03. A01.

Media & Society

Surveillance in the City

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New technologies have developed substantially throughout the twenty-first century improving and expanding the capabilities, whilst reducing the visibility, of surveillance systems.
These technologies, such as data mining, access to social networking profiles, tracking chips and high-quality CCTV and video recording equipment enable cities to map, monitor and measure our movements with the intention to protect the public more efficiently. To achieve and maintain a high level of social control in the city, governments use such equipment to monitor individuals on a global level.

Although newly developed technologies are used by governing authorities, many theories of control originate from the late eighteenth century.

In 1791, Jeremy Bentham proposed a revolutionary architectural design called the Panopticon, meaning observe (opticon) all (pan). Bentham’s original intention for the Panopticon was that it would ‘produce complete obedience to the governing authority’ through its existence in a penitentiary. His layout of the Panopticon consisted of a circular structure with a central tower, from which inspectors would be able to watch inmates from the cells located around the perimeter. Bentham cleverly positioned the tower so that the inspectors could see the inmates, but the inmates could not see the inspectors or fellow prisoners. ‘The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognise immediately’, which leaves the prisoners unable to hide from the all-seeing eye of authority. Bentham believed that the Panoptic principle held potential to be ‘the only effective instrument of reformative management’ because prisoners would have no rational choice but to obey and comply. Bentham identified the issue that each prisoner needed constant surveillance. With only a few inspectors to monitor hundreds of inmates, ‘the next best thing was that each person believe that he was continuously monitored’. This would mean that eventually, there would be no need for an inspector to be in the central tower.

New technologies have developed substantially throughout the twenty-first century improving and expanding the capabilities, whilst reducing the visibility, of surveillance systems.

In modern society, Bentham’s Panopticon has developed and transformed as a means of control on a larger scale. As a result of terrorist attacks across the world, particularly after 9/11, debates about surveillance and security in the city have intensified. ‘In the global north we depend on [surveillance] for convenience, comfort, and… we are enjoined to depend on it for security. However, the automation of surveillance facilitates new kinds of watching, which are not fully understood, let alone ethically assessed’. We have become accustomed to the possibility that we are being watched constantly in cities as the electronic surveillance systems which are used, are embedded within the landscape of the city.

We have become accustomed to the possibility that we are being watched constantly in cities as the electronic surveillance systems which are used, are embedded within the landscape of the city.

For instance, London’s ‘Ring of Steel’ is six and a half miles long and consists of nearly half a million CCTV cameras and high quality recording equipment to capture the driver’s face and car number plate. This is so that authorities can track and prosecute them if they were not abiding by the law. Bollards, green areas and other subtle obstructions were designed to prevent terrorist attacks in the heart of the city. The majority of surveillance techniques used in the ‘Ring of Steel’ are hidden within the structure of the financial institutions of London’s city centre. As well as London, other cities across the world are using architecture to disguise modes of surveillance.

Digital surveillance techniques are used to gain personal information whilst being unidentified. In digitally developed cities, the technology has become so advanced that we can no longer see or even investigate if our every move is being observed. In his 2007 text, iSpy, Mark Adrejevic states that ‘using a cell phone or credit card these days is deceptively simple: communicating and purchasing are streamlined and simplified, but we have very little access to the forms of information collection and circulation that are taking place behind the scenes and screens’.

The surveillance strategy of data mining is particularly deceptive as we cannot see our information being processed to other people.

Users of new technology like smart phones and tablets only seem to consider the benefits that the gadgets offer. This is because the companies who advertise these products do not inform us about what happens to our information when it is entered into the devices.

Some consumers seem to be compliant with such forms of surveillance as many people believe that providing authorities and companies with our personal information is advantageous or necessary, and that it is inevitable that they will gain the information at some point. On the other hand, others who do not want to abide by the processes of digital surveillance systems choose to deflect and subvert the power relations of the city.

By using resistance strategies and tactics, the defiant members of the city avoid being surveilled by authorities of the state. Using subversions like blocking moves, masking moves and switching moves will prevent these resisting communities from exposing their personal details and protecting their identity from being monitored and stored in databases.

It is apparent that cities are becoming more defensive because of the terrorist threats society has encountered as well as the increased dangers posed to larger populations in the city environment.

Digitalised surveillance techniques assist authorities in protecting modern cities around the world yet invade the public’s privacy by monitoring private information found through their GPS signal or Facebook profile. So be careful the next time you update your status or the next time you check yourself into Nandos: you never know where that information will end up.