Surveillance is not a novel concept; it has been discussed and debated by many scholars since the 18th century (Galič et al., 2017). But as society and the digital have developed in tandem, how scholars have theorized about surveillance has also evolved in various directions. Here, surveillance will be categorized in three different forms: top-down, bottom-up, and horizontal.
One basis for conceptualizing surveillance uses Foucault’s (1995) discussion on prisons and power, and particularly the panopticon (Bentham, cited in Foucault, 1995) as a system of discipline via surveillance. The panopticon “[induces] in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault, 1995; p. 201) through constant, unverifiable surveillance. However, Deleuze (1992) argues that society has shifted from discipline to control, in which institutions have become corporations. Compared with long-term and government-issued goals that discipline society aims to reach, corporations focus on short-term results which can be achieved by continuous monitoring and assessment of markets, workforces, and strategies (Galič et al., 2017). Moreover, according to Haggerty and Ericson (2000), Foucault’s description focuses more on transformations of total institutions, and fails to directly engage current development in surveillance.
Societal oversight, with the rise of technologies allowing surveillance, has been expanded to the daily by authorities justifying visibility through “concerns over issues such as crime, terrorism, and economic competitiveness” (Marx, 2003, p. 370). Specifically, dataveillance, defined by Clarke (1988, p. 499) as “the systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation or monitoring”, is one way that governments and corporations authorities undertake surveillance. For governments, it is a method to trace (potential) terrorists and do predictive analysis to protect borders, control international financial flows, etc. (Amoore and De Goede, 2005).
Nowadays, surveillance has been successfully applied to the field of marketing. Users’ data is tracked through their web surfing habits, and made valuable as users may be potential consumers for companies. Rettberg (2014) illustrates that websites use users’ demographic information, status updates, and private messages to customise the news and advertisements. For example, a woman might see advertisements for wedding dresses if she changes her status to ‘Engaged’. Therefore, the chance of profits increases with ads targeted at specific consumers. However, it can also threaten individuals’ privacy, which affects political rights and democratic participation. Privacy is important because it is not only related to individual liberty, but also ‘civil or social liberty because it helps to establish the boundaries for the exercise of power’ (Regan, 2000, p. 225; Goold, 2010).
Another type of surveillance, operating within a bottom-up framework, called sousveillance is described by Mann, Nolan and Wellman (2003) as the use of monitoring and tracking technologies to mirror and confront powerful organizations. In effect, this creates an “inverse panopticon” (p. 332), thus equalizing the classic top-down relation. Since powerful entities have access to everyone’s personal data, individuals can also attempt to watch back. Many scholars (Galič et al., 2017) see it as a resistance to current forms of surveillance and dataveillance. Sousveillance can be seen as a form of this resistance, one of the many repertoires Marx (2003) identifies for the purpose of neutralizing surveillance and denying social control.
Surveillance that occurs within relationships of similar or equal power can be called horizontal surveillance, or coveillance and social surveillance. Coveillance refers to situations of equal power in surveillance, where citizens or corporations monitor each other (Mann, Nolan, and Wellman, 2003, p. 338-9). The term social surveillance comes with the development of social media, like Twitter or Facebook. According to Marwick (2012), social surveillance can be distinguished from traditional surveillance in three traits: power, hierarchy and reciprocity. Power flows from all social relationships, especially between individuals. Additionally, social media users engaged in social surveillance provide online content that is surveilled by other users, for example through Facebook stalking. Compared with classic surveillance or sousveillance, social surveillance is much more horizontal, as it occurs between individuals with equal power.
Surveillance, among all three of these relations, deals with the power relations between different actors, whether individuals, governments, or corporations. Although surveillance is usually understood according to Foucault’s (1995) panopticon model of societal control of individuals by authorities, in the digital age this relationship has been complicated through new forms of watching, including sousveillance, coveillance, social surveillance, or dataveillance (Mann, Nolan, and Wellman, 2003; Marwick, 2012; Clarke, 1988). Since the surveillance system has already penetrated daily life, everyone is willingly or unwillingly involved in the panoptic mechanism. In the future, there may emerge many new terms regarding surveillance, and privacy issues could also rise to citizens’ attention.
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Galič, M., Timan, T. & Koops, B.-J. (2017) ‘Bentham, Deleuze and Beyond: An Overview of Surveillance Theories from the Panopticon to Participation’, Philosophy & Technology, 30(1), pp.9–37.
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Rettberg J.W. (2014) ‘Privacy and Surveillance’, in: Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. Palgrave Macmillan, London pp.81
Edited by Group 7