Shae a surveillance society— a term coined



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4th, 2017

The Normalization of Surveillance in our Society

Using the concepts of surveillance and ideology, this paper explores the example of the renovated billboard in Piccadilly Square,
London. Different ideologies lie behind the use of mass surveillance. Some
individuals take a hype perspective, wanting more security and, therefore, more
surveillance, while others want more personal privacy. In this paper, I will
argue that using mass surveillance for security reasons compromises the little
privacy that we do have. As Edward Snowden said in 2015, “Arguing that you
don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide, is like arguing that
you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say”. The cultural
implications of the societal ideology of having “nothing to hide” (Solove,
2011) creates a society
that does not value privacy and, therefore, normalizes surveillance in our

Surveillance has been going on for centuries; an earlier form
prior to technological advancements would have been people spying on their
neighbours. Popular
media suggests that a surveillance society represents
the future, intertwined with flying cars, walking robots, and micro-chipped
humans. I would argue that we already live in a surveillance society— a term
coined in 1985, defined by large computer
databases that belong to the government and big businesses, which collect
details of your personal lives every day to be retrieved, stored, and processed
(as cited in Lyon, 1994, pp. vii). Behind
surveillance society is mass surveillance, growing since
9/11, as a means of stopping terrorism and improving security (Solove, 2011,
pp.76). Mass
surveillance began when governments started using new technologies for security
reasons. These technologies have since been deployed in other areas such as
commercial businesses, workplaces, countries, groups and families—most
ubiquitously on our media devices. New technologies that are used for
surveillance include, but are not limited to: biometric facial recognition,
computer, telephone, audio, video, social network analysis and drones.

This year, Piccadilly Square unveiled a billboard with biometric
facial recognition, which can identify groups of people who are watching the
screen and adjust advertisements based on what it sees. (Smith, 2017) It can
determine age, gender and mood. For example, if there is a group of Spanish
people, the billboard might play an ad in Spanish. The technology can also show
ads based on time of day, year, or the weather. The billboard does not collect
data, but it does provide free Wi-Fi, which means that companies who pay for
those ads probably have access to your search history, social media and
metadata and could target you while you are shopping, or someone else could
hack into that data.  The existence of
this billboard signifies a normalization of surveillance in our society today.

The second concept used in this paper discusses different
ideologies behind surveillance. Thrift (2017) refers to ideologies as a “common-sense systems of belief,
belonging to any class or social group; often perceived as natural as ‘just the
way things are'”. The idea of having “nothing to hide,” (Solove, 2011) is an ideology that disregards personal privacy. Biometric facial recognition in a public space is an
example of how the ideology of having “nothing to hide” is hegemonic,
which refers to an idea that is the norm within society (Lull, 1995). Although
technology has many benefits such as instant interaction and shareable content
with friends and family; it also has its drawbacks. The constant use of social
media and other technologies make it easier than ever for anyone to find out
exactly where you are at all times. Some surveillance programs run through data
mining algorithms find out things about you, that you might not even know about
yourself: wants, beliefs, desires and thoughts (Hildebrandt, 2008)

Ideologies and surveillance relate to each other in terms of
political economy and power. The companies and governments who are watching us have
the power to access our cameras, laptops, and phones. One of the arguments that
supports mass surveillance is that the use of these programs protect us from
threats and terror which comes from the ideology of mass security for good.

What if these so-called protections are terminating privacy as we know it? Having nothing to fear if you have
done nothing wrong is an ideology that exists in
many popular examples. There is a website called “I know where your cat is”
where users have found out where different cats live based on social media
pictures. This is laughable when it is a cat, but imagine if the website was
called “I know where your kid is” (as cited by Shepherd, 2017, Week 11: Mobile
Technologies). The reality of surveillance is
this can just as easily be done to your kids if they frequently use social
media. When do these technologies become too invasive?

One way to educate
society about surveillance is by bringing awareness
to the public about the different surveillance agencies that exist within
Canada and have access to our information. (Petrou, 2017) Five eyes,
PIPEDA, and CSIS actively
use technologies for mass surveillance and have access to the metadata on our
cell-phones, computers, home electronics, vehicles and family devices, to use
for the argument of protection of our country (Flew & Smith, 2014, pp. 226)

Interesting to note is how many people turn a blind eye to
surveillance, while the ones watching us are never far away. Is privacy not as
important as it was once thought to be? The reason that these practices are so
ingrained in our culture is because of the promise of security. Baby monitors,
nanny-cams and surveillance toys are new technologies perceived as necessities
for safety, but with that choice comes the consequence of using surveillance
for your child at a young age. Children are growing up in a society where
surveillance starts at birth. The toys that they play with literally watch
them. In the future, this could lead to a society where these children might
not even understand what privacy is or why it’s necessary. I argue that through
the ideology of having “nothing to hide,” we are setting up this kind of
society for future generations. We can change these frameworks for future
generations by asking for privacy and being conscious of what powers are out
there when making decisions about technologies and how we choose to use them.

Surveillance is an interesting, challenging, and always-changing
topic with new technologies constantly evolving. In conclusion, this paper has
demonstrated that there is a normalization of surveillance in the world today,
made possible by the different ideologies behind surveillance. Using the
billboard with the concepts of ideologies and surveillance shows how there is a
difficult debate going on about security vs. privacy. To get more involved and understand
how citizens could be affected, people need to research and be aware of where
their information is going. This could combat the ideology of having “nothing
to hide,” which I have demonstrated leads to a normalization of surveillance in
our society. Personal privacy is at stake, a future paper on this topic might
look at the ways in which privacy is important to humans, perhaps influencing
users to think more critically about living under the watchful eye of mass