Surveillance and identity: conceptual framework and formal models

Victoria Wang, John V. Tucker

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Surveillance is recognised as a social phenomenon that is commonplace, employed by governments, companies and communities for a wide variety of reasons. Surveillance is fundamental in cybersecurity as it provides tools for prevention and detection; it is also a source of controversies related to privacy and freedom. Building on general studies of surveillance, we identify and analyse certain concepts that are central to surveillance. To do this we employ formal methods based on elementary algebra. First, we show that disparate forms of surveillance have a common structure and can be unified by abstract mathematical concepts. The model shows that (i) finding identities and (ii) sorting identities into categories are fundamental in conceptualising surveillance. Secondly, we develop a formal model that theorizes identity as abstract data that we call identifiers. The model views identity through the computational lens of the theory of abstract data types. We examine the ways identifiers depend upon each other; and show that the provenance of identifiers depends upon translations between systems of identifiers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-158
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Cybersecurity
Issue number3
Early online date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2017


  • surveillance
  • social sorting
  • identity
  • abstract data types
  • formal methods
  • RCUK
  • EP/N028139/1
  • EP/N027825/1


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  • Theorising monitoring: algebraic models of web monitoring in organisations

    K., J., Tucker, J. V. & Wang, V., 8 Dec 2017, (Early online) Recent Trends in Algebraic Development Techniques. Springer, p. 13-35 23 p. (Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS); vol. 10644).

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