Spring break is over and now it’s back to reality.  THIS IS HOW I’M LIVING. 😦

The All Seeing Eye of the Panopticon

            The idea of living one’s life under constant observation from an unseen entity is prevalent throughout human history.  Jesus, Allah, Santa Claus, and so on – all seem to have some interest in watching your behavior and judging you based upon your actions.  With cyberspace and technology’s assimilation into ever more facets of daily life, people are being subjected to surveillance more than ever before.  Whether you’re at the bank, at the store, on the road, or even at home, your actions can be traced.  In what I think is ultimately for the benefit of society, the modern day Panopticon is playing a part in preventing and punishing criminal conduct.

Remote viewing as a catalyst for good behavior is nothing new, but its literal implementation through technology is.  Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform, proposed the idea of building a prison that functioned as a day-and-night surveillance machine.  The design, named the Panopticon, would ensure that a prisoner would never know when the inspector is watching (Cartome).  According to Jerome Dobson and Peter Fisher in their article “The Panopticon’s Changing Geography”, Bentham’s idea of top down surveillance has lived on in two further stages.  In the 1940’s Panopticon II consisted of the concept and subsequent installation of closed-circuit cameras in public spaces.  The third phase, which we are currently living in, utilizes numerous forms of electronic surveillance including video coverage of city streets and public spaces, GPS tracking devices, and logging credit card transactions and library checkouts.

The fear is that all this tracking is a violation of personal privacy.   In his 2002 article “Surveillance in Cyberspace: the Internet, Personal Data, and Social Control” David Lyon addressed the collection of personal data.  “This is participatory surveillance, where there is some shared custodianship of data.  But how much is shared, and the terms under which it is shared, is where the struggle lies.”  As businesses collect personal data, some allow themselves the right to sell it amongst competitors and other markets.  Tax, birth, and medical records can also be accessed online in some form, so an interested party with the right set of skills could learn practically everything about you, without ever actually meeting you.

When I first started writing this paper, I was fully against the idea of the Panopticon and its privacy consequences.  As I plotted my first draft I realized that if guidelines aren’t put in place, certain members of our genus leave mankind and go back to the animal kingdom.  If somebody steals my identity and maxes out my $500 credit card, I find great comfort in knowing that they could be tracked down and punished for being a cowardly internet thief.  There is always some rationale for installing surveillance – to improve efficiency, productivity, security, safety, and so on (Lyon).  Religion has been using the idea of omnipresent, all seeing gods to control primal human behavior for thousands of years; governments just found a way to make it literal.  I feel the bricks of the virtual Panopticon have been laid by the prisoners who inhabit it, but considering the savage nature of a world without laws, at least we’re indoors.

Works Cited:

Cartome. “Theory of Surveillance: The PANOPTICON.” Introduction: The Panopticon., 16 June 2001. Web. 24 Jan. 2012. <;.

Dobson, Jerome E., and Peter F. Fisher. “The Panopticon’s changing geography.”

The Geographical Review 97.3 (2007): 307+. Gale Power Search. Web. 24 Jan. 2012.

Lyon, David.  “Surveillance in cyberspace: the Internet, personal data, and social control.”

Queen’s Quarterly 109.3 (2002): Gale Power Search.  Web.  23 Jan. 2012.


Author: JuiceJohn

It doesn't have to make cents.

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