Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content
Religion, Terrorism and Surveillance
February 23, 2005

The second annual Byker Lecture at Calvin College will be on a timely topic: religion, terrorism and current trends in surveillance.

The lecture will be given by David Lyon, a professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and the director of that university's Surveillance Project. His talk will be free and open to all, and will be held March 8 at 7:30 pm at the Meeter Center Lecture Hall.

The talk is sponsored by the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought at Calvin.

Lyon is a world-renowned surveillance expert and author of several books on the topic, including "The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society" and "Surveillance After September 11."

His main area of research and expertise is the sociological consequences and Christian approaches to surveillance in a world in which terrorism and security are on every country's political agenda. Currently Lyon is working on a book on negotiating, resisting and limiting surveillance.

His talk at Calvin will focus on not only surveillance, but also touch on his work in the sociology of religion, seen notably in his books "The Steeple's Shadow: The Myths and Realities of Secularization" and "Jesus in Disneyland: Religion
in Postmodern Times."

Under Lyon's leadership the Surveillance Project at Queen's researches the ways in which personal data are processed and explores such questions as why information about people has become so important in the 21st century and what are the social, political and economic consequences of this trend.

So the Surveillance Project studies everything from supermarket loyalty cards to police networks searching for suspects. But it has a special interest in the surveillance aspects of the post-September 11 quest for tightened security.

"Surveillance," says Lyon, "is not simply about large organizations using sophisticated computer equipment. It is also about how ordinary people - citizens, workers, travelers, and consumers - interact with surveillance. Some comply, others negotiate and yet others resist."

Lyon notes that an increasing number of devices and systems have the capacity to locate and track their users geographically. These include cell phones, navigation systems, RFID chips in clothing or in implants, traffic control systems, anklet tags and wi-fi equipment.

"Personal data," he says, "may now include information about where someone is at a given moment. This is valuable to employers, marketers, travel system operators and law enforcement departments."

In the wake of 9/11, says Lyon, a whole host of new concerns have arisen when it comes to personal privacy and security. Many of these concerns seem simple at first blush, but become significantly more complicated as they are examined more closely.

The Surveillance Project website points to high-tech passports as just one example of the complex world of personal privacy post-9/11.

Such passports would carry information about the traveler in a computer chip embedded in the cardboard cover as well as on its printed pages.

Advocates for the system say it's a necessity in this new age of global terrorism.

But privacy advocates worry that such passports could be read not just by government officials, but could also be "skimmed" by others who would be considerably less benign with the information they would gain.

The Byker Chair and the Byker Lecture are named for former Michigan State Senator Gary Byker (now deceased) and his wife Henrietta, parents of current Calvin president Gaylen Byker.

The Byker Chair's express purpose is to "provide a comprehensive, Reformed Christian approach to the ways in which human interactions and structures are shaped and influenced by the dynamics of creation, the fall, redemption and historical development."