Sunday, 11 May 2008

The truth about the ‘surveillance society’

Brendan O’Neill in spiked:

The surveillance/data society radically transforms what it means to be a free citizen. The slogan of the champions of surveillance is that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’. In short, we must now continually prove our goodness and innocence to the powers-that-be. In the past, we were generally seen as free, self-determining individuals who should largely be left alone unless or until it could be proven that we had done something illegal. Today, under the organising principle of ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’, we must constantly demonstrate that we are decent people, for the benefit of CCTV operators, vetting officials, and the ID database operators. This represents a dangerous new dawn in the relationship between the state and individual. The burden of proof now falls on the citizen to prove that he is good rather than on the state to prove that we have been bad. A new conception of the citizen is emerging: no longer seen as free, adult and due some respect, the citizen has been turned into an object of suspicion who must make a daily performance of his goodness for the watching authorities.

The surveillance/data society degrades the idea of individuals as political subjects. Increasingly, the authorities engage with us, not through political debate and argument, but through monitoring our behaviour and collecting and sharing our data. This is a reductionist view of the public, where we come to be seen as a collection of fingerprints, DOBs, iris scans or as pixels on a CCTV screen rather than as individuals with beliefs, ambitions and desires. The more that the government seeks to connect with us on a technical level, the less it views us as political or active subjects. Where once an individual might have been defined as Labour or Conservative, left or right, progressive or traditionalist, today we are defined as numbers on a spreadsheet.

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