Digital Surveillance And Panopticon

The digital age unleashes the potential for mass surveillance. New technological advances are being developed at a rapid rate causing a conversation about the potential threat to human’s privacy. There is an increase in the amount of surveilled areas and digital media provides many avenues of surveillance which can cause cameras to act as panopticons.

Digital surveillance is often associated with high risk areas. I expect to see cameras at banks or surrounding important people’s houses. When there is something that needs to be kept safe, I know there will be cameras posted as an extra level of protection. But in reality there are cameras in nearly every public space, even spaces that might not be protecting valuables. I have seen cameras posted all around my school, at the grocery store, and on the road. Traffic light cameras can be used to monitor vehicles running through a red light and it can cause people to drive cautiously. Recently I have noticed that there are cameras posted on the side of highway I-75. This means that cameras can monitor whether or not I drive to school or up to Atlanta and can follow me even if I do not use social media to check in at a location. Even if I do not go anywhere, I can be tracked because my phone has a camera. Beyond simply observing, the digital age also provides insight into who I am as a person because my online habits can be tracked and someone could get an idea of what I am interested in based on my web searches.

Digital media provides access to total observation. It can act as a gateway into people’s lives. It moves beyond surveillance and can monitor human’s online identity. As Hillie Koskela said in “‘Cam Era’ — the contemporary urban Panopticon”, “The urban experience of being watched through a surveillance camera is, naturally, only one of the approaches to surveillance. With computerisation, surveillance is becoming more subtle and intense” (294). With the invention of computers and phones, surveillance becomes apart of everyday life. Aral Balkan, in “The Camera Panopticon”, compared human’s digital experience to a lab rat, “A simulation that can be locked away in a virtual lab to be studied 24/7 like a lab rat. A simulation that is used to both predict and manipulate your behaviour”. Cameras allow humans to be watched 24/7 and can be used to constantly observe behavior like a panopticon.

A panopticon was designed in prisons to supervise inmates. Prisoners altered their behavior if they felt as though they were being watched. Panopticons provide the ability to control behavior. In the digital age, a camera panopticon exists and according to Balkan it must be stopped, “we must do whatever is within our power to make sure that no one entity owns and controls the Camera Panopticon”. Balkan emphasizes human’s right to control their own identity and that no one else should be allowed to alter individual identities. I agree that I should be the gatekeeper of my identity and I do not believe that another human should be able to access my identity without my consent. But I have a hard time conceptualizing that someone is watching me. There are billions of people in the world and there are far more significant people that can be observed. I do not see what would drive a person to observe a regular individual when they could access surveillance of someone with power.

The digital panopticon is encroaching on human’s everyday life. But it does not affect my life experience. In the prison panopticon design, prisoners were aware of the panopticons existence and therefore altered their behavior because they thought they were being watched at all times. I am blissfully unaware of being watched. I understand that there is the potential for someone to access my laptop or phone camera. However, I still think of my laptop camera as a way to skype friends and my phone camera as a way of capturing my life. Because I do not think of the cameras in my life as panopticons, they do not have the some hold over my actions. I still behave as though I am not being observed and maintain control of my identity.