CCTV: surveillance or safety?

Technology has simplified people's lives, from the way they get their grocery shopping to the payment of bills and the purchase of a plane ticket. Even though they have various advantages for convenience, such as apps for everything and CCTV for public safety, people are aware that they are being monitored at every move, but do not realize to what extent. The state imposes the surveillance over their lives by observing their activities and collecting their personal information with their consent. However, life's control is ignored by participants for reasons of desiring the safety that is offered to them. People are adjusting their behavior to meet the order standards set by the “'all-seeing' power” (Foucault, 1980, p. 152).

© Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

Beginning from the idea of ​​changing behavior when supervised, an English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, developed an imaginary Panopticon - an architectural work, which represents a prison in which the prisoners' cells are distributed in a circle, with a watchtower in the middle, where the guard should be. The philosopher had the idea after a visit to his brother in Russia, Samuel, who, to verify that his employees performed their tasks correctly, has placed himself in the middle of the factory to observe their actions more efficiently. Bentham comprehended that this procedure of observation can be transposed in a multitude of circumstances. One of the cases was also the Parisian Military School, which approached this discipline in 1751 in the students' dormitories.

Regarding the Panopticon, on the exterior of the tower, a trick of lights allows the guard to be hidden and the prisoner’s paranoia will lead him to never discern if there is someone inside or not, if he is constantly watched or only has the feeling that he is being watched. It improves the operation of the prison, by reducing the number of guards that the tower requires and simultaneous increasing the number of prisoners who can be supervised. According to Božovic (1995, p. 9), ‘the moment the inspector allows himself to be seen anywhere in the panopticon, he loses his omnipresence in the eyes of those who can see him: those who can see him, can, of course, tell whether his eyes are directed toward them; those who can see him thus can see they are not being seen’. This idea of ​​gaze plays a very significant role in ensuring the invisibility of the observation by the beholder, allowing him to be the only one who has visibility.

"Panopticon" by Friman, I. ©

In the same way, from the imaginary building, Michel Foucault of France developed the concept of "panopticism", claiming that ‘Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable’ (Foucault, 1980, p. 195-228). Panopticon would have remained a mere lost work among the thousands of works if it had not been brought back into the public eye by Foucault. He has devoted much of his life to demonstrate how the past is still fundamental to understanding the present and the future. Panopticon's analysis led him to apply the concept in modern times, comparing the prison with an internal surveillance.

In his work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prisons, Foucault explains the historical evolution of how power and punishment are exercised. It starts with the cruel methods of torture of the past, the design of the Panopticon, up to the way the government monitors everything now; where it is not about prisoners, but about people, who, although they have done nothing wrong, they accept the government requirements to be monitored for fear of being punished. In this way, as an analysis of this circle that reaches to the previous form of ​​cruel torture, the philosopher lays down the foundation of the concept. According to Thomas Mathiesen (1997, pp. 216), Foucault’s book is ‘a broader change in the social order’. Panopticism is about the amount of information gathered by those in power, to ensure the hierarchy’s surveillance over society. Although it is about hierarchy, there is no specific person at the top of the hierarchy. The process is done by the constant observation of the government, without the subjects knowing that they are being watched or when they are watched.

The disciplinary power, in Foucault's terms, aims to create a productive, secure society, whose central objective is to force the citizens' perspective to see it as a way of establishing order – in other words, a disciplinary one. As he mentions in his book, "I don’t want to say that the State isn’t important; what I want to say is that relations of power, and hence the analysis that must be made of them, necessarily extend beyond the limits of the State" (Foucault, 1980, p. 122). This statement sends to the three fundamental keys of the Panopticon, namely, the invisibility of the state, in this case, the complete visibility of the subject and its awareness that it is constantly watched, and its behavior must be the best. Furthermore, self-discipline appears, the subjects adjusting their behavior with the impression that they are always supervised.

A contemporary theorist, Timothy Mitchell, sets examples of panopticism in his work, drawing on the principles of Bentham and Foucault. In Colonizing Egypt, Mitchell describes the organization of Egyptian society to be perfectly disciplined, and then details the model of the Lancaster school system by maximizing the time of students with countless tasks one after another for each student in the same way to create a whole, being supervised simultaneous by countless teachers. As he comments in his book, there was placed ‘a system of order, the model of a perfect disciplinary society” (Mitchell, p. 71), similar to Foucault’s panopticism.

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Firstly, the model of the contemporary society is based on the invisibility and complete control of the production forces of the “'all-seeing' power” (Foucault, 1980, p. 152) and the visibility of the subjects. In the post-panopticism society of control, it is essential to collect data to predict future events, not to discipline the citizens. Foucault compares the disciplinary model, in which the power is exercised in a certain specific space, with Security, which works on the large section of the society, through the circulation of subjects: their activities, information and assets. They channel their attention and strength not only on punishments, as in the case of discipline, but on the entire welfare of society, allowing ‘one to grasp the point at which things are taking place, whether or not they are desirable’ (Foucault, 2007, p. 46). Similarly, at the present time, like the disciplinary societies expressed by the two, each individual has a designated signature and an infinity of administrative numbers adjacent to his profile to fit the mass. The contemporary surveillance is analyzed as being about 'social sorting' (Lyon 2003, 2006), the research of the government not only about the names and the addresses of the subjects, but also their activities in order to organize them in certain categories, and the individuals modify their behavior, becoming themselves willingly, therefore, participants in panopticism as they want to fit into society.

© Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

The most compelling evidence is the growth of social media, where any subject is aware that there is a wider audience that watch and still the social platforms have been integrated so much in people’s lives that they often forget that there is a constant surveillance in their daily routine. Even though, Foucault developed the concept of panopticism many years before the advent of social platforms, it applies in the modern era. The term used by him, “technologies of the self” (Foucault, 1985, pp. 367), perfectly summarizes the effect of technology on individuals. To emphasize this affirmation, one of the 'Panopticons' present in the modern era is Facebook, which gives the subjects the right to use it by accepting the terms and conditions required to allow Facebook to store personal information and use it to 'provide a more tailored and consistent experience', as their Data Policy says.

© Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

In other words, users accept the "permanent visibility" discussed by Foucault in his work in order to use their services, while Facebook’s servers collect enormous amounts of data for independent production purposes - they give it to other production forces, such as advertising companies. Huge amounts of data are now in the hands of anyone with power. For others who hold the power, apart from the advertising companies, a simple subpoena signed by a prosecutor can give anyone the opportunity to get the data, a small amount of control over the individual’s digital persona, and in this way the ‘Fourth Amendment’, which refers to the right of people about their privacy; so their personal information could not be disclosed without a clear reason, not just relevant, is powerless.

© Image by Souvik Banerjee from Pixabay.

Similar to Facebook, another social media platform, Snapchat, has introduced a map, which accesses the location of the users, with their consent, thus collecting the locations of millions of people, who use the service to socialize with friends, family, without thinking about the consequences of the agreement. Two sociologists, Kevin Haggerty and Richard Ericson argue in their article 'The Surveillant Assemblage’ (2000) that the surveillance converts the information from “human bodies in data flows and reassembles as ‘data doubles’” (pp. 606), being exactly the case of the way social platforms functions. Bentham's panoptic model is similar to how the data of millions of participants is stored and used. As Haggerty and Ericson state, ‘rapid technological developments, particularly the rise of computerized databases, require us to rethink the panoptic metaphor’ (2000, p. 607).

Secondly, one of the differences between panopticism and post-panopticism is that it is no longer about the discipline, but about the control of society by those who have the power, by accumulating big data and by interpreting it by algorithms. This process of acquiring information is only one way, because the subjects do not know how all the information is used. Certainly, the self-discipline emerges, through which the participants modify their behavior to meet the standards of those who are constantly watching, but also because of fear of punishment. Algorithms also analyze behavioral data not only to predict future possibilities for companies to use the data, but also because the information is real and is assigned to the profile of each subject; from political, cultural, religious preferences to how they shop online, which products they use most often, their locations, the content they post and their general knowledge. Algorithms are programs that track every movement of the subject, besides all their digital traces. It is a “high technological frontier which absolutely no one completely understands” (Giddens, 1998, p3).

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Although technology is revolutionary, it has made it easier for the government to represent the Panopticon model in contemporary society. Surveillance is exercised faster, on a larger scale every second. The term introduced by Roger Clarke, ‘dataveillance’ allows the watcher to control also the previous data about the subject, not only the current one by increasing the storage size and its rapidity. For instance, the fact that Verizon, a telecommunications company, allowed the U.S. government to have their data about their clients after the 9/11 event in order to reinforce the safety, made citizens more aware about their privacy and their constitutional rights. As a matter of fact, J.C. Penney (2016) has compiled a research report based on the analysis of Wikipedia searches by U.S. citizens of the words 'that may appear to be security-sensitive' discovering a 30% decline of searches after the Verizon incident. This report reveals that the subjects are becoming aware of the violation of their digital privacy and they are changing their behavior. To emphasize, one of the reasons that Panopticon is present in modern era are the CCTV cameras, which monitories every movement of the participants as the towerwatcher. Beatrice Larsen explains in her work ‘Setting the Watch’ (2011), that CCTV ‘compromises the public’s right to anonymity, and the close ties between government and corporations allow for unprecedented and unconstitutional access to data, and that access expands daily’. Although the authorities use it for safety reasons, it remains a great example for a substitute of the Panopticon. Shoshana Zuboff’s is talking in her book, “In the Age of the Smart Machine” (1988), about the fact that panopticism is exercised even in the work place, where the superior could have an app to examine the leisure activities and the work done by his employees.

Without a doubt, considering the examples, the contemporary digital environment is a society of control. The desire of control and transparency is growing, being expressed through surveillance, codes and numbers playing a significant role. The individuals remain unconscious about who is watching, having only the option to control some of their data and modify their behavior in sight of the watcher. Gilles Deleuze claims in his Postscript on the Societies of Control (1992) ‘that we have reached the end of the disciplinary society and moved into a society of control’, where “‘audio-visual protocols’ – such as cameras, PINs, barcodes” decide whether an individual reached the society’s standards to have some opportunities. He talks as well about the key role that data plays in the society of control; how it can influence the user’s behavior. Considering Foucault's concept, Deleuze demonstrates the transition from a disciplinary society, which takes place in the closed institution, to a control society, which is carried out everywhere. They have the same purpose though: to get the data. The only one who loses relevance is the subject, who only becomes points of data in the eyes of those who have the power, and his life as a human being is not relevant anymore.

In the final analysis, as can be seen, Foucault’s concept of panopticism serves as a legitimate model in the modern era. The “'all-seeing' power” (Foucault, 1980, p. 152) imposes its surveillance over the people’s lives and their behavior, collecting data presently in order to have a safe and productive society and, at the same time, to accomplish complete transparency. Big data allows those in power the supreme control available at any time not only on the current information, but also on the previous data. For these reasons, a society of control is developed in which people have no knowledge about who is observing them permanently and what their data is used for. The only thing left for individuals to do is to be careful about what they say, post or do in the public space. They try to have the most correct behavior, their best version due to the the fear of not meeting the standards of the society and of being punished as a consequence of not staying in line. Privacy has become uncertain. For one of the best well-known writers on privacy, Alan Westin, in his book 'Privacy and Freedom' (1967), privacy means ‘...individuals, groups or institutions have the right to control, edit, manage and delete information about themselves and to decide when, how and to what extent that information is communicated to others'. Eventually, advanced technology has helped to create a society of control through the numerous Panopticon models in the contemporary digital environment.


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