in ways that promote the common good.

What technological developments have had the greatest impact on your work? What are the implications for the future of your field?

In a field like ours, we are obliged to be multi-disciplinary… This involves teamwork—on which I am gratefully dependent—and trying to find mutual understanding. There's little point in assessing surveillance technology developments if we do so without interacting with organizations that actually do large-scale surveillance.