Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies

Kirstie Ball, Kevin D. Haggerty, David Lyon, Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Pete Adey, Mark Andrejevic, Nelson Arteaga Botello, Jennifer Barrigar, Colin J. Bennett, Didier Bigo, William Bogard, Simone Browne, Fernanda Bruno, Ayse Ceyhan, Jon Coaffee, Andrew Donaldson, Nora Draper, Greg Elmer, Pete Fussey, Oscar H. Gandry Jr., Kelly Gates, John Gilliom, Ben Hayes, Richard Jenkins, Dietmar Kammerer, Ian Kerr, Hille Koskela, Inga Kroener, Gary T. Marx, Michael McCahill, John E. McGrath, Torin Monahan, David Murakami Wood, Daniel Neyland, Clive Norris, Jason Pridmore, Charles Raab, Priscilla M. Regan, James B. Rule, Evelyn Ruppert, Ahmad H. Sa'di, Graham Sewell, Gavin JD Smith, Valerie Steeves, Eric Stoddart, Emmeline Taylor, Joseph Turow, Irma van der Ploeg, C. William R. Webster, Toni Weller, Dean Wilson

I heard my university created a course on surveillance studies in the year after my undergrad, so I tracked some of the material down. It was a strange read, giving intellectual rigour to what I always suspected was the case. (Such is both the love and the mania of my alma mater.)

To summarize: surveillance is a form of persuasion born of power relations. It is the continued transcribing of arbitrary information about any subject, into an equally arbitrary form of media, meant to persuade a given outcome in favour of the persons doing the transcription. On the side of the powerful, they describe this act as giving “security.” ... a sense of entrenchment of their own position within the power hierarchy, rightfully earned or not. On the side of the non-powered, surveillance is not a symbol of security but instead a symbol of mistrust; which in turn breeds malcontent and resentment, further justifying the need for “security.” It shouldn't surprise anyone that the subject of surveillance is often targeted at the less powerful in society: political opponents, protest groups, racialized peoples, children (of any social status), even welfare—which until now I would've considered the only moral component of the State—was at some point wholly used as an apparatus of social control.

However, there were some items that I was expecting this anthology to mention, but didn't. No mention of security theatre, even though the chapter on the proliferation of British CCTV described it perfectly. My thoughts also turned to Parkinson's Law: that adage about the uncontrolled growth of bureaucracies when agents of power are more comfortable creating subordinates instead of possible rivals. I wondered how that sphere of thought hasn't had any reckoning with the similar growth of surveillance systems. I've heard it said that when the American NSA/FBI or the Canadian CSIS/CSE attempts to interview people for information about any given subject, the usual “reward” for providing as much information as possible is just more visits from the intelligence agencies, requesting even more information. There is also the idea in economics of Ricardian Vice, in how what profiling systems may deduce about a person can never fully apply to the complex being that inspired it. Surveillance studies is still a relatively new field, and if its scholarship can give a label which encompasses these disparate vices, we would be better at identifying runaway or self-justifying surveillance where it occurs.

It could also gain a political edge! The question “does your administrator panel over-emphasize highly intrusive and ultimately meaningless user data?” could easily be equivocated out of. Changing it to “does your administrator panel suffer from [Zuckerbergian Vice]?” demands action and further interest.

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