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Surveillance State

Nicolai V. Olsen
20/09 2019
EUC Nord – HTX Frederikshav
State-mandated fear.
Why is surveillance necessary?
For a long time, crime has been dealt with in various ways, and with that there has always
been a way to keep tabs on those who fall under suspicion for misdemeanors. In a society so
hellbent on keeping order at all costs, it is no wonder why surveillance is looked upon by
many as necessary. Surveillance is instrumental in monitoring potential national or domestic
threats to the peace, and to fill the people with a sense of peace in mind, even if some believe
that surveilling a population is to some extent a breach of the humanitarian laws of society.
But is it necessary for a functioning, modern society?
An example put forth by critics of mass surveillance is the similarities that our current society
has with the Orwellian example, 1984, where mass surveillance and authoritarianism is taken
to their extremes, with propaganda, massive government power and the policing of thoughts.
And even if this is an extreme, extremes do not start out as extremes, but are rather worked
towards in small steps. As mentioned in the “Voice of Russia”, one of such steps could be the
subtle beginnings of a thought police, with the growing amount of surveillance cameras in the
UK that are close to ubiquitous in their whereabouts, with a camera for every 11 citizens in
the British populace. All the while, these citizens being clueless about what spy agencies,
police forces or governmental bodies are doing with the data and information gathered from
their vast surveillance network. This is thought to therefore breed unease and distrust among
the populace in the power of the government, as they have no process of verification towards
the practice of applying the surveillance data for court proceedings, spying or arrests.
However, a prominent example of the order that is created through a grid of surveillance is
the theory of the panopticon model, as this can be likened to the modern use of CCTV
cameras. The model, set forth by English utilitarian theorist Jeremy Bentham, used the same
concept as CCTV cameras do nowadays, which is Uncertainty. (Sheridan, 1995) As Michel
Foucault, a French Philosopher, put it: “in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without
ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.” (Foucault,
1977) This outlines the duality that causes the show of power in the relationship between the
observer and the observed, which is the theory applied to modern video surveillance. If there
always is a risk to one being observed, then a person’s psyche will almost automatically adapt
Nicolai V. Olsen
20/09 2019
EUC Nord – HTX Frederikshav
to more docile behavior to escape the potential consequences of being caught doing
something that you’re not supposed to do.
Furthermore, the panopticon model has shown an effect is in lieu of the revelations from
Edward Snowden in 2013 about the sovereign states, as this has led to an unprecedented
awareness about international mass surveillance. And this effect, while having led to an
unfavorable public opinion in the government, has also led to a state of awareness where
people are cautious of their behavior, and are therefore keeping themselves and the people
they know in check. This is highlighted with the example of “Internet eyes”, which is an
initiative in the UK where civilians can man security cameras to watch others in areas where
the government does not have the manpower. (C, 2009) And as invasive as this may seem, it
will be ingrained into people’s minds to be more cautious about who they are around and
what they are doing, in fear of either legal or social consequences to their would-be actions,
as either someone they know, or a total stranger could be watching.
So in conclusion, why is surveillance necessary? Because it is an efficient deterrent to crime
in most forms, and works to counteract the instances that threatens the order in our society.
Whether this is done through covert or public means is a minor difference, and what really
matters is that power is exerted upon the populace, and that those watching remain distant
enough for those being watched to never know when they’re being watched. Just like the
original model for the panopticon.