Stories from people affected by surviellance culture

Contribution — leading product strategy, research, prototyping and usability testing, end-to-end design and developement, content strategy.
Context — August 2013 - May 2014, for MFA Thesis at SVA’s Interaction Design.
Details — The thesis was a culmination of exploration, conversations, research and introspection spanning almost one year. Read about my thesis process, or view the prototype and thesis blog posts.




Thesis presentation at OPEN IxD 2014:




Presentation transcription


You are being watching. All the time, everywhere you go, everything you do.


On the street. Online. At live events like this one. We often grant permission to be on the live streams just by attending. But we don't always give our permission to be monitored. Surveillance is ubiquitous, but our understanding of it is limited.

Surveillance can be deeply personal, but we rarely see the personal impact of surveillance, because we don't have a personal relationship with it.

For example, Aditya, like many others, was detained by the TSA last year simply because of his ethnicity. But because we rarely see this kind of impact of surveillance on people, we don't have a personal relationship with it.


Hi, I’m Meghana Khandekar. It's time to change the way we understand surveillance. There are stories we need to know, and those are the stories I want to share.

So, I’ve created Surveillance Stories, a platform to make sense of our surveillance culture. But before we get to exactly how the platform works, I want to show that its important to look at surveillance from these three lenses.


It's important to look at surveillance from these three lenses.


First, our identity is the core of who we are, what we believe, who we affiliate with.

We participate in society based on our set of values. We rely and use public and private services, express our beliefs, vote a certain way. These parts of our identity are personal, but can also be public.

Our collective participation makes up our society. Here, surveillance comes into play when core parts of our identity are used by other actors in society to limit our rights, or discriminate against us. And, privacy invasions and human rights violations — can, and do happen every day.


In fact, United States has one of the highest levels of surveillance.


Who we are, how we participate in society and how society affects us — is all interconnected. Exploring this interconnectivity is the essence of Surveillance Stories.


It features dynamic and annotated stories from ordinary people affected by and participating in surveillance culture.

Nicole’s story is about experiencing privacy violations by a Department of Homeland Security Officer.

Jason’s story is about his work experience as a Transportation Security Administration officer.

Aditya’s story is about being detained at JFK airport for 9 hours, and being denied food and water the entire time.


As you explore Aditya's story, highlighted portions are organized by: Identity, Participation, and Society.

In this highlight, Aditya received a piece of paper from an officer at the beginning of the security line. Unfortunately, it was a way for the TSA to flag him when he got to the security checkpoint.

An annotation is contextual information about the highlight. This one has basic information about The No Fly List, and a way to know more about what happens when you choose to opt out from electronic screening.

This one is about how people who opt out are treated differently.


And another one about the groups of people who are detained most often. As you can see, the focus stays on the story but there are opportunities to look for broader patterns, too.


Aditya’s laptop was also taken away while he was detained. Right now, there is a bill that affects the way our electronics are dealt with at the airport. The platform provides a way to directly contact the representative who proposed that bill.

Learn & Act: Here, the annotations from each story on the platform are grouped in a way that shows similarities between them. We can begin to understand that one person’s circumstance can be very similar to another’s. That surveillance is not an isolated incident that happens to a certain type of person, but to many people. From here, we are also able to take direct action if we feel compelled to, from changing personal behavior, to supporting campaigns and contacting policymakers.


Tell your story: Here, people interested in telling their own story are guided through a series of prompts. The platform then categorizes and annotates their story, which becomes part of the larger narrative.


To recap, Surveillance Stories features ordinary people and their experience with surveillance culture. By listening to the people affected, we will start to understand the world we've built with digital surveillance. The platform parses their story to give a broader and interconnected picture, and also provides ways for us to do something about it.


Starting with just a few people today we can gather more surveillance stories over time. Hundreds, or even thousands. And give people who are directly affected by surveillance culture a voice. A chance to tell their stories. By listening to those people we will start to understand the world we've built with digital surveillance. And then we can decide, together, what we need to change. That is the goal of Surveillance Stories.

Thank you.