New Call for Papers: Visual Data as Accountability, Resistance, and Surveillance

I am happy to announce a new call for papers for an upcoming special (paper) symposium section of Law & Social Inquiry. I am co-editing the special issue with Sarah Brayne (UT-Austin, Sociology) and Karen Levy (Cornell, Information Science). LSI is a respected law and society journal sponsored by the American Bar Foundation and published quarterly by Wiley. The call follows (and is available as a PDF).

Call for Papers (abstracts due August 10, 2016)

Visual Data as Accountability, Resistance, and Surveillance

 For a special issue of Law & Social Inquiry (Journal links: Wiley | American Bar Foundation)

Edited by: Sarah Brayne (UT-Austin), Karen E. C. Levy (Cornell), and Bryce Clayton Newell (Tilburg)


The capture, analysis, and dissemination of visual data—including video (with or without audio), photographs, and other visual recordings—has become ubiquitous. Facilitated by digitization, globalization, and the proliferation of mobile media, visual data is transforming the documentation of activities in a wide range of contexts, including policing, legal adjudication, war, human rights struggles, and civic action. Visual data is being collected by state actors and individual citizens, each often documenting the actions of the other. The use of this data as evidence (both inside and outside formal legal proceedings) raises significant issues related to privacy and ethics, authentication and credibility, interpretation, inequality, power, and legibility. Law is implicated at both the point of recording (or documentation) and during downstream activities, such as when recordings are shared or posted online, publicly disclosed under freedom of information laws, or introduced into evidence during legal proceedings.

Different technologies afford different viewpoints. Visual data constitutes a unique form of information that presents emergent legal and policy questions because of its technical form and social effects. The mobilization of visual data can shape and reshape public opinion, representation, suppression, visibility, inequality, and admissibility of evidence; it can serve to incriminate or exonerate. Visual evidence can legitimize certain accounts of events while calling others into question. And, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, more people can capture video and photographs than ever before, at a moment’s notice, simply by pulling out their phones—and can distribute them instantaneously, creating visual records of all types of behaviors and conflicts, from confrontations between citizens and police to political gaffes, from sex tapes to dashboard camera footage of traffic-related events. The recent adoption of police body cameras and the use of video by bystanders as a tool for inverse surveillance demonstrate our increasing reliance on video as a check on power, as well as a source of ostensible authority when accounts about “what really happened” are in conflict. At the same time, the crucial role of interpretation suggests video is not as much of an “objective observer” or independent witness as it is sometimes claimed to be, and visual evidence may have unforeseen implications for weighing evidence in civil or criminal cases—or in the court of public opinion.

Permissive freedom of information laws in some jurisdictions have also led to recordings made by the police ending up on websites like YouTube—alongside myriad channels of police misconduct videos filmed by citizens. All of this footage increases the secondary visibility of those captured in recordings, and the video itself can also be analyzed as (potentially) a new form of big data. Audio and video streams contain biometric information that can be detected, analyzed, and compared against existing databases—while also adding new data to these databases in the process.

The creation, dissemination, mediation, interpretation, and quantification of visual data are all fundamentally social processes. From citizen video of police (mis)conduct to the visual documentation of human rights abuses, the process of transforming material experience into digital evidence can facilitate accountability or resistance. These citizen-led forms of surveillance also function as forms of resistance to more panoptic forms of state-sponsored video collection and surveillance (e.g. camera-enabled drones, CCTV cameras). On the other hand, police-worn body cameras also act as an accountability mechanism, even though they face away from officers and collect evidence about—and document the conduct of—civilians. These forms of mobile, user-controlled cameras significantly alter earlier reliance on more static and passive video collection.

As technological developments far outpace empirical research on—and legal regulation of—visual data, this special paper symposium in Law & Social Inquiry will provide an opportunity to highlight new empirical work with connections to law and policy, serve as a venue to build theory about a rapidly changing subject, and showcase research relevant to a variety of stakeholders—including lawyers, judges, law enforcement, legislators and policymakers, activists and civil and human rights organizations, technologists, and academics in a variety of fields.

We welcome contributions that present original empirical research; offer conceptual, critical, or theoretical analyses; or address the unique legal, ethical, and policy questions implicated by visual documentation. We welcome scholarly contributions that come from—or that cross—academic disciplines such as sociology, law, information science, anthropology, science and technology studies, criminology, geography, communications and media studies, and computer science.

We encourage submissions addressing (but not limited to) such subjects as:

  • Body-worn cameras, dashcams, policing practices
  • Citizen video/video as human rights advocacy
  • Covert and overt recording
  • Video as surveillance and sousveillance
  • Resistance to and avoidance of audio or visual surveillance
  • Design and regulation of audio or visual surveillance systems
  • Unanticipated consequences of audio or visual records
  • Use and interpretation of audio or video as evidence in legal proceedings
  • Data storage, access, and retention policies
  • Algorithmic practices of metadata extraction from video content
  • Image processing
  • Technical means of privacy preservation and authentication
  • Audio and video analytics and forensics
  • Audio and video redaction and privacy concerns
  • Live streaming
  • Video/audio and public opinion
  • Voyeurism, victimhood, and the ethics of viewing
  • Affective aspects of video
  • Embedding human values into the design of video-related technologies or systems (e.g. value sensitive design or privacy by design)
  • Implications for inequality
  • Facial recognition or other forms of biometrics enabled by audio or visual documentation and recording

Deadlines and anticipated timeline:

  • Initial abstract submission deadline (~ 500 words):August 10, 2016 
  • Authors notified of (tentative) acceptance:August 30, 2016
  • Full papers due (based on accepted abstracts):December 1, 2016
  • Papers sent out for peer-review: mid-December, 2016
  • Reviews returned to authors (with editorial decisions): expected, Feb.-Mar. 2017
  • Publication in 2017

Specifics about submissions:

Initial abstracts should contain approximately 500 words. Subsequent full paper submissions should contain fewer than 10,000 words (including footnotes and citations), and should contain a 200-word abstract and biographical information about the authors on a cover page. Invited full paper submissions will undergo formal double-blind peer review, which is expected to take between 1 and 3 months (submissions that are not selected for peer-review will be released back to the authors quickly). All submissions should be submitted in editable Word (*.doc/x) or *.rtf formats, and should adhere to the formatting and citation requirements of Law & Social Inquiry (available at

All submissions should be sent to the editors via email to Please do not submit to this special call via the regular Law & Social Inquiry journal submission portal.

Additional questions may be sent to the editors at the same address.

My 2016 Meta-Ranking of Flagship US Law Reviews @PrawfsBlawg

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman has just posted my 2016 Meta-Ranking of Flagship US Law Reviews (thanks Howard!). Read the post I wrote and see the rankings HERE.

I decided to create a meta-ranking of the possible contenders for gauging the relative importance of journals: US News Overall Ranking (averaged from 2010-2017), US News Peer Reputation Ranking (also averaged from 2010-2017), W&L Combined Ranking (at default weighting; 2007-2014), and Google Scholar Metrics law journal rankings (averaging the h-index and h-median of each journal, as proposed here by Robert Anderson). I’ve ranked each journal within each ranking system, averaged these four ranks using a 25% weighting for each, and computed and ranked the final scores. I think this approach benefits from incorporating a couple different forms of impact evaluation (W&L + Google) while not disregarding the general sentiment that law school “prestige” (USN combined rank + peer reputation rank, each averaged over an 8-year period) is an important factor in law review placement decisions.

Below is a graphical representation of the correlation between my “meta-ranking” (top 149 journals) and these four other ranking systems:

MetaRank correlations

I have also calculated the Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient for the MetaRank versus each of the four underlying rankings (for schools ranked in the top 100 in the table above):

USN USNpr Google WLU
MetaRank 0.913 0.930 0.867 0.902

I would love to get feedback about whether you think there is any usefulness to doing this in this way, whether you would suggest alternative weightings, different combinations of rankings, or if I have overlooked something (entirely possible, as I was paying more attention to your comments on the Angsting Thread than anything else when I put this together), etc. If it seems that folks are interested and that this might be useful, I can also post full ranking (I’ve ranked 194 journals). I am also working on an attempt to evaluate equivalencies between specialty journals and general ones, and I’m happy to take suggestions or share my initial thoughts on doing that if you’d like to get in touch.

Paper accepted to U. Penn. J. Int’l Law!

A paper I co-authored with my colleagues at TILT (Bert-Jaap Koops, Tjerk Timan, Ivan Škorvánek, Tomislav Chokrevski, and Maša Galič), entitled “A Typology of Privacy“, has been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law. We workshopped an earlier version of this paper at the Privacy Law Scholar’s Conference (PLSC) in 2015. I think this paper makes a significant contribution to the privacy literature and I’m really proud of what our team was able to accomplish here. The paper is available at SSRN.

Privacy Typology

The abstract is here:

Despite the difficulty of capturing the nature and boundaries of privacy, it is important to conceptualize it. Some scholars develop unitary theories of privacy in the form of a unified conceptual core; others offer classifications of privacy that make meaningful distinctions between different types of privacy. We argue that the latter approach is underdeveloped and in need of improvement. In this paper, we propose a typology of privacy that is more systematic and comprehensive than any existing model.

Our typology is developed, first, by a systematic analysis of constitutional protections of privacy in nine jurisdictions: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia. This analysis yields a broad overview of the types of privacy that constitutional law seeks to protect. Second, we have studied literature from privacy scholars in the same nine jurisdictions, in order to identify the main dimensions along which privacy can be classified. Our analysis led us to structure types of privacy in a two-dimensional mode, consisting of eight basic types of privacy (bodily, intellectual, spatial, decisional, communicational, associational, proprietary, and behavioral privacy), with an overlay of a ninth type (informational privacy) that overlaps, but does not coincide, with the eight basic types.

Because of the comprehensive and large-scale comparative nature of the analysis, this paper offers a fundamental contribution to the theoretical literature on privacy. Our typology can serve as an analytic and explanatory model that helps to understand what privacy is, why privacy cannot be reduced to informational privacy, how privacy relates to the right to privacy, and how the right to privacy varies, but also corresponds, across a broad range of countries..

Paper accepted to Indiana Law Journal!

My new paper, “Collateral Visibility: Police Body Cameras, Public Disclosure, and Privacy,” on body-worn camera adoption, privacy, and public access to BWC footage has been accepted by the Indiana Law Journal!  The draft (which is undergoing an update) is available on SSRN ( All comments, corrections, etc. are welcome.

The abstract follows:

Law enforcement use of body-worn cameras has recently become a subject of significant public and scholarly debate. This article presents the findings from an empirical examination of the legal and social implications of body-worn camera adoption by two police departments in Washington State. In particular, this study focuses on the public disclosure of body-worn camera footage under Washington State’s Public Records Act (PRA), provides an analysis of state privacy and access to information law, and presents empirical findings related to officer attitudes towards—and perceptions of—the impact of these laws on their work, their own personal privacy, and the privacy of the citizens they serve. The law in Washington State requires law enforcement agencies to disclose substantial amounts of footage, and options for withholding footage based on privacy grounds are very limited under the PRA and recent Washington State Supreme Court case law. Additionally, broad public records requests for body-worn camera footage have posed significant problems for civilian privacy. Police officers report strong concerns about public disclosure of their footage, largely because of the potential for such footage to impact civilian privacy interests, and officers also report high levels of disagreement with the current requirements to disclose most footage to any member of the public. However, officers are supportive of limited access policies that would allow individuals connected to an incident to obtain footage. This article concludes by making a normative argument for restricting public access to some body-worn camera footage on privacy grounds while still preserving adequate space for robust civilian oversight and police accountability.

My piece @ Slate Magazine: Body-Worn Cameras, Transparency, and the US Border Patrol

I’ve written a piece for Slate Magazine’s Future Tense section, entitled Body-Worn Cameras Alone Won’t Bring Transparency to the Border Patrol, where I argue that the US Customs and Border Protection agency’s historical lack of transparency suggests that without good policies, the cameras will become another tool for surveillance.  

Adopting body-worn cameras as part of a larger project to make the agency more transparent and accountable is potentially a step in the right direction. But without the implementation of proper policies for camera use and public disclosure of footage, it won’t do much to overcome the agency’s historical lack of transparency and its general resistance to releasing video footage to the public. Unless CBP commits to greater transparency and external oversight as part of its body-worn camera program, the cameras may become just another tool of government surveillance wielded by the state without adequate oversight.

Check out the whole piece here.

Paper accepted to Surveillance & Society!

A paper I co-authored with Ricardo Gomez and Veronica Guajardo, entitled “Sensors, Cameras, and the New ‘Normal’ in Clandestine Migration: How Undocumented Migrants Experience Surveillance at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” has just been accepted to Surveillance & Society. I’m really proud of this paper and the research we put into this project, which was funded by the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund. Get a pre-press PDF here.

The abstract is here:

This paper presents findings from an exploratory qualitative study of the experiences and perceptions of undocumented (irregular) migrants to the United States with various forms of surveillance in the borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico.  Based on fieldwork conducted primarily in a migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico, we find that migrants generally have a fairly sophisticated understanding about U.S. Border Patrol surveillance and technology use and that they consciously engage in forms of resistance or avoidance.  Heightened levels of border surveillance may be deterring a minority of migrants from attempting immediate future crossings, but most interviewees were undeterred in their desire to enter the U.S., preferring to find ways to avoid government surveillance.  Furthermore, migrants exhibit a general lack of trust in the “promise” of technology to improve their circumstances and increase their safety during clandestine border-crossing—often due to fears that technology use makes them vulnerable to state surveillance, tracking, and arrest.

Chapter published in new book: Privacy, Security and Accountability

A paper I authored, entitled “Mass Surveillance, Privacy, and Freedom: A Case for Public Access to Government Surveillance Information“,  is now out in the new book Privacy, Security and Accountability: Ethics, Law and Policy published by Rowman & Littlefield International  and edited by Adam D. Moore. RLI | Amazon

The book also includes contributions from Adam D. Moore and Michael A. Katell, Anita Allen, Helen Nissenbaum, James Stacey Taylor,  Judith Wagner DeCew, Dorota Mokrosinska, Annabelle Lever, Kay Mathieson, Kenneth Einar Himma, Alan Rubel,  and Nadine Strossen.

Privacy, Security and Accountability
Privacy, Security and Accountability (Rowman & Littlefield Int’l, 2015)

Paper accepted at The Information Society!

My paper, Information Seeking, Technology Use, and Vulnerability among Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border, written with Ricardo Gomez and Verónica Guajardo, has just been accepted at The Information Society (a well-respected multidisciplinary journal published by Taylor and Francis). The paper’s abstract is below:

Information Seeking, Technology Use, and Vulnerability among Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Bryce Clayton Newell, Ricardo Gomez, and Verónica E. Guajardo

Through interviews with migrants and migrant aid-workers at a shelter in the border town of Nogales, Mexico, we examine how undocumented migrants are seeking, acquiring, understanding, and using information prior to, and during, migration across the U.S.-Mexico border. Our study examines migrants’ perceptions of humanitarian service and the use of so-called “border disturbance technologies” by activists to help prevent the death of migrants in the desert, finding that migrants appreciate water-caching efforts but generally distrust technologies they feel could subject them to surveillance by border agents. Exploratory in nature and based on a small sample, our findings are not necessarily representative of the broader population, but provide rich evidence of the prevalence of word-of-mouth information seeking and use of cell phones over other information technologies, and explore the ambivalent nature of information technology use in the vulnerable setting of life at the border. In particular, we find that mobile phones help migrants meet their communication needs, but also increase their exposure to crime and abuse.