Camera Surveillance and Privacy:
Legal, Technical & Psychological Considerations
Maynard Riley - December 3, 2006
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Legal Considerations
Technical Considerations
Psychological Considerations
Psychological Considerations
      The ‘panopticon’ is a prison design first proposed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785; all inmates are visible by a guard while the guard himself is not visible. French philosopher Michel Foucault’s book, Discipline and Punish, likened modern society to a panopticon through its controlling structure of teachers, social workers, probation, daily living, and workplace organization. Foucault connects knowledge to power, theorizing that knowing everything about another person, creates a means to control that person. (Natsios 2001). Foucault’s death in 1984 prevented him from seeing additional tools of panopticism evolve, namely through technology and the advent of the computer age. Bentham said the key to the panopticon’s success was the uncertainty the prisoner felt; he also held that the panopticon was adaptable to any environment which involved some level of supervision (Warriar et al., 2002).
      Professionals have hypothesized the psychological effect of surveillance on the individual, but no real data through scientific research exists. Many of their arguments are persuasive. A recurring theme regarding the psychological effect of constant surveillance are the loss of spontaneity, passivity, fear, loss of dignity, punishment for trivial crimes, and the feeling of already being a criminal. Certain groups may be affected psychologically much more than others; women may feel they are being recorded for voyeuristic reasons, while minorities may feel they are being ‘profiled’ for criminal activity.
      According to Riley (2001), "...video surveillance serves as the best symbol of a wider endemic problem facing humanity, the increasing dehumanization effects that new technologies are having on all of us." According to Ball (2003), in a panopticon society, in which everyone is on camera all the time, is like a prison without walls. "Society has a carceral texture and deepens into a disciplinary society" (page 6). Jay Stanley of the ACLU believes that surveillance discourages free expression and protest at demonstrations (Stanley, 2002). Canada’s Privacy Minister, George Radwanski, in a ‘Letter of Finding’, states, "The psychological impact of having to live with a sense of constantly being observed must surely be enormous, indeed incalculable" (2001); Canada sees fit to protect its citizen’s right to privacy.