It's Time to Control the Use of Electronic Surveillance
How would you feel if every move you make, every word you say, every number you dial on the telephone, could easily be accessed or monitored by just about anyone in the world? Well, chances are that you and me and many others are currently, or have been, victims of this infringement on privacy. With today's ever growing technology, there is little one can do to ensure privacy in normal, every day life. Even though many benefits have come with this increased technology, the inherent loss of privacy scares many. In most cases, the use of such technology is taken too far, and if continued use of these technologies is to be permitted, then the law has some serious catching up to do to ensure proper use of them.
This notion of surveillance dates back to decades ago when Jeremy Bentham came up with the Panopticon in 1791. The Panopticon, or "all seeing place", was a penitentiary designed with a central tower that looked over cells that were positioned around it, such as spokes on a wheel. The cells were open on top which provided guards in the tower with an all time, unobstructed view of all the inmates. And through the use of wooden blinds and an intricate lighting system, the view from the inmates to the guards was blocked, this way the inmates never knew when they were being watched (Lyon 656).
Jeremy Bentham thought this was an excellent idea. "The Panopticon was to be a model prison. There was nowhere to hide, to be private. Not knowing whether or not they were watched, but obliged to assume that they were, obedience was the prisoner's only rational option" (Lyon 656). Bentham believed that "the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose of the establishment be attained" (qtd. In Lyon 656).
"Have computerized information systems effectively transformed Bentham's panoptic principle from a strategy which is only feasible in village-scale settings to a routine means of mass surveillance by modern states?" (qtd. in Lyon 654). Many argue that this is the case. Technology today permits the "observer" to keep track of just about everything that one does in every day life, leaving no place to hide from the cameras. Many compare this to the Panopticon and oppose it fiercely.
Electronic surveillance has virtually no limitations today. All over the country and the world, cameras are being installed nearly everywhere. In Honolulu, cameras are installed along Kalakaua avenue "to help catch petty thieves and prevent prostitution" (Salkever 1). In big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago there are hundreds of seen and unseen cameras everywhere, from street corners, to retail stores, to libraries. Businesses use them to monitor their employees and track merchandise leaving the store.