What Exactly Is A ‘Surveillance Society’?

567 words - 2 pages

What exactly is a ‘surveillance society’? The term is often used by the popular media to refer to the older more totalitarian notions of the ‘security state’ or Orwellian references to ‘Big Brother’ (Wood, 2009: 180). However, Wood points out that ‘surveillance societies’ exhibit immense cultural and geographical variety, in both historic and contemporary contexts, and need not exhibit totalitarian features (2009: 181). Wood acknowledges that more study of how societies encounter surveillance in order to determine the elements that operate at the different socio-spatial levels (2009: 189).
The right balance between surveillance and privacy, and security and civil liberties, is far from clear. While many shy away from the Orwellian nightmare depicted in the novel Nineteen-eighty-four (1984), they also demand protection from criminal activities and terrorist attacks. Post 9/11 civil liberties have been increasingly traded in for greater surveillance of the citizenry, especially in the US and associated countries (Jürgensen, 2004: 55). Surveillance is not inherently sinister or malign, but Lyon cautions that 'the focussed attention to persons and populations with a view to influencing, managing or controlling them – that we call ‘surveillance’ – is never innocent either' (2002: 307).
Webster points out that although nation states are driven by the security need of, or the rights and duties of their citizens, two major concerns arise from the increasing capabilities of data collection, storage, and cross-referencing tools (1995: 68). These are concerns that agencies may access files compiled for other purposes, such as insurance companies accessing medical files, or the possibility of linking disparate databases. Rose contends critics who have put forward the concerns that network surveillance might lead to totalitarian control, and proposes that this is...

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