Securityhas always been touted as one of the most fundamental aspects of thehuman society. Indeed, it is always acknowledged that the deficiencyof security also affects individuals’ capacity to enjoy otherrights such as the right to live and pursue one’s happiness. Itgoes without saying that recent times have, unfortunately, facedimmense challenges as far as safeguarding the safety of individualsis concerned. Indeed, there is an increase in the number andmagnitude of threats from varied sources including crime, terrorismand drugs. This has necessitated that law enforcement agenciesviolate one of the most fundamental rights of individuals privacy.Indeed, it is well acknowledged that varied criminal and legal eventshave necessitated a reevaluation of the balance that exists betweenthe protection of civil privacy and police surveillance authority.This is especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, whichhas seen modifications in the court and federal law interpretationsof safeguards of privacy, with technological advances expanding thecircumstances and techniques under which the police can undertakesurveillance of civil activities. Scholars note that the UnitedStates courts and lawmakers have reacted to perceived crime andglobal terrorism threats through changing the established protectionsof civil privacy in the aegis of enforcement of preventive law,thereby providing the police with broader powers for surveillance.This has resulted in the transformation of the surveillance practicesand operational approaches of the police to concentrate more onintelligence and information gathering.
However,scholars have underlined the relationship between surveillance andcontrol. Michael Foucault, when providing his opinion pertaining todiscipline and power in panopticism explained the measures that thestate took in an effort to control the plague. These included forcedseparation and quarantine, which have been the foundation of a largeproportion of discipline evident at that time (Foucault, 1995, pp.33). He also draws attention to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which,essentially was a tower placed at the center of the room that thathad vision to each cell. This panopticon was mainly used in prisons.However, he draws a connection between the use of surveillance andeconomics by stating that that the panopticon, as the ultimatemechanism for discipline, was simply an instrument that enhanced theeconomic nature, efficiency and proficiency of the discipline(Foucault, 1995, pp. 34). On the same note, the panopticon was theepitome of control and power as it reduced the number of people thatwere required to operate while maximizing the people over who itwatched. The key difference between the separation and quarantinestrategies that were used in the plague and the panopticon is thefact that the later is primarily used to gain control over subjectsthrough the power of seeing.
Foucaultsees the surveillance not in terms of cameras but in the form ofinstitutions that such as schools, corporations, police stations,jobs and hospitals, as well as a political and economic system thatis surrounding the state as the central point. An individual willnever really run away from the influence and control of theseinstitutions no matter where he or she goes as he will be watched andcontrolled by the norms espoused by these institutions and,consequently, the government.
JamesC. Scott, in “Seeinglike a State”seems to take on this view and states that the capacity of nations toundertake functions of conscription, aversion of rebellion andtaxation was hindered by the fact that they knew little about theirsubjects, landholdings, yields, wealth, location, or even theiridentity. This made a large number of its interventionsself-defeating and crude (Scott,1998,pp. 37).The state eventually got a handle of its subjects, as well as theirenvironment through the creation of a standard grid where they couldcentrally record and monitor the activities and trends of theirsubjects (Scott,1998,pp. 37).
MarkAndrejevic, however, steers this discussion by stating that it is nolonger about the information that is collected about individuals buthow the information is used, the capacity to sell it, transfer it anduse it to undertake marketing experiments and make it the foundationof advertising appeals (Andrejevic,2009, pp. 37).He states that the addressability and portability of personalizedinteractive devices has allowed marketers to obtain detailedinformation and use it in making targeted forms of manipulation andadvertising (Andrejevic,2009, pp. 37).For instance, as much as medical information of individuals may beprivate and confidential in a larger number of contexts, surveillanceallows for the monitoring of information that people search foronline, thereby contributing to their personal marketing profilesalongside the increasingly detailed information pertaining to theircommunication practices, consumption, whereabouts and socialrelationships (Andrejevic,2009, pp. 38).
However,questions have been raised about the importance of surveillance orrather the reasons why the phenomenon has become such a prevalentelement in the contemporary life.
First,surveillance allows for the deterrence of criminal activities. Thishas particularly been evident in retail stores where shoppers knowthat they are under constant watch in which case they cannot attemptto shoplift. Indeed, research shows that the increased installationof surveillance cameras has allowed for a reduction in criminalactivities especially those that involve car theft on public streets,muggings in public parking lots and store break-ins.
Inaddition, surveillance comes in handy in the maintenance of recordsand bringing to book individuals who may have engaged in acts thatput public safety and security at risk. Videos and images that CCTVcamera systems capture are usually recorded and stored in a database,thereby allowing for quick retrieval should the need arise. Indeed,these have been extremely crucial in the maintenance of records andresolving crimes (Schiller, 2007). Such was the case for Bostonbombings in which authorities only needed to sift through volumes offootage taken from government surveillance cameras, images thatbystanders shot and private security cameras to determine the realculprits. It is well noted that the investigators took only 3 days torelease images of the two suspects that had been taken by camerasystems of a departmental store. This may be compared (or rathercontrasted) with the London bombings in 2005 when thousands ofinvestigators spent weeks to look for and peruse the closed-circuittelevision cameras after the attacks (Schiller, 2007, pp. 27).Security cameras often incorporate object detection and facerecognition strategy, which the police can use to detect unattendedpackages or even track individuals and people that are moving via 1.7square miles.
Onthe same note, surveillance can play an immense role in theprevention of criminal activities. Complex surveillance camerasystems that operate through complicated web of stations andcomponents have been extremely effective in easing communitypolicing. This is the case for the Chicago camera system whosenetworking component is the medium through which images and videofrom varied levels of policing is shared and integrated. For each ofthe levels, monitors have the capacity to view multiple screens withreal-time footage and images from cameras positioned all over thecity (Schiller, 2007, pp. 67). Of particular note is the fact thatmonitors look for activities that are suspicious, which may show thata crime will take place or is taking place, information that isrelayed to the responding officers. Sting operations or calls forservice also employ active monitoring where surveillance cameras canrelay details pertaining to a crime scene prior to the arrival ofofficers (Trippi, 2004, pp. 55). Information may include the safestapproach route, presence of weapons, as well as the number anddescriptions of suspects. Active monitoring has also come in handy inthe protection of undercover officers.
Whymass surveillance may be problematic
Oneof the key problems pertaining to mass surveillance revolves aroundthe loss or invasion of privacy. Every person has a right to privacyas guaranteed in the United States constitution. Individuals like toknow that they can go to places and do things that the governmentdoes not need to know (Terranova, 2000, pp. 44). Unfortunately, theuse of mass surveillance can allow cameras from different locationsto be linked together at one point or another, and with theapplication of facial recognition on the back end, it would bepossible track people in every place they go. This is an intrusioninto the privacy and the rights of people. As much as there exist noconstitutional mandate assuring individual privacy, courts haveinterpreted individual privacy as an inherent right that all citizenspossess (Benkler, 2006, pp. 41). This has made expectationspertaining to personal privacy to be a cornerstone for American law,with the doctrine spawning significant body of case and statutorylaws. American citizens, as a component of larger protections ofcivil liberty, have legal safeguards against the surveillance oftheir private lives by the police.
Onthe same note, surveillance systems are susceptible to criminal andinstitutional abuse, not to mention the enhancement of discriminatorytargeting. There have been instances where undesirable policies areset right at the top with an entire law enforcement system beingturned to abusive ends. This has especially been the case ininstances of intense conflict and social turmoil over governmentpolicies (Benkler, 2006, pp. 42). For example, during the Vietnam Warof the Civil Rights Movement, the FBI alongside numerous other policedepartments across the country carried out illegal operations to spyon and harass individuals that were challenging the Vietnam War andracial segregation. systems have also been prone tocriminal abuse, especially considering the prevalence of rogueofficers in law enforcement agencies, who are likely to be tempted tomisuse the systems. A case in point is a 1997 incident when atop-ranking law enforcement officer in Washington, DC used policedatabases that to obtain information pertaining to patrons in a gayclub (Terranova, 2000, pp. 48). The officer would examine the licenseplate numbers for the cars parked in the club, carry out a researchon the owners of the vehicles and use the information to blackmailmarried patrons. Similarly, research has shown that such surveillancesystems may be used by male officers in stalking women, trackingestranged spouses and even threaten motorists subsequent to trafficaltercations.
Andrejevic,M (2009). Privacy,Exploitation, And The Digital Enclosure.Amsterdam Law Forum, Vol. 1, No 4
Scott,J. C. (1998). Seeinglike a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition havefailed.New Haven, Conn: Yale Univ. Press.
Foucault,M (1995). Disciplineand Punish: The Birth of the Prison,Translated by Alan Sheridan 1977. Second Vintage Edition. New York:Vintage Press
Schiller,D. (2007). Howto think about information.Chicago: University of Illinois
Terranova,T. (2000). Free labor: Producing culture for the digital economy.SocialText63, 33–57 Press
Benkler,Y. (2006). The wealthof networks.New Haven: Yale University Press.
Trippi,J. (2004). Therevolution will not be televised.New York: Regan Books.