Surveillance — Boon or Bane ?

In the age of surveillance, the very digital technologies that once promised to revolutionize and improve the daily lives of people in the past decades, have also created detailed records and threatened the privacy of those lives. Privacy in the modern world is not passé, owing to security threats and the inability on the part of people to realize the relevance of it and a lack of knowledge about the ill effects of the same. With the emergence of new technologies and artificial intelligence, surveillance and web cameras, thermal scanners and GPS tracking device, the State depends highly on the private sector for tools and technology to keep the area under its jurisdiction under surveillance. Hence the Orwellian dystopian state which was a mere fiction in the past era is not far from being a reality.

The 9/11 attacks on the United States marked a new dynamics in the world order and took it to a whole new level. It brought about a paradigm change in the perspective of the western countries towards the third world countries, directly targeting and accusing them of terrorism. In the name of security, The governments across the globe tightened its grip on its people’s day to day activities in the name of counter terrorism. Hence, surveillance is one tool of security which the government has been using to fulfill its agenda of security in combating terrorism.

Surveillance, according to Professor David Kyon is identified in the light of power and person-hood. He defines surveillance as a focused and systematic account of an individual’s life and each and every movement he takes, while taking four aspects into consideration. Firstly, it emphasizes on learning information about individuals. This involves taking into account information pertaining to personal life of the individual like where he was born and what he does, etc. Secondly, it is systematic and organized in nature. Thirdly, it is routine. Fourth, surveillance has various others keeping consideration purposes which can be authoritarian influence or domination.

The worst offenders of surveillance are autocratic state regimes. For instance, China has used technology as a tool to control and monitor its masses through subjecting its people to rigorous surveillance. The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region also known as East Turkistan lies in the far West province of People’s Republic of China and is currently undergoing a massive humanitarian crisis owing to China’s intention of turning the region into a state under complete surveillance in which the everyday lives of the Muslim minority group is being monitored with their schools, streets, mosques and villages being monitored by high tech security cameras. Another exampled can be of the US resisting Arab Spring uprisings that have made use of social media to track the revolts of the conflict in order to trace the leftist ideologists and penalizing them afterwards.

Surveillance is not just limited to communists and dictators, it is also practiced by democratic governments. These governments have began investing heavily on high-end surveillance technologies after the 9/11 attacks in the US. Britain, for instance is one country in the world which is heavily dependent on surveillance, having a wide network of public and private surveillance cameras, traffic control cameras and has a body of government to monitor internet trafficking.The United States too, heavily invests in the National Security Agency in a program of warrantless wiretapping of phone calls. The NSA was also engaged in a supercomputing project in Utah desert, possibly with an aim for capturing and archiving internet traffic and decrypting it.

Apart from governments, private companies make fortunes from the collection, assimilation and sale of personal data which is further used in the study of consumer habits and behavior. The so-called ‘on the face’ free usage of internet in reality is heavily funded by advertisement companies which make multi-billion dollar business by behavioral advertising. Other technologies engaged in private surveillance embedded in Facebook and Instagram have social reading applications which disclose an individual’s reading habits, tastes and preferences.

The advancements in technology and the increase in surveillance at an alarming rate raises the question – how much of freedom shall an individual give up under the pretext of security ? Hence, a balance must be maintained and the State shall take the responsibility of not taking the personal freedom and privacy of its people for granted.

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