Surveillance, Power and Everyday Life ( Oxford Handbook of Information and Communication Technolgies)
Although as a set of practices it’s as old as history itself, systematic surveillance became a routine and inescapable part of everyday life in modern times and is now, more often than not, dependent on information and communication technologies (ICTs). Indeed, it now makes some sense to talk of ‘surveillance societies,’ so pervasive is organizational monitoring of many kinds. Fast developing technologies combined with new governmental and commercial strategies mean that new modes of surveillance proliferate, making surveillance expansion hard to follow, let alone analyse or regulate. In the past three decades traffic in personal data has expanded explosively, touching numerous points of everyday life and leading some to proclaim the ‘end of privacy’. But while questions of privacy are both interesting and important (see Raab, this volume ), others that relate to the ways in which data are used for ‘social sorting’, discriminating between groups who are classified differently, also need urgently to be examined. Who has the power to make such discriminatory judgements, and how this becomes embedded in automated systems, is a matter of not merely academic interest. Such questions are likely to be with us for some time, both because of what might be called the ‘rise of the safety state’ that requires more and more surveillance, and also because the politics of personal information is becoming increasingly prominent.
ICTs are utilized to increase the power, reach and capacity of surveillance systems. The specific kind of surveillance discussed here is perhaps the fastest growing and almost certainly the most controversial, namely the processing of personal data for the purposes of care or control, to influence or manage persons and populations. In this and every other respect, power relations are intrinsic to surveillance processes. This being so, it immediately becomes apparent that actual ‘watching over’ is not really the main issue, or at least not literally. While CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) surveillance certainly does have a watching element, other kinds of ICT-enabled surveillance include the processing of all kinds of data, images and information. Ones of which we are most aware include the multiple checks which we go through at an airport, from the initial ticketing information and passport check through to baggage screening and the ID and ticket check at the gate. In this example, both public (governmental; customs and immigration) and private (commercial; airlines and frequent flyer clubs) data are sought. Others of which we may be less consciously aware include ‘loyalty cards’ at supermarkets and other stores, which offer discounts and member privileges, but that are simultaneously the means of garnering consumer data from shoppers.