Surveillance and Privacy

The debate on Surveillance and Privacy has become an indisputable component of all environments. While some degree of surveillance has always existed, in the last few decades it has expanded due rise of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). Surveillance practices particularly in technologically advanced societies have increased because of use of ICTs.

What is Surveillance? Surveillance can be understood as any focused attention on personal details. This could be for the purpose of influence, management, or exercising control. Besides those who may be suspects (owing to their record of alleged offences), the everyday lives of ordinary people like workers, travelers etc find that their personal data is of high interest to others.

Everyday life may now appear less private, and ordinary people might feel that they are more vulnerable to control, due to the use of searchable databases, for categorizing and profiling where deep rooted questions of power are also involved. A lot of scholars have suggested that what exists now is an increased need for ethics of information in an era where we are witnessing intensifying surveillance. This is also because life chances and choices are likely to be negatively affected by the judgments made on the basis of such data, which means that surveillance is deep rooted in basic questions of social justice and freedom.

ICTs are being used to increase the power, reach, and capacity of surveillance systems. The most controversial element in this regard is the processing of personal data for the purposes of control, in order to influence or manage population. Sociologist Gary T. Marx coined the term ‘surveillance society’ back in mid-1980s. Later historians remarked that surveillance societies were becoming ‘information societies.’ Gilles Deleuze went on to suggest that we all now live in societies where cameras, personal identification numbers (PINs), barcodes are all used to determine which opportunities will be open, and which will be closed to whom in daily life.

The idea of a surveillance society gains credence by the fact that in ordinary everyday life, not only are people themselves constantly being watched, they are also willing to use such technical devices to watch others. For instance, there are plenty of domestic technologies in the market that provide video camera protection to homes and offices, such as CCTV which is now common in schools, colleges, work places etc.

What becomes important here is that in most cases, surveillance is already known about by those whose data are stored, manipulated, processed in many other ways. Sociologist David Lyon gave the example of those buying houses, they are already aware that checks will be made on them. Similarly, video surveillance cameras are visible on the street and generally speaking, people are aware that they exist. Another example being that Internet users are aware that their activities are traceable.

Thinkers recognize that Surveillance has been expanding since the start of the twenty‐first century particularly in an international response to global terrorism and now more recently to tackle the global pandemic. What it is evident is that surveillance is now much more internationally networked because of ICTs. This has inevitably led to several debates on the breach of privacy.


Categories: social issues

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