Upcoming talk focusing on Algorithmic Surveillance

The next IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group event will take place on Thursday 24 March at 2pm in Room B.L03, Old College. Dr Maria Helen Murphy from Maynooth University will give a talk on the following topic:

Algorithmic Surveillance: The Collection Conundrum

A concern with the use of algorithmic surveillance in the investigation of terrorism is the potential for ‘false positives’. Due to the relative rarity of terrorist attacks, pattern searching for terrorist activity is liable to error.[1]  In a climate of heightened fear, false positives can have tremendously negative effects on the targeted individuals and can constitute a significant waste of resources. This may lead us to the troubling conclusion that better data equals more data. Or as famously put by a former Director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, ‘you need the haystack to find the needle’.[2]
Increased processing power and more finely-tuned algorithms are often portrayed as the solution to the haystack conundrum. While a human may struggle with an overflowing haystack, powerful computers can take a logical and structured approach that will make the haystack eminently more searchable. The many risks of algorithmic profiling have been discussed extensively elsewhere. In her paper, Dr Murphy confronts the problem of initial collection and addresses the contention that well-defined algorithmic search can effectively limit the intrusiveness of surveillance. Evolution in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union will be factored into this analysis.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome.


[1] Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath (WW Norton & Company, 2015) 135-136.
[2] Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani , ‘NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally’ Washington Post (14 October 2013) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-collects-millions-of-e-mail-address-books-globally/2013/10/14/8e58b5be-34f9-11e3-80c6-7e6dd8d22d8f_story.html>.