How does surveillance look like and function in the era of freedom of speech and fight for equality? Are the concepts of Foucault’s ‘panopticon’ and Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ still relevant or have they remained only as a horror of the past?
Modern man possesses the freedom of speech, the freedom to control their own time and in the end their own lives. But that freedom isn’t limitless. As a French historian and thinker Alexis Tocqueville said ‘One persons freedom ends where another persons freedom begins’. In order to make sure that that thin line isn’t crossed it needs to be checked. While walking on the streets of London an average man is captured in about 300 cameras every single day. ‘For your safety and security the CCTV is in operation on all lines’ This sentence repeated in the tube is a constant remainder that we are being watched. ‘Well if its for my safety and security’. That’s what people usually think and following the rule of ‘if I have nothing to hide then I should not worry’. So we know its out there, but we mostly don’t think about it and pay no attention to the audio remainder. Then why does it exist? Because people tent to watch their selves when they think someone might be looking. The camera does not even have to be turned on to serve its purpose it might as well be serving as a placebo. It might seem very cunning and modern, but the origins of this idea were not born yesterday.
In 1975 Michel Foucault – French philosopher, historian and social theorist – discusses in ‘Surveiller et punir. La naissance de la prisonthe’ (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison) the idea of a prison system called panopticon (original project of English lawyer and philosopher Jeremy Bentham). Prison built in that system unable inmates to contact with each other, by placing cells in a way they could only see the guarding tower. The guarding tower was placed in the middle of the cell house with a one-way mirrors, enabling the supervisor to infiltrate every cell without notice. Inmates unaware if they are being watched at the moment, but conscious that they may be (always seeing the tower), discipline themselves.
- Abbas, N., (2003) CCTV: City Watch in Kerr, J. & Gibson, A. (Eds.) (2004) London From Punk to Blair. London: Reaktion Books.
- Foucault, M., (1975). Discipline & Punish. NY: Vintage Books.
- Orwell, G., (1949) 1984. Secker and Warburg.