Privacy v Security. Justification for the rise of UK surveillance techniques?


Essay, 2017

6 Pages, Grade: 78


Excerpt

“In order to be protected in the current social climate we release a piece of our personal privacy to the government”, Critically discuss, in relation to this being justification for the rise in surveillance techniques.

Surveillance techniques are now being used to monitor the public on a global scale. It can be viewed as a grossly disproportionate, unnecessary and violating use of the government’s power, or, it can be viewed as a means of protection against crime and ‘the global war on terror’ (Scientist, 2013). This essay will critically discuss whether the level to which the public are watched daily, is both acceptable and justified, or simply an invasion of privacy on a mass scale using Foucault’s panoptisism theory. The information commissioner of the UK, Richard Thomas, in 2004, famously stated that 'we are in fact sleepwalking into a surveillance society’, in 2006, he concluded with, 'we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is in fact all around us' (Richards, 2010). A car can be satellite tracked, with a person’s features auto identified on video, e mails, faxes and phone calls are monitored and a person can be covertly followed via a mobile phone and credit card transactions (Laidler, 2008). Almost all significant social, institutional or business activities within UK society involve the systematic monitoring, gathering and analysis of the public’s private information using surveillance (Gilliom and Monahan, 2013). This essay will attempt to review the theories previously predicted by Foucault (1977) and the driving forces behind the rise of surveillance. An attempt will be made to evaluate the impact of the contemporary ‘surveillance society’ and why the public accept and comply with new surveillance techniques.

The work of Foucault has stimulated new approaches to understanding surveillance, he suggested that the technology of power was intended to produce a calculated manipulation of the body (Lyons, 2006). Foucault (1975) coined the term panopticism, which is a theorization of the current surveillance society, derived from Bentham’s project of a prison, with an all-seeing inspector, much like the all-seeing eyes of contemporary closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras. A panopticon is the metaphor used for disciplinary mode of domination and the key concerns were the relationship between power and knowledge and the genealogy of organizations as social machines (McInlay and Starkey, 1997). The most unusual part of the panopticon was that it was designed to stimulate individuals to watch each other, to allow the few to watch the many, but to do this it is necessary to create an environment of constant surveillance (Jasim-Uddin, 2015). Currently, surveillance permeates the culture, popular television programmes help people to believe that constant surveillance is not only normal, but acceptable and fun (Kreissi and Wright, 2014). Foucault suggested that a society can be subliminally controlled through surveillance techniques. People under constant surveillance tend to internalize that gaze, question their identity and transform their behavior, to conform to the expected social norms (Jasim-Uddin, 2015). Foucault (1977) suggests that ‘docile’ and ‘useful’ bodies are created using surveillance mechanisms, to create a society of ‘good’ citizens. A descriptive analysis by Foucault (1977) shows that ‘docile bodies’ are created by distinct forms of special constraint, which not only physically limit, but visually limit. However, the work of Foucault on surveillance has been criticized by the recent works of Agamben (1998), who suggested that one would have to look further than the suspicion of Foucault, to fully understand surveillance. Despite this critique the panopticon refuses to go away, it still appears routinely in surveillance discourses, it has become a rich and multifaceted concept (Maira, 2016). However, the political history of the struggle of various social groups trying to remove themselves from the interference of the state can be dated back to the Magna Carta in 1215 (Davies, 2008). Drawing upon the problematics of modernity, the panopticon helps the exploration of knowledge and power, imbricated with a quest for social order and progressive social change, even in contemporary theory the panopticon cannot be disregarded (Maira, 2016).

CCTV and the use of surveillance in the UK has surpassed the levels that even Foucault depicted within his book 'Discipline and Punish', (1977). In the UK there is an estimated 4.2 million surveillance cameras, one for every fourteen people, and the average person living in the UK is captured on camera around 300 times a day. According to Foucault (1977), it is the visual, rather that the strictly physical limitation that really punishes and constrains. For him, visibility was a trap. To monitor what will happen, security has morphed into a future orientated enterprise (Bauman and Lyon, 2012). In 1985, CCTV became permanently deployed to cover public spaces, following an explosion created by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), in which the late former president, Margaret Thatcher was almost killed (Lyon et al., 2011). The two concerns for crime control and anti-terrorism over the next two decades provided rationale for a massive investment of public funds into security, first in the UK then around the world (Lyon et al., 2011). However, surveillance has been expanding rapidly and quietly for many decades and has become a basic feature of the modern world (Bauman and Lyon, 2012). Tensions between security and freedom, secrecy and transparency, constraint and consent, subjection and resistance are part of a less easily discernable long term trend (Mattelart et al., 2010). In surveillance of the masses the fragile balance between the exception and the rule have its own history (Mattelart et al., 2010).

In recent decades, societies have witnessed a dramatic transformation in the way in which public information is collected and stored (Solove, 2006). Minute details that were previously recorded onto paper that were usually lost or destroyed are now preserved forever within the digital minds of computers and in vast data bases. Everyday rivulets of information are streamed into electronic databases to be sifted, sorted and analyzed for many different purposes (Solove, 2006). Many of the personal items a person carries can reveal exactly where they are and what they are doing, such as credit cards, shopping loyalty cards and most importantly a mobile phone. Mobile phones are usually carried everywhere and by using a mobile phone, a person automatically enters a contract in which they agree to allow the phone company to use information regarding their whereabouts always (Schneier, 2016). Using location technologies also known as mobile surveillance, it can be used to pinpoint a person’s coordinates, continuously and in real time (Lyons, 2007). This is a very intimate form of surveillance as police can analyze mobile phone information in several ways; to see where the phone has been, what other phones have been around it and now location information can possibly predict where a person may be likely to go in the future, due to previous behavior's (Schneier, 2016). There is a whole industry devoted to tracking people via mobile phones and personal location data has become so valuable, mobile phone companies are now allowed to sell the information onto external data brokers (Lyons, 2007). The character needs and interests of a person are profiled by the surveillance of every website they visit and every purchase they make, the big brother society is here, quietly adding to files in the name of government efficiency and the fight against organized crime and terrorism (Laidler, 2008). In some respects, this level of surveillance may serve to make people feel safer, often coined with the term ‘public interest’, along with the phrase ‘those with nothing to fear have nothing to hide’. However, some people are under surveillance much more than others, such as young males. People from diverse groups may be treat differently and current politics justify the classification and categorization of populations as a risk management regime (Lyons, 2007). As most contemporary surveillance is initially remote and abstract, most people do not even know that it is happening, therefore do not object. One of the key parts of Cohan’s (1985) view was the capacity for social control would be increased by technological developments and by the publics willingness to accept such control. Docility is a major theme within Foucault’s work, he suggested that the ‘docile bodies’ of society were created by the state because they of course do what they are told, hence their utility, and docility has been common within western socio- political practices (Sheets- Johnson). The public assumption is that the government surveillance programmes are keeping them safe, and there is a widespread belief that there is a necessary tradeoff between security and privacy, and increase in one will result in a decrease of the other (Gilliom and Monahan, 2013b).

There is much evidence that a general anxiety about surveillance has been growing in western society (Richards,2010). After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, most people will comply with the series of new government security techniques (Gilliom and Monahan, 2013b). The nature of the security threat has changed post 9/11, threats have become much more global, mobile and have become threaded inextricably through civil society (Richards, 2010). A poll in 1999 showed that 81% of citizens disapproved of racial profiling at the airports and borders, in 2003, a 90% majority of people were in favor of racial profiling, especially for people with Asian or Arabic backgrounds (Evans, 2015). The security response in western society has been to increase the surveillance and analysis of civil society, to track the criminals and terrorists hidden within it (Richards, 2010). The emergence of the concept of the preventative state has been described as a new paradigm in social control which seeks to deprive individuals of their liberty before they could harm others (Ashworth and Zedner, 2014). The idea of the surveillance or risk society also implies a shift in cultural strategies and sensibilities for dealing with risk. In this respect, the loss of faith in humanly engineered progress has seen the project of modernity shift from programmes of problem solving towards risk anticipating based on reflexivity (McCahill et al., 2002). Mounting security concerns fueled by the media have been met with a mounting technological response (Mattelart et al., 2010). In the recently published Counter Terrorism Strategy report, (2012) the government stated that the necessity to gather details of public information has become essential, to protect national security. Surveillance and crime have been intimately connected, without some form of surveillance it would not be possible to gain information about crime (Coleman and McCahill, 2010). However, terrorism has provided a fertile ground in which surveillance could increase, taking full advantage of the media fueled moral panic (Lyon et al., 2011). With widely promoted, normalized mass targeted surveillance embedded within governmental, corporate and social structures, fear, has given unprecedented access to individuals (Ball and Snider, 2013). The ‘war on terror’ agenda has now given corporations and governments in western societies vast opportunities to increase surveillance and social control, with each media panic or crisis, a giant leap is further taken into the surveillance society (Gilliom and Monahan, 2013b).

The police force was created for exactly that, a system designed and created to watch over and supervise the masses, just like the panoptic theory Foucault suggested, with the few watching the many (Moran, 2005). The same as surveillance, the way in which the police force supervise the public has adapted and evolved over time, from foot patrol, to bicycle, to cars, to monitor screens (Moran, 2005). However, police surveillance is monitored by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). There are two distinct sets of powers under the (RIPA), the first is to acquire access to communications data, such as phone records of recent calls and messages (Clarke, 2001). There is a designated person for each organization seeking the data that can give authorization for the acquisition and disclosure of communications data. This also must be supervised and authorized by a superintendent or a senior police officer (Clarke, 2001). The second power is the right to listen to telephone conversations and voicemails, this is also heavily supervised and oversight is provided by interception of communications commissioner (Clarke, 2001). Supporters of surveillance systems claim that these tools protect society from crime and terrorism, and some surveillance cameras have played a vital role in the investigation and conviction of serious crimes (Edelbach and Winston, 2008). However, some people are very critical of surveillance cameras as they are often installed without any public consent and their use is often unregulated (Edelbach and Winston, 2008). Others believe that opposition to surveillance may be impossible due to mass surveillance, which would enable the government to identify and remove any political threats leaving them unable to oppose (Perdikaris, 2014). However, there is very little evidence to suggest that surveillance keeps the public safer (Gilliom and Manahan, 2013b). A study by Burrows (1980), showed a 23% non-significant reduction in crime after CCTV cameras were used in the London Underground. Regardless of this the use of surveillance techniques of populations has become part of everyday life and is very little questioned and is a ‘public good’ by the clear majority and an invasion of privacy by others (Evans, 2015). Therefore, despite the ever-expanding rise in surveillance within the U.K, little has been offered in the form of justification.

Surveillance techniques, including the police were introduced to reduce and manage risk, and to make the public feel safer. However, international studies suggest that it may be heightening the individual’s feelings of insecurity and that technological advances could be drawing attention to the risk around them by attempting to offer justification for the surveillance, even if it is not there (Ball et al., 2011b). The public are lead to believe that it is a dangerous world, with terrorism, hostile nations, economic crisis, criminals and drug traffickers. In the face of such dangers the public are willing to embrace nearly anything that promises to keep them safe (Gilliom and Mohahan, 2013b). This cultural shift into a surveillance or risk society was previously predicted by both Foucault and Cohan, many decades ago, suggesting that not only is society being controlled into being ‘docile bodies’, but also, they are happy to do so. The threats appearing in the media are contributing to the culture of insecurity and it can lead to a feeling of a lack of control over one’s own security and a reliance is built on the government to keep them safe (Ball et al., 2011b). The historical role of government to maintain individual freedom and privacy has now been reversed, in that protection by the government is now demanded by the people at the expense of their own personal privacy (Davies, 2008). The public are lead to believe that surveillance and a piece of their privacy is necessary to stay safe even though there is little evidence to suggest that surveillance reduces crime, therefore conforming to the government’s aim of ‘docile bodies’. The creation of a world that seems so frightening that the only sane response is comprehensive surveillance, leaves challenging questions regarding the roles of politics and the mass media, and their intentions.

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Details

Title
Privacy v Security. Justification for the rise of UK surveillance techniques?
Course
Crimnological studies with social sciences
Grade
78
Author
Year
2017
Pages
6
Catalog Number
V373708
ISBN (eBook)
9783668509559
ISBN (Book)
9783668509566
File size
852 KB
Language
English
Tags
surveillance, Government, Criminology, Sociology. Privacy.
Quote paper
Susan Bailey (Author), 2017, Privacy v Security. Justification for the rise of UK surveillance techniques?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/373708

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