Surveillance and Technology

Surveillance and Technologies

Jeremy Bentham’s notion of the panopticon
served as an initial model of contemporary surveillance methods. Admittedly first conceived by his brother Samuel, a factory owner, to aid a small number of managers to oversee and monitor the activities of a much larger work force. The same model of surveillance was used in the design of prisons. The figure in the page provides some idea of the design.

It is the awareness of possible observation rather than actual observation itself that makes the model especially effective in monitoring and control of subjects - what some would call governance.

Michel Foucault, calls this notion of controlling the populace biopower and suggests that it is instrumental in making a human being turn him or herself into a subject, the gaze in other words is turned inward so that the process of self-formation takes place through operations on their own bodies, on their own souls, on their own thoughts.

It is this notion, rather than the physical layout of the model that has been adopted in more contemporary technologies - such as the use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), or in relatively 'newer' technologies such as the internet and mobile phones.
This has aptly been called the virtual panopticon.

Surveillance activities may also be conducted in a covert way, which involves observation of unsuspecting subjects. Central to the effectiveness of this form of surveillance is that the subject remain unaware of the observation, possibilities of internet and mobile phone based surveillance are examples of these forms of surveillance. The flip side of the coin is that surveillance becomes less effective once the subject is aware of the observation.