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This profile provides a point of entry to other pages of this site, bringing together writing about privacy, secrecy, governance and information sharing.

It offers snapshots covering issues and literature regarding the 'surveillance state' (whether involving government agencies or the media), identity schemes such as passports and national identification cards, consumer profiling, whistleblowing, biometrics and other authentication technologies.

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The following pages cover -

  • states - the notion of the 'surveillance state' has been a major feature of recent debate about privacy and the governance of cyberspace, with claims for example that US citizens want protection from government more than from business. This page comments on the extensive literature about the 'invisible government' and questions some myths about 'police states' (which in practice were essentially self-policing)
  • identity - as a German policeman once said, you are who your papers say you are. Take away those papers and you have no identity. This page provides an overview ofpassports, national identity cards and private cards. It also considers fingerprinting, bertillonage, DNA registers and tattooing.
  • strategies - this page looks at biometrics (face-cams, retina scans etc) and other technological fixes, such as US proposals for a subcutaneous chip in every citizen.
  • gawking - community ambivalence about privacy is demonstrated by what's claimed as the rise of the 'tabloid tv generation', with a supposedly insatiable appetite for information about the private lives of other people. This page looks at the media and community attitudes, questioning some claims about recent developments and considering mechanisms such as media self-regulation and anti-paparazzi legislation
  • fiction - this page highlights fiction about surveillance and identity, from ETA Hoffmann and Herman Melville to Kafka, 1984 and beyond
  • film - and a similarly eclectic study of film, embracing Men in Black, Enemy of the State, Zorro, Gattaca, The Truman Show and The Return of Martin Guerre
  • conspiracy - some pointers to writing about the net and conspiracy theory, highlighting sociological studies, opinion polls and some of the more entertaining theories (eg ICANN's fleet of black helicopter gunships)
  • denunciation - who needs spies when you can rely on neighbours, colleagues and family
  • gumshoes - the private sector surveillance business
  • spooks - a map of the plethora of surveillance agencies
  • bugs - electronic interception mechanisms
  • sharing - national and international surveilance data sharing mechanisms
  • meters - vetting, audience measurement, credit referencing, opinion polling and other nongovernment surveillance
  • off grid - surveillance, survivalism and life 'off the grid'
  • landmarks in the history of surveillance.

It supplements the guides dealing with Privacy, Security & Infocrime and Wired Consumers, in particular the pages concerned with anonymity, trust and authentication.

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For the moment the Privacy guide points to basic works such as Oscar Gandy's The Panoptic Sort: A Political Economy of Personal Information (Boulder: Westview 1992), Daniel Solove's The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (New York: New York Uni Press 2004) and The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2007), Lee Bygrave's Data Protection Law: Approaching Its Rationale, Logic & Limits (The Hague: Kluwer Law 2002), Jürgen Habermas's problematical The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Cambridge: MIT Press 1989) and the multi-volume A History of Private Life (Cambridge: Belknap Press 1987- ) under the general editorship of Philippe Aries & Georges Duby.

Authentication of an individual's identity is generally dependent on one or more of three factors, essentially -

  • something that you have - a drivers licence, a passport, an ID tag, an ATM card, a PKI certificate or even a chip under your skin
  • something that you know - for example a password or PIN
  • something you are - your fingerprint, DNA, iris pattern or even (on the wilder shores of biometrics) your smell or gait.

That identification can form the basis of a surveillance regime, legitimate or otherwise, that covers individuals or groups of people - at its bleakest a surveillance state.

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Anders Albrechtslund offered '21 perspectives on surveillance' in 2007 -

1 The Big Brother perspective
Surveillance is a scary way for the state to intrude on people’s privacy. Currently, we are on a slippery slope towards a surveillance society.

2 The control perspective
Surveillance is a way to practice control over individuals or a group of individuals. Thus, it is a tool to exercise power.

3 The care perspective
Surveillance is a way to provide care for individuals, e.g. when parents take care of their children.

4 The ethical perspective
Surveillance changes the power and knowledge relations between people and, thus, the space for ethical action is changed.

5 The security perspective
Surveillance is a way to secure individuals, groups or the society as a whole. It is a security tool in the hands of the individual, a group or the state.

6 The preventive perspective
Surveillance in the form of e.g. CCTV is a way for privates, business or the state to prevent crime or misbehavior in a certain place or space.

7 The investigative perspective
Surveillance is a tool for the police, other authorities and even privates to investigate crime and suspicions.

The Panoptic perspective
Surveillance is a disciplinary tool, created by Panoptic architecture, applicable to train workers, students, soldiers, and many others.

9 The Foucauldian perspective
Surveillance is the way of the disciplinary, prison-like society.

10 The legal perspective
Surveillance is a threat to the individual's right to privacy.

11 The sociological perspective
Surveillance is a way to sort social groups, to include or exclude, to qualify or disqualify, and to discriminate between people based on profiles. In this way, a modern society is by definition a surveillance society.

12 The play, games and leisure perspective
Surveillance is a practice in playful interaction between individuals or groups, e.g. Monopoly Live and Can You See Me Know?

The paranoid perspective
Surveillance is everywhere and it is a hidden tool for an extensive conspiracy of agencies, governments, business’ and/or private individuals.

14 The social perspective
Surveillance is a practice by which people engage in social interaction and networking. By using social software, e.g. Blogger (writing about my life), Flickr (pictures of my life), (music from my life), Plazes (the spaces and places of my life), people actively take part in their own surveillance.

15 The spying perspective
Surveillance is a tool for spying on people, groups, business’ or governments. By using technologies and/or human agents, surveillance is a way to obtain knowledge about e.g. political views, religious beliefs, business or government secrets, etc.

16 The exhibitionist-voyeuristic perspective
Surveillance is a way to display oneself for and/or (secretly) watch other people for (erotic) pleasure.

17 The existential perspective
Surveillance is a part of human existence, both as watching and being watched, and it is therefore a key concept in understanding human life.

The artistic perspective
Surveillance is a way to demonstrate issues of society, modernity, transparency, etc. in works of art such as installations (e.g. Nanobots) and happenings (e.g. Surveillance Camera Players).

19 The aesthetic perspective
Surveillance is a theme of suspense and fascination in literature, poetics, computer games, cinema, etc. Furthermore, surveillance is an issue in film theory involving the audience as watchers/voyeurs and the movie as spectacle.

20 The objectivity perspective
Surveillance is a way to monitor objects, e.g. nature, culture, things, technologies, animals, humans, etc.

21 The subjectivity perspective
Surveillance is a human situation of either watching others, e.g. as CCTV operator, and/or being watched, involving issues of emotions, psychology, etc.

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version of July 2007
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics