What is a Surveillance society?

The surveillance society is a society that is structured and organized using surveillance-based techniques. To be under surveillance means having information about individual’s movements and activities recorded by technologies, on behalf of the governments and organizations that structure our society. This information is sorted and categorized and then used as a basis for decisions which affect our life. Such decisions concern our entitlement, work, access to benefits, products, services, and criminal justice; our health, well-being, and our movement through private and public spaces. 

Everyday encounters with surveillance include:

• Video cameras which watch us every day everywhere we go – in buildings, shopping malls, streets, and residential areas. Automatic systems can now also recognize number plates (as well as faces).

• Electronic tags that keep a check on ones who are on probation do not break their release conditions, and people arrested by police have samples of their DNA taken and kept whether they are guilty or not. 

• We are constantly asked to prove our identity, for benefits like healthcare, and so on.

If surveillance is a normal aspect of the management and governance, then what’s wrong with it?

 Using surveillance to achieve one’s aims, no matter how big or small bestows great power. Some interests will be served, while others will be marginalized. Some will receive entitlements and benefits, while others may not.

As data travel silently across international boundaries, national states, and within transnational corporations, the impact of surveillance becomes even harder to identify and regulate.

It focuses on correcting the negative also it gives a message to those who are watched that they are not trusted to behave appropriately.

The rise of technology is shattering even the illusion of privacy. Video cameras peer constantly from lamp poles, satellites and drones float through the skies, smartphones relay a dizzying barrage of information about their owners and what not.

The information of every traveler on every stop is noted and stored by Internet service providers like Google, Verizon, and Comcast. Retailers scan, remember, and analyze each purchase by every customer. Smart TVs know what we’re watching—soon they will have eyes to watch us watching them.

The future is here. Nearly everything that happens from now on has the potential to be seen by someone and also stored indefinitely. Government and the private corporations working with them, collect and store billions of records every day and they’re hungry for more. Technology makes all secrets difficult to keep.

There has been evidence that shows mass surveillance erodes intellectual freedom and damages the social fabric of the affected societies. It opens door to flawed and illegal profiling of individuals. Mass surveillance has also not helped in preventing terrorist attacks.

Other evidence shows that even the possibility of being under surveillance changes the way people think and act, causing them to avoid talking or writing about sensitive or controversial subjects. This only showcases that mass monitoring of citizens achieves only one thing that is the development of mutual mistrust between individual and state.

Surveillance society instead of beneficial has given us more non-benefits. It affects the privacy of the individual. The mismanagement of CCTV, ID cards, mobile phone data, health, and social security databases, shop loyalty cards, and other data retention technologies has an enormous potential in causing public or personal catastrophe – from criminals and terrorists hacking into or sabotaging the health care database, down to personal data being stolen or accidentally destroyed.

However, if surveillance and personal data collection are to achieve its true value then it should be tightly regulated to avoid abuse and mismanagement by government, companies, and individuals. If we are living in a society that relies on surveillance to get things done are we committing slow social suicide?

Surveillance and personal data collection have the potential to be of benefit to society but only if maintained with due care, otherwise it only risks jeopardizing the public safety it’s meant to protect.