The Essentials of Surveillance

The Essentials of Surveillance

Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3847-0.ch001
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The process of surveillance has been around for a long period. Different theories of surveillance such as the notion of the panopticon were suggested to explain the ways in which surveillance can create a more controlled society. This led to the notion of the docility and surveillance where the knowledge of surveillance can create a docile society. With the availability of newer tools, surveillance becomes more widespread, which leads to a networked surveillance. All of this eventually builds up to a process of surveillance of the life story of institutions and people.
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It was a winter day in the state of North Carolina in United States when my son had turned nineteen years old and was the proud possessor of his first car. It was a relatively old Ford Mustang, a car that he had dreamed of for some time and I was able to obtain at a price I could afford. The possession of a car in America is a rite of passage that teens in the USA await with great anticipation and the guardians dread. Now, there was no holding back a young person from being able to go wherever the person wished and most teens would happily exercise the rights that the freedom and possession offered. For the guardians, it was an immediate loss of control on the life of a young loved one. It became immediately apparent to my wife and me that our only child could now roam freely the highways of North Carolina, and perhaps even further. This, for many, is a moment of panic. The secure bubble that the youngster lived in suddenly disappeared. This was no longer the case that I would be driving him to his next music concert or to a friend’s place. Now he could go alone, and we would never know where he was, and until he returned we would be holding our breath. We had lost control, and we were desperately curious to know how our child’s life would change with the freedom that the Mustang heralded. In speaking to many other parents, we realized that within the confines of small-town USA, my wife and I were not alone in our curiosity and anxiety.

I needed to find out. There must be a way, I argued, by which I could know how the life of the youngster was altered by the car. I also needed to know what new relational challenges would be presented with the new freedom. We wondered if our relationship with our child would be altered because now, we would not always know everything about his life. He could be at one place, but he may choose not to disclose where he is. In the past, we always knew his location, because we would take him to a place, and we would collect him from the place. In cases he would travel with others, there would always be an “adult” involved and we could check-in with the person he was with. We were now facing a new challenge of uncertainty. The way this matter was resolved was through a credit card that my son used for some of his purchases, which now included paying for the gasoline for the car. I set up a simple tracking system, offered by the Credit Card company, that would alert me whenever the card was used for a purchase. All of a sudden a whole new World opened up. A new story was being constructed as the use of the card showed the movement of a person and the kind of places the person would frequent using the car he possessed. A curious matter happened soon. I no longer had to ask my son where he had been on a weekend evening. I knew because of the alerts, the card was, for instance, used at a convenience store in the downtown of Winston-Salem, or at fast food restaurant in Chapel Hill, or at a music equipment supply store in Greensboro – all towns within North Carolina. Not only was my curiosity fulfilled but it also gave me a sense of comfort in knowing that my son was safe and was using his freedom in a responsible manner and not driving away wherever the road would take him. I realized I was actively surveilling him, using a technology that was not subversive or secret. He would know that his purchases can be tracked and if he would be mindful about it he would know that I would know. Given the relationship of trust within our family this process was not worrisome to anyone. Surveillance became a part of our life thereafter.

Indeed, the fact that surveillance has become a part of our lives is the motivation for this book. We are constantly surveilled, and we have come to accept it as a part of our life. Sometimes we realize that we are surveilled and at other times we do not, but perhaps in the back of our mind we are always aware of being watched. This was aptly stated by a fictional former agent of the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) in the 1998 thriller, Enemy of the State, in saying, “Every wire, every airwave. The more technology used, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you. It's a brave new world out there.” While the film represented the tools of surveillance from the late 1990s, the World has changed even more as I would discuss in this book.

In this chapter I elaborate on the history of the process of surveillance tracing its roots from the act of spying. I then offer the four contexts of surveillance that offer a way to categorize the vast contemporary experience of surveillance into systematic parts, followed by the review of some of the key theories of surveillance that have emerged. I conclude with the proposal of engaging narrative theories to understand the way in which surveillance occurs.

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