From the Beginning: Children as Subjects and Agents of Surveillance|
Surveillance & Society 7(3/4): 192-230. http://www.surveillance-and-society.org | ISSN: 1477-7487
This article examines the claims made by surveillance entrepreneurs selling surveillance to parents and government agencies responsible for children. Technologies examined include pre-natal testing, baby monitors and nanny cams, RFID-enabled clothing, GPS tracking devices, cell phones, home drug and semen tests, and surveillance toys. We argue that governments, both in the contest of health care and education, use surveillance to identify and "manage" genetic or behavioural deviations from the norm. Parents, on the other hand, are encouraged to buy surveillance technologies to keep the child "safe". Although there is a secondary emphasis on parental convenience and freedom, surveillance is predominately offered as a necessary tool of responsible and loving parenting. Entrepreneurs also claim that parents cannot trust their children to behave in pro-social ways, and must resort to spying to overcome children's tendency to lie and hide their bad behaviour. We conclude by offering some ideas to rein in the variety and complexity of the issues raised and to help order controversies in this domain.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.The seemingly omniscient, omnipresent, colonizing power of 21st century new surveillance softly spreads ever outward and inward in society. The future gallops in on diffuse, almost invisible sensors embedded everywhere.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the hierarchal family with responsibility for the care of children. A focus on children and the home offers an ideal setting to see broader social forms and processes and to make comparative statements across tools, applications, life cycle stages, institutions and geographical places, and can highlight some enduring tensions.
Kids are literally the poster children for surveillance. Relative to other contexts such as work or government, children illustrate a broader (and perhaps clearer) array of central surveillance concepts and dynamics. Attention to childhood offers a unique transom into how we learn what it means to be watched and to watch and to how surveillance changes as roles and related rights and responsibilities shift over time. It also illustrates the unclear meaning of values or goals in conflict and the absence of ways for resolving tensions between them.
There is a slowly emerging literature on children and surveillance (see for example Jorgensen 2004; Katz 2006; Wagerson et al 2010; Nelson forthcoming). Most of it focuses on particular applications or needs (as do the articles in this volume). In contrast, we treat the broader topic of surveillance of and by children. We look at the universe of tools available and ask how can these be categorized and contrasted? What cultural messages do they send? How are they justified? How do children as subjects respond? What is distinctive about the surveillance of children and why does it seem to be a particularly contentious issue? What broader social and policy questions does the topic raise?
This article is part of broader projects that look at other settings such as work and government (Marx forthcoming) and at legal and policy questions involving children and the internet (Steeves 2006, 2007, 2009; Steeves & Webster 2008). The methods used are interviews with subjects and agents of surveillance, document analysis, observation, case studies and participant observation as children, parents and a grandparent, and our involvement in policy groups.
The article has three sections. It begins with a satirical statement from an imaginary social movement dedicated to protecting children through the use of technology. This reflects surveillophiliac themes within our culture taken to an extreme. Yet it hopefully has enough authenticity to provoke thought and contains some moral and empirical truths that even the most libertarian of parents would likely agree to. Its more controversial assertions highlight the complexity and conflicts associated with the topic, and set the stage for our examples and analysis.
We then examine the claims made by surveillance entrepreneurs selling surveillance both to parents and to government agencies responsible for children. Technologies examined include pre-natal testing, baby monitors and nanny cams, RFID-enabled clothing, GPS tracking devices, cell phones, home drug and semen tests, and surveillance toys, and span the years from pre-conception through to the late teens. Parents are encouraged to buy surveillance technologies to keep the child "safe". Although there is a secondary emphasis on parental convenience and freedom, surveillance is predominately offered as a necessary tool of responsible and loving parenting. Entrepreneurs also claim that parents cannot trust their children to behave in pro-social ways, and must resort to spying to overcome children's tendency to lie and hide their bad behaviour. Government, in the context of both health care and education, places the emphasis on surveillance to identify and "manage" genetic or behavioural deviations from the norm. The uses children make of surveillance in play are also considered.
We conclude by offering some ideas to rein in the variety and complexity of the issues raised and to help order controversies.
There's something PISHI going on
They're going to slap that baby's bottom, then slip an ID chip in their neck or between their shoulders so you can keep track of your kid.As noted, the PISHI statement is fictional but it is factual. It is a composite based on the claims that surveillance entrepreneurs (whether in social movements or commerce) make in marketing their products. This section considers some of the many technologies available to meet these concerns. The emphasis is on parents and the state as surveillance agents and data consumers, with brief mention of the role of commercial interests such as providers of online content for children and marketers targeting youth. We examine examples of the major forms of surveillance tools for children. Our review illustrates, but hardly exhausts, the range of tools, or the multiplicity of similar tools within types. We have focused on representative forms where the surveillance definition is clear and involves physical activity beyond video games or books.
Children as subjects of surveillance
Matching and monitoring from the beginning
The watchful parent can make use of a number of technologies before conception to ensure that his or her partner will be an appropriate match. Computerized dating services use software to ensure that long term relationships are no longer left to accidents of contiguity, or the attractions of risk taking. Instead, the successful match is determined by scientific search and analysis. At eHarmony (2009), for example, a "patented Compatibility Matching System®" profiles potential partners on the basis of 29 personality Dimensions™ (including "family goals") that are "scientifically-based predictors of long-term relationship success." This system is based (as of 2009) on 35 years of clinical experience and "rigorous" research to determine those qualities that are statistically associated with successful relationships. e-Harmony's "scientifically proven system" enables the service to predict "happier, healthier long-term relationships".
Genetic dating services analyze mouth swabs to identify matches based on genetic compatibility. For example, ScientificMatch.com (2009b) uses the "science of love" to find "the most perfect matches possible." The advertised benefits include higher rates of fertility and "a greater chance of having healthier children with more robust immune [sic]." GenePartner has "isolated the compatibility gene" (Gene Partner 2009a); it tells its clients that choosing a mate with a matching genetic code will lower the risk of miscarriage and allow "our offspring [to] prosper" (Gene Partner 2009b).
However, as ScientificMatch (2009a) warns, successful relationships also depend on social compatibility and trustworthiness. To "promote honesty", the company verifies the age, marital status and bankruptcy history of all its members. It also conducts detailed background checks and bans identified felons. Individuals currently in relationships are encouraged to use a number of similar services to reduce the risk of committing to an unreliable partner (see Andrejevic 2005).
"If you date, investigate" advises Datesmart.com (2009), a company offering "Private Investigations and Confidential Background Verification Dedicated to Personal Relationships" to help people find out the "truth" about their partners. Its web site warns that, "If that new relationship you're in seems a little too perfect, you're probably right," and promises to help people find out "who's lying next to you [sic]". Full confidence at the outset that a partner is who he or she claims to be is needed for a life long relationship. That of course does not obviate the need for subsequent checking.
Once the partners decide to have a child and conception occurs, embryo monitoring can identify genetic diseases such as Down syndrome, trisomy 18 or an open neural tube defect. Health authorities emphasize the importance of early monitoring: "The earlier a woman sees her health care provider, the more options she will have" (BC Prenatal Screening Program 2009b). Mothers who receive a positive result are given information regarding options, including having an abortion, putting the baby up for adoption after it is born or making arrangements to care for a special needs child. Although the decision to intervene is "highly personal," mothers are not alone: "Your health care provider, your genetic counsellor and your family will help you make a decision about what's right for you and your pregnancy" (BC Prenatal Screening Program 2009a).
Minding the kids: Surveillance of infants and toddlers
Once the baby is born, two streams of surveillance tools target the young child. Governments continue to exhibit interest in deviations from the norm – whether genetic or behavioural – while parents are encouraged to buy surveillance technologies to keep the child "safe."
Newborns are screened for dozens of genetic disorders for early diagnosis and potential treatment. A number of states have created databases, without parental consent or knowledge, for storing blood samples routinely taken at birth for neo-natal PKU screening. While identifying information is stripped from the samples, in principle it could be tied back to a given individual (Stein 2009). In South Carolina 30 expectant mothers receiving prenatal services were even arrested as a result of non-consensual drug testing done on samples gathered for other purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court found this unconstitutional (Campbell 2006; Ferguson v. City of Charleston 2001).
Parents are required to disclose a great deal of information when they apply for a birth certificate. In contrast to the early 1900s, when a birth certificate recorded not much more than child and parents names and date and place of birth, the modern birth certificate application collects several hundred pieces of information, including the parents' race, the child's pulse, respiration and activity rates at one and five minutes after birth, 12 medical risk factors, 16 possible complications of labour/delivery, and 33 abnormalities (Sweeney 2001). Given an interest in "risk factors" birth certificates now require information about the mother's alcohol and cigarette use during pregnancy and the start date of prenatal medical care. 1.
Risk management is similarly a motivating factor behind the United Kingdom's national database for children (BBC 2009). The database was created after a child was murdered by her guardians in spite of the fact that authorities knew she was a child at risk. Britain now tracks all of its 11 million children. The Information collected includes home address, contact information for both parents, doctor's information, school records and information about the child held by social services. The data is periodically reviewed for indications that the child might be at risk and if so, child protection agents are notified. An earlier version of the database identified "potential criminals" as young as three years of age who exhibited "cheekiness, minor vandalism and causing nuisances"; after a child was identified as such, he or she was monitored at school and on the street (Garrett 2004). 2.
That peace of mind is delivered through the capacity for constant monitoring of an infant's image, sounds, breathing and/or movement. It is this seamless surveillance that promises "the most comforting feeling ... being able to see your baby snug and safe" (BabyMonitor.com 2009a). A number of monitors come equipped with infrared night vision so the parents "can see baby in the dark," and the technical capabilities of audio and video components are so advanced, "it's practically like peering over the crib rail."
Surveillance and related communication are offered as tools of responsible parenting and convenience. Parents can "care" for the child without their anachronistic physical presence. For example, BabyMonitor.com (BabyMonitor.com 2009b) says, "Baby monitors give parents the freedom to sleep in a separate room at night or do chores during the day" and Graco tells parents that purchasing a monitor "means you can enjoy dinner on the deck or movies in the basement while still keeping an eye and ear on baby" (Babies R Us 2009). If the baby does need you, monitors enable you to respond remotely by talking through a microphone, or flipping a switch to play soothing music to lull the baby. Similar functionality on Japanese smart toilets allows a parent to record and play a message encouraging their child's toilet behaviour without having to accompany the child to the bathroom (live two-way communication can easily be imagined as well). Some smart toilet models sense the identity of the user (through weight and other sensors embedded in the seat) and can be pre-set to automatically turn on the message from mommy. Automated chemical analysis of urine is also possible (perhaps a feature of interest for parents of teenagers).
Surveillance products can also help protect against harm from external dangers that might come into the home. The creator of a line of RFID-enabled infant pajamas was motivated to create an electronic fence around sleeping children because, "You look at these kids and think, 'I would do everything to protect them'" (Sullivan 2009). Parents who buy the infant sleepwear can wire their house with RFID readers so, in the event a predator breaks into the house and tries to remove the baby, the monitors will sound an alarm. The sleepwear comes with an optional SmartWear database which stores photographs of the child and other "vital information" for parents to give to police if their child is kidnapped. The database is linked to police computers and the Amber Alert system so the information can be transmitted "within seconds".
Under development is an RFID tag that works with both an in-house monitoring and alarm system and the retailer's supply-chain tracking system. Privacy concerns are dismissed because the tag is not linked to the child's name and the parents control both the tracking system at home and the information that is collected by the database.
Marketing material for nanny cams also emphasizes the need to protect the child from harmful others, even supposedly trusted caretakers. Prospective customers are encouraged to "Protect your child: find out how your nanny treats your child" (MySpyCam 2009). A testimonial on MySpyCam.com reflects this: "Manny" tells a "shocking" story about his nephew's seizures being linked to nanny abuse that was only discovered when he installed a nanny cam. The abuse, harassment and torment he saw "horrified" him, but he "became a hero to my nephew and family" when the nanny cam evidence forced the "evil nanny" to leave.
Once the child is old enough to leave the house, the number of potential dangers multiplies, and there are accordingly a number of tools to track the child's location to keep him safe. The Bladerunner jacket, for example, has a battery-operated device embedded in the seams of the jacket that tracks a child's position anywhere in the world to within a four meter radius; by interacting with Google maps, it is able to send updates every 10 seconds to the parent's computer, cell phone or personal digital device pinpointing the child's location (Ubergizmo 2007). The Wherify Wristwatch offers a similar GPS tracking device installed in a child's wristwatch. The watch is locked to the child's wrist to prevent loss or unwanted removal. There is a remote unlock feature allowing the "watchful" parent to govern when the child can take off the watch (e.g., for swimming). If the watch is lost or stolen the parent can locate it.
Personal GPS devices can be inserted into a child's backpack or pocket to help "Keep a Watchful Eye on Your Wandering Child" (BrickHouse 2009a). Some, like Loc8or Plus, allow parents to set "safety zones"; if your child leaves the pre-selected radius, the device sets off an alarm so the parent is alerted. Devices can also include "panic tags" the child can use to "hit the panic button'" when the child wants to "[call] for assistance" (ChildLOCATOR.com 2009), and automatic "locates" called "breadcrumbs" which "ensure your child arrives safely" as she goes about her day 3. (BrickHouse 2009a). Kiditel can even predict what route children are expected to take based on where they have been (INSTA GPS 2008).
Cell phone companies also offer products and features to track and control children's physical location. Sprint Family Locator's Safety ChecksSM service will automatically notify parents when children arrive at "school on time or at home by curfew." Parents "never need to 'bother' [the child] again, but will always know where they are. Nothing is more comforting than knowing where a child is when you need to" (Sprint 2009a). With Kajeet, "the cell phone service made for kids," parents can remotely turn off their child's phone, "like off during math class," and block calls and texts from "people you don't want". They can also arrange for their own calls to their children "to get through no matter what" (Kajeet 2009).
Parents can also piggy back on school surveillance systems to check up on their children throughout the school day. RFID-enabled school uniforms in Japan, California and the United Kingdom allow both parents and schools to track a child as she goes from class to class, often replacing the taking of attendance (Newton 2007; Williams 2007). My Nutrikids.com is linked with the school cafeteria payment system, allowing parents to both pre-pay school lunches and monitor exactly what their children are eating (MyNutriKids.com 2009). GradeSpeed is a web-based system for teachers and school administrators that enables parents to go online and see exactly what homework has been assigned each day and review their child's ongoing test results (GradeSpeed 2009).
Peace of mind in a dangerous world
Promotional material emphasizes the sudden risks to children and suggests that these are more pronounced than previously. Manufacturers pepper their sites with factoids about missing children: "It's Not You. All Children Wander; 2,185 Go Missing Every Day." Although "It's a truly sad commentary on society that there's even a need for a tracking system like this, ... given the tragic fates of several young children in California, Oregon, Utah, and other locations over the past couple of years, the need for a device like this is beyond any doubt. Here's all you need to know: [Monitoring] may save the life of your little one" (BrickHouse 2009a).
Responsible parents should be fearful, at least until they purchase the protective product: "We all know what it's like to turn your head for a fraction of a second and lose sight of your child" (ibid). That momentary anxiety is normalized as a persistent fear. Kiditel informs parents it is normal to worry when the children are out of their sight (INSTA GPS 2008).
As children mature and are exposed to more risks, there are a number of tools to protect them from their own bad judgment and evil influences. Alltrack USA not only lets parents "see your teen's car from anywhere in the world, including while at home, at work, on a business trip or on vacation"; the black box installed under the dashboard also reports the vehicle's speed, hard accelerations, and braking time. Parents can remotely disable the starter and lock or unlock the doors (Alltrack USA 2009c). "It can even optionally beep at the driver if he/she surpasses speed, acceleration and braking levels that YOU define. Wow!" (Alltrack USA 2009a). The Teen Safe Driver Program places a camera behind the rear view mirror that records the view inside and outside the car 10 seconds before and after erratic movements. The video is reviewed by staff at DriveCam's Event Analysis Centre where experts provide parents with coaching tips. Parents also receive a weekly driving report that compares their child's score to that of other teens in the program (TeenSafe Driver Program 2009).
Parents who worry that their children are sexually active can "Find Out The Truth With The Semen Spy!" Since, "In today's day and age it's hard for parents to keep a constant eye on their children," children can sometimes "get involved in dangerous activities or with the wrong people without their parents consent" (BrickHouse 2009b) After all, "one of the most harmful" risks a child can take is "their engagement of (sic) teen sexual activities" (BrickHouse 2009c). Luckily, parents can "collect evidence for an accurate semen test," "create undeniable evidence," and "Stay Informed By Testing Sexual Activity Instantly" This involves swabbing the child's undergarments with a chemical substance that, within 10 seconds, turns colour if there is any PSA (protein specific antigen, one of the major proteins found in seminal fluid) on the garment. In spite of the law enforcement language of the marketing material, the company assures parents that using the Semen Spy will enable them to "prove sexual activity so you can open up an honest dialogue with your child or teen" (BrickHouse 2009b). 5.
This organization promotes abstinence through a variety of clothes and other products including messaged pajamas and underwear. 6.
CheckMate has refitted a field rape kit used by law enforcements agencies for home use. According to BrickHouse Security, "it's become the rage with parents who aren't sure when to have that conversation about sex with their kids" (BrickHouse 2009c). Parents who want to have a conversation about drug use can use similar kits to detect traces of marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and heroin (BrickHouse 2009b).
One at home drug testing kit uses a small vacuum cleaner-like device that samples the air around a child's desk in search of tell-tale drug molecules; another uses a drug-identifying spray on personal possessions such as a wallet or books to identify drug residue. But while these may indicate the presence of drugs, they don't reveal how they got there. An innocent child's air or property might have been contaminated by someone else. Urine drug tests, whether done with the child's knowledge or not, is another option. A variety of at home urine test kits are available.
Firstcheckfamily.com (2009b) reports that it can "provide you results in 5 minutes and most products are over 99% accurate." It can identify five prescription and seven illicit drugs and "is committed to be the leader in providing the highest quality home diagnostic kits to assist people in living safer and healthier lives … [and] to give you the answers you need in the privacy of your own home." Satisfied customers report, "this lets my kids know I am serious about drug prevention" and "by setting the box on the table, our family had the best 'drug talk' ever."
The community-minded company "is a proud sponsor and supporter of Project 7th Grade," a national drug prevention program "aimed at parents of middle school students. The project "introduced the concept of home drug testing as a prevention tool for parents and continues to educate parents about how to create a proactive family drug prevention plan" (First Check 2009a).
The rationale for the program is clear:
Parents often have the 'not my kid' mentality, thinking, 'My kid would never try drugs.' The truth is, parents don't generally know their kids have tried or have become addicted to drugs until the kids are two years into the addictive behaviour. By educating parents of middle school students we can work together to protect children. Middle school students are more likely to still respect and listen to their parents, at least more often than a high school student (First Check 2009a).Online fears
The fear that children who are unwatched might make bad decisions is particularly acute in virtual spaces. Online fences, like their GPS counterparts, therefore limit where young people can go and keep a close watch on what they say and do. The Parental Controls in Verizon's Internet Security Suite are typical. The software automatically blocks over 70 million web sites that Verizon has identified as "questionable," and parents can block specific sites as well. 8. The Suite creates a permanent log of the child's online activities, so parents can see exactly what the child is doing, including whether or not the child tries to access blocked material. Parents can also use the software to schedule their child's time online, by automatically controlling the length of sessions and restricting access during preset times (Verizon 2009).
Parental monitoring software is marketed as essential because "The Internet Really Is A Dangerous Place For Your Child" (PC Tatteltale 2009). In addition to the questionable content they may access, "Studies have shown that one in five children have received some type of sexual related solicitation online. With an 87% growth rate of children online and not being monitored, now is the best time to begin a proactive stance in your children's lives to prevent your children from being witness to the virtually infinite number of dangers online." Luckily, there are "many tools out there that can keep you, the parent in control" (BrickHouse 2009c). The message from Sentry at Home: "Your Child Online = Danger. Protect Them Now" (Sentry Parental Controls 2009).
Failing to monitor the child's computer "is just asking for trouble" because "No matter how much you trust your child to do the right thing, there are just too many peer pressures and other dangers lurking in cyberspace." With parental monitoring software, "you can relax knowing that you have a 'secret back door' that you can use to see exactly what they see, and what they are doing online. Do NOT risk your child becoming a potential victim. Take Control of Your Child's Online Experiences And Keep Them Safe" (PC Tatteltale 2009).
Tracking – online and offline – is presented as an essential part of effective and loving parenting. The "sensible, safety-conscious parent" will protect their child from the "horrors" of the Internet through constant monitoring. After all, "You don't let your children decorate their rooms with violent or pornographic images... You certainly wouldn't approve of them bringing home friends who call themselves SuicideLullaby or PeeStandingUp. So why would you let them get away with this and more on MySpace?" (ParentalSoftware.org 2009).
In this new world software scans the child's instant messages, wall posts, emails, comments and profile information to detect – with an "accuracy rating of 98.4%" (imsafer 2009b) – dangers such as grooming by paedophiles, bullying and self-harm suicide conversations. Parents "don't have to worry about it" (imsafer 2009a) unless they receive an email indicating that the software has detected "an inappropriate relationship" (imsafer 2009c).
In the real world, the question is, "How much do you love your child? More than the dog you're careful to keep on a leash every time you take him outside for a walk? I'll bet you do." The solution? "[A] snazzy-looking digital wristwatch for your child that just happens to contain a satellite homing device so you can pinpoint junior's whereabouts at any given moment" (BrickHouse 2009a). Alltrack USA (2009b) concludes:
The bottom line is that your teenager's life and safety is priceless! Leave Nothing To Chance!! Know everything, and I mean Everything, about your [teen]... ! Better safe than sorry. Your teenager doesn't have the wisdom of an adult yet. That's why they need your close supervision and attention. These products help you do your job of being a parent to keep your [teen]... safe and injury-free.Messages about the child's safety are mixed in with messages about the convenience of knowing where your "things" are. The child is just one of a plethora of "tagged items" that can be managed through technology: "Loc8or Plus is the solution you've been waiting for! This fantastic handled device allows you to track your personal property, pets and children all with one, simple and easy to use device that you can take with you anywhere. With Alert mode, you can stop losing things in the first place!" (ChildLOCATOR.com 2009).
Parents can also be relieved of the burden of interacting with their children; cell phone monitoring means parents can be "free from the constant cell phones calls [that] used to connect families with constant calls all day long," and instead "quietly keep track of them throughout the day" from the convenience of their home or office (Sprint 2009b).
Spying as an essential parenting tool
Without Parental monitoring software you have no way of knowing what your kids do or where they go when they're online. And even if they are not supposed to, we all know that your child WILL go online unsupervised if they think that no one will find out! (PC Tatteltale 2009).The "first step for parents is to get over their fear of monitoring [their children]. Parents must learn how to monitor" (SpyOnYourKids 2009). Then, you can choose to monitor in one of "two different ways. Either you tell your children that you're monitoring [them], which means that they're likely to be much more cautious and sensible – essentially, it'll be as if you're standing next to them, asking 'should you really be doing that'? 9. The other option is to [monitor] in total stealth mode, and find out exactly what your children do and who they talk to when you're not around" (ParentalSoftware.org 2009).
Is your DAUGHTER wasting her time on that NO GOOD PUNK?
Playing for the future: Simulations, spy toys, children as informers, on-line playgrounds
Secrecy and discovery are central to many forms of children's play. Discovering and sharing secrets is fun. Games available in the culture such as peek-a-boo, hide and seek and Easter egg and treasure hunts stay local. These games are an end in themselves and fit the classic understanding of play (Goldstein, Buckingham & Brougère 2004, 3). They contrast with commercially sponsored computer play and the use of search technologies to be discussed.
Play may involve simulated activity imitating adult behaviour. With Scan It ® the child plays at being an agent. This "Approved Certified Tested Toy" detects metal objects and simulates an X-ray scan as it glides articles over its metal detector path. 10. It beeps and lights up when metallic items are present.
It is designed to help "children become acclimated with airport public space security." The "healthy fun" it provides also serves to generate "education and awareness of the security measures that people face in real life" (Wizard Industries 2009). Additional projects and education on airport and public spaces security is available at a child-friendly web page: OperationCheckppoint.com (2009).
In 1997 President Clinton required government agencies to add child friendly learning and play material to their websites. Beyond history, safety tips, cartoons and talking animals, these offer mazes, puzzles, code breaking, tests on knowledge and pictures to colour.
Anthropomorphic dogs play a major role on these pages. The National Security Agency (2009a) offers Decipher Dog. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (2009a) takes children on a field trip with bomb-sniffing black Labs Darrel and Shirley. The Central Intelligence Agency introduced "Ace Photo Pigeon" Harry Recon and his twin sister Aerial in 2001 (cartome.org 2009), while the National Reconnaissance Office's NRO Jr. site (2009) has moved from using an extraterrestrial called Whirly Lizard to a satellite named Ollie. An eagle called CSS Sam heads Operation: Dit-Dah, a code breaking game (National Security Agency 2009b).
The FBI site "is designed for children and their parents to learn more about the FBI through age-appropriate games, tips, stories and interactivities. We also introduce you to our working dogs and show how FBI special agents and analysts investigate cases" 11. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2009a). Children (5-11 years of age) can pretend to be agents and are asked "can you help Special Agent Bobby Bureau get in disguise for his undercover assignment? He's depending on you ... Help Bobby Bureau Go Undercover" (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2009b).
Older children (12-18 years of age) can take the Special Agent Challenge:
This is the Special Agent (SA) Challenge. Presently, you're a New Agent. As a New Agent you are still training at the FBI Academy located in the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. You are taking part in 16 weeks of intensive training that includes physical training, firearms, and classroom instruction. You hope to be an FBI Agent in the Anchorage, Alaska Field Office. To be an Agent, you need to know not only FBI procedures and what is being investigated now, but past cases and FBI history. Search our website and increase your knowledge of the FBI. Your position in the FBI as a Special Agent will depend on how well you do!The child-friendly sites of national security and law enforcement agencies are descriptive. They offer an idealized and simplistic view of their organization. 12. However their tone contrasts markedly with the fear-mongering of some of those selling surveillance goods and services. The emphasis is on educating children rather than directly cultivating them as sources of information. However, there are links to pages to "Submit a Crime Tip", "Report an Internet Crime" and "submit an anonymous tip online" although no guidance about how to use these or how reporting can be misused is offered.
"Super Ears" – an early example – can "help you detect even the slightest sounds! Slip on the headset and aim the dish; even if your target is far away, you'll hear every rustle, every footstep, every breath, every word!" A stethoscope-like device permits hearing "quiet breathing, through a concrete wall a foot thick" and with "fidelity good enough to record." Consider the play and other possibilities with a Dyna-Mike Transmitter: smaller than a quarter, it "will transmit every sound in a room to an FM radio tuned to the proper frequency" up to two miles away. A voice-activated miniature tape recorder that can be slipped into a pocket, a drawer or under the bed offer other possibilities (Marx 1988).
The "SpyChix Micro Surveillance Kit" offers a cornucopia of contrivance – a pocket-sized audio recorder that doubles as a fashion accessory, a sports watch to "synchronize missions" and a compass to "target your mission." Its' "Micro Agent Listener" has a microphone that extends around corners, through open windows, or over couches, so children can "still get the information." The "Mobile Spy Ear" can hear through walls, the "EyeClops Night Vision Infrared Stealth Goggles" can see in the dark, and the "Spy Audio Car" has a microphone hidden in a remote controlled toy car.
"No mission is impossible" with the state of the art equipment sold by "Top Secret Spy Gear". Along with its "high-tech listening device that lets you hear conversations up to 40 feet away" there are rear-view spy glasses, a secret agent walkie-talkie, monocular with a tripod and invisible ink pen. This comes with a warning about CHOKING HAZARD, but no mention of any SOCIAL HAZARD (toys to grow on 2009).
Children as informers
"Who denounced you?" said Winston. "It was my little daughter... She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don't bear her any grudge for it. In fact I'm proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway" (Orwell 1984).Children learn early that good citizenship in any group involves obeying the rules. They also learn that they have an obligation to report violations and that democratic orders value citizen participation. Siblings are encouraged to look out for each other and for some parents that means reporting misbehaviour. 13. Children are encouraged to report swearing and bullying on the playground. Hall monitors in grammar schools report on running in the halls.
The same kind of behaviour is encouraged in the online world. For $5.95 a month Club Penguin, a virtual community, permits young children to customize and interact with penguin characters and chat and play games with other penguins. After the first month they receive an invitation to become a member of the Penguin Secret Agency (P.S.A.) complete with a spyphone, the F.I.S.H. (Factual Informative Spy Book) and the ability to enter HQ.
Modern society, in adding loyalty to the state and organizations alongside of what is owed family and kin, generates conflicting pressures. This is taken to an extreme in cases where states (or rigidly doctrinaire sectarian groups) demand absolute loyalty to the organization, even if it means reporting on the violations of family members and friends (often along with self-confessions). 14.
The archetypical case is Pavlik Morozov, a 15 year old who is said to have denounced his own father as counter-revolutionary Kulak 15. to the Soviet authorities. He claimed he did it for the revolution. Along with his 9-year-old brother, he reportedly later informed on peasants who were hoarding grain and speaking against the government. Under unclear circumstances the boys were killed. After a politicized trial, four relatives, including his grandmother, were executed for murder.
Pavlik was made into a cult hero of the Pioneers, the communist youth organization. In sacrificing his own father, he was held up as a positive example for Soviet children. Writer Maxim Gorky called for a national monument to the youth and said he, "understood that a relative by blood may also be an enemy of the spirit, and that such a person should not be spared" (Figes 2006: 124). 16.
While very different in the goals espoused, there are some functional parallels in the more than 2000 law enforcement American Explorer Scout groups that engage in simulated and real policing efforts. They are attached to units such as the Border Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They practice law enforcement techniques and engage in competitions. Consider eight teenage boys and girls (14 and older) responding to (simulated) mayhem in Imperial, California where a distraught gunman has killed several people. They face "tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots –BAM! BAM!—fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed. 'United States Border Patrol! Put your hands up!'" A sheriff's deputy who leads one group states, "This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl" (Steinhauer 2009). According to a news account such programs are training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration, and escalating border violence" (Steinhauer 2009).
Chilling content and national efforts to mobilize informing among family and friends is offensive to democratic sensibilities valuing the borders of civil society and respect for the individual. Yet in times of perceived crisis and moral panics, paler versions of children as informers may appear. This is made easier with efforts to increase citizen reporting. 17.
For example, the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency has enlisted children in the fight against smuggling. Customs created a Trading Card program for children aged 5-14 honouring 81 drug sniffing dogs. The trading cards were distributed to schoolchildren at "Detector Dog Demonstrations" as part of a Customs' anti-drug outreach program. The attractive cards feature color portraits of friendly looking dogs such as "Honey Bee" and "Rocky" surrounded by a border of blue stars. As with sports trading cards, the reverse side offers statistics such as age, weight, year started and some specific to canines such as breed and most notable drug seizure. 18. Alongside is the request to report suspicious activities: "YOU CAN HELP [dog's name] STOP DRUG SMUGGLING. TO REPORT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITIES, CALL 1-800-BE-ALERT" (Marx 2009b; Washington Post 1997). The meaning of suspicious activity is undefined.
This contrasts with children as agents in other civic activities involving non-criminal matters such as fire prevention and energy conservation. Gary T. Marx still has his "Junior Fireman" badge and certificate awarded for identifying fire hazards in the homes of family and neighbours.
Well meaning programs for children may have unwanted consequences. The emphasis on drug education has seen some cases of children reporting parental drug use to authorities. After hearing a police 9lecture, a 13-year-old girl turned in her parents who were arrested for possession of cocaine 19. (L.A. Times August 14, 1986). Soon after, an 11-year-old girl who had heard from Project DARE about the dangers of drugs complained to police that her parents were using marijuana. Police went to her home and confiscated a 3½ foot tall marijuana plant (L.A. Times, September 10, 1986).
The controversial use of minors as informants and operatives in criminal cases has accompanied the war on drugs. Consider an Orange County, California boy killed before he turned 18. After an arrest for drugs he agreed to participate in a supervised undercover drug buy. He was killed shortly after that (Wall St. Journal, April 4, 1998). As a result of such cases, many states have legislation restricting the use of minors, although an exception is made for cases involving undercover purchases of cigarettes.
Online playgrounds: More than child's play
I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world. Life in plastic, it's fantastic.Most of the spy, detection, adventure and protection themes in the toys previously discussed are not connected to a network and children are free to do as they wish (or at least can) with them. No record of their activity is produced or sent to unseen others. This contrasts with online playgrounds, like Barbie.com, Neopets, and Webkinz, which began appearing as soon as the Internet became a mass phenomenon. Some such as Barbie.com are explicitly gender linked. 20. Typically, these sites collect information from the children, both directly and indirectly, in order to extend the reach of the marketing messages embedded on the sites. The crux of the system rests on surveillance (Steeves 2006, 2007). The child is watched throughout his or her play, and data is collected about the child's preferences, activities, location, 21. purchasing habits, communications, and friendships. This information is used for market research purposes and the delivery of contextual or targeted marketing.
Throughout their play, children on these sites are warned of the dangers of talking to people online, who may not be whom they appear to be. However, the child is encouraged to "talk" to the corporation, and the fact the child is subject to constant scrutiny is unproblematized. As with Club Penguin's spy program, the child is encouraged to report suspicious behaviour to the corporation which will then "keep the child safe" (Steeves 2007).
The online playground is attractive to corporations precisely because it opens up the child's private play to surreptitious corporate surveillance, and enables the corporation to interact directly with the child. Children are likely to be blissfully unaware that they are providing marketing data or that the fun they have can be accompanied by sugar coated, disguised, commercial messages tailored to the child. But marketing in this environment is more than the delivery of advertising; it is a way to steer the child's play and embed the brand into the child's sense of identity (ibid). The use of virtual spokes-characters and other branded content creates a relationship between the child and the brand, creating increasing levels of intimacy between marketers and children by dissolving the boundaries between content and commerce (Montgomery 2000) and playing and purchasing.
Given the breadth of topics covered and the temporal range from birth through adolescence, we can hardly offer a singular or simple conclusion. Rather we raise some basic questions and offer some ideas to rein in the variety and complexity and to help order controversies.
The following related topics are addressed:
The tools we have reviewed can be organized in a variety of ways to help in thinking about explanation and evaluation. Some of these distinctions reflect inherent material factors, while others depend on policies around the tool. For simplicity of classification the dimensions below are offered as dichotomous: 22.
Claims made for the surveillance tools and the behaviour of parents, teachers, and guards as agents have been considered. But how do children respond? Marx (2009) identifies a number of applicable strategies as surveillance subjects, whether adults or children resist control efforts and turn surveillance tools to their own ends and surveillance agents in turn adopt counter-strategies. Consider examples such as code language, using websites that offer anonymity, using clean urine in a drug test and offering false information to a web request.
A number of studies report that children routinely use similar strategies, such as minimizing screens, deleting surfing histories and instant messaging logs, and using slang, to evade surveillance on the part of parents and teachers (Livingstone 2006; Livingstone & Bober 2003, 2004; Media Awareness Network 2004; Hope 2005). Younger children often choose to communicate online rather than face-to-face or on the telephone because it makes it more difficult for parents, siblings and teachers to overhear them (Livingstone & Bober, 2003, 2004). Surveillance entrepreneurs accordingly offer counter-neutralization techniques, such as the teen chat decoders that translate "teen speak" into English (Teen Chat Decoder 2009), in a type of surveillance arms race. Merchants urge parents to spy because of the evasive actions children take.
Children under surveillance may experience it as equivalent to having their pockets picked (Livingstone & Bober, 2003, 2004) or being stalked (Burkell, Steeves & Micheti, 2007). They may complain that monitoring to protect them from the "evils" of the world may be seen as patronizing, and demonstrating a "lack of respect for the abilities of young people to make responsible decisions and choices" (Media Awareness Network 2004).
There is some evidence that children are also increasingly suspicious of the ways in which they are constantly monitored by online corporations. Although they typically "click through" meaningless consent options so they can play or chat with friends, many of them lament their lack of ability to go about their business without being watched. As a 15-year-old girl puts it, "Like, if we had a choice to say no, I would choose no. We can't or else we can't go on the thing for some of them" (Burkell, Steeves & Micheti, 2007, 14). This lack of options can translate into a general distrust of the corporations that house the sites they visit. As a 17-year-old boy said, "Well, they're taking advantage of you, that your friends have a Hotmail account, they're on Messenger, like you have to have Messenger... It's another way to control you" (ibid).
Increasingly restrictive controls are part of a broader societal trend towards a "politics of fear" (Altheide 2006; 2009) or "culture of fear" (Furedi 2002) – parents and schools simply cannot "afford" to allow children to interact without surveillance because of the proliferating "risks" that must be managed and controlled. As Valentine and Holloway (2001) note, this dynamic is particularly evident in moral panics around children's use of information and communication technologies.
However, the use of parental fears about safety to sell products is also noteworthy because lay persons do not assess risk in the same way as technical experts and decision-makers. The former are more likely to judge risks based on the extent of the harm that could occur rather than the likelihood the harm will occur. (Slovic 1979, 1987) Even if the risk is minimal, as it is with in-house child abductions or online stalking, people will be motivated to avoid the risk if the harm is overwhelming. Marketing of many products incorporates this non-expert conception of risk; the horror of an abduction or SIDS is immeasurable and therefore the decision to place the child under surveillance is perceived as rational even though the probability of the harm occurring is negligible.
Jorgensen's (2009) study of parental use of webcams in Denmark suggests that parents use webcams for a variety of purposes. Although some of the parents studied used the video to monitor day care workers (as seen in the film The Nanny Diaries), this was uncommon and constrained by the need to develop a working relationship based on trust between the parent and the day care worker. Typically, the parents' motives were linked to their own emotional needs: to feel they were together with the child and taking part in nursery activities; to feel they were protecting the child and supporting the child's development; to be entertained and to pass the time. When the parents' expectations were met, they felt joyful; when not met, they felt angry, disappointed, depressed and indignant.
Awareness of this pattern helps explain why the marketing material focuses on the parent's need to feel at ease, comfortable and secure (holding apart the value of these technologies from the child's perspective). The parent is able to fulfill emotional needs and mitigate the effects of separation through the use of these technologies, but the child does not have that opportunity because the gaze is unidirectional. However, the surveillance itself is normalized for the child through constant monitoring and the incorporation of surveillance in play.
At the same time, constant monitoring can work against children's developmental needs, and can make it harder for them to become more resilient (Livingstone 2009). It may also work against creating the kinds of trusting relationships that encourage children to comply with adult rules. Kerr and Stattin (2000) report that monitoring children does not encourage pro-social behaviour; instead, children are more likely to behave in pro-social ways when they are able to voluntarily disclose information to adults with whom they share a bond of trust.
In addition, self-expression is intricately linked to identity formation and a sense of self-respect (Stern 2004), and children need opportunities to interact with the world without being monitored in order to develop a sense of autonomy (Livingstone 2009). Respecting children's need for privacy as they grow can enable them to fulfill age-appropriate developmental needs for individuation (Tang 2006), and encourage them to go beyond the acquisition of "thin" procedural skills to develop a facility for deeper, "connected thinking" (Davis 2001, 252).
As noted above, surveillance may be actively (if with varying degrees of overtness) resisted in pursuit of the space to try on new identities, experiment with social roles, communicate with peers, and glimpse at an adult world that is otherwise closed to them (Livingstone 2006; Steeves 2006).
In spite of the exaggerated claims of some advertisers, in resource rich conflict settings there is rarely a final victory. Irony is no stranger to social control efforts. Any tool represents forgone opportunity costs and may solve one problem while creating another. The limits of mechanical control in many conflict settings are a reminder of the advantages of open communication and trust. The latter of course has its own limits and if unqualified and never unaccompanied by surveillance is a license to deceive.
Sources of conflict
The fallacy that for every problem there is a solution (and a technical one at that which is to be preferred to other kinds of solutions)It is vital to examine claims and counter-claims about surveillance technology and to identify background assumptions. But some other PISHI statements are unsettling not because of the absence of data, challenged logic or questionable ethics. Rather it is because they fail to acknowledge conflicts of values and/or goals and to offer criteria by which competing concerns can be judged. The PISHI program and the ads it is drawn from offer the beguiling certainty of platitudes and sweeping generalizations rather than the deranging uncertainty of nuance and qualifying statements. The statement is silent on the frequent need for communication, negotiation and compromise and on the limits of mechanical means of control.
Disagreements, ambivalence, unease and even guilt about monitoring children are often tied to competing empirical and normative claims. Some conflicts are found within the family setting while others are located between social systems as with the family and the state.
Any social setting of course is a mélange of conflicting cross pressures and imperfectly integrated expectations. But the collisions seem particularly pronounced for children in the home. Awareness of opposing social logics offers a way to organize the varied beliefs and behaviour observed. Much of the conflict and confusion surrounding children and surveillance come from the less than perfect meshing of factors shown in Table 1 below.
The factors are: informal and personal relationships; vulnerability/dependence; formal subordination; and responsibility, all occurring with the private place of the home as the child gradually gains independence. The norms and expectations associated with these factors often conflict and their intersections are grey, muddying comprehension.
Moreover, both children's experiences of technology, surveillance and control in home and school, and parental fears about safety, are contextualized by gender, race and social class and vary considerably. There has been little research on these differences (although see Nelson, forthcoming for a contrast between the "hypervigilance" of the professional middle class and other groups) 24.
Navigating these waters becomes even more difficult when corporations seek to "mine" the family environment and commoditize social relationships in order to control the child's imagination and desires. This mining is facilitated by the blurring of the traditional boundaries between work, home and commerce and an increase in the wiring and sensoring (and potentially censoring as well) of the home. Here the membranes that bring inputs into the home for entertainment, telephone and computer communication, electric power and heat, as well as various security sensors, send back records of internal activity to distant centres. For a glimpse of one future see the ambient intelligent scenarios described in Wright et al, 2008)
A related example is Microsoft's vision of the "teenager's room of the future," presented at the 29th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (Privacy Commissioner of Canada 2008). The mock-up bedroom, which was ostensibly based on technologies that were then currently under development, used photo-electric wallpaper to both display electronic information and capture all of the teen's electronic activities. The data stream would be sent, with consent, to the corporations that provided online services, so the corporations could continuously monitor the teen's actions and adjust the teen's environment, "as needed". The walls could also sense the presence of a cell phone. If another teen entered the room with his cell phone on, his text messages would automatically be displayed on the wall.
The fact that a child is involved also brings some commonalities to surveillance whether in a school, mall, workplace, public park or family home. Schools serve in loco parentis, workplaces face restrictions when employing minors, playgrounds are concerned with children's safety and children in shopping malls have some constitutional rights 25.
But in spite of the commonalities noted above, social settings also present irreducible differences. The family as a special institution and the home as a distinct place, involve a unique combination of social forces. The largely unplanned conjunction of the social factors noted in Table 1 offers a key to current controversies involving children in the home and tends to set these apart from surveillance of adults and other settings such as work, commerce and citizenship.
Table 1: Factors Characterizing Parental Surveillance of Children
Conflicts in the Family and Between Family and Society
The marketing material produced by surveillance entrepreneurs clearly seeks to convey the message that children are in need of protection from unseen others. However, the technology can also become a way to control an unruly or anti-social child. Products like the Semen Spy, CheckMate, PC Tattletale, Alltrack USA and home drug testing kits incorporate crime control language and technologies, and promise to help the parent discipline the child who refuses to stop seeing "THAT NO GOOD PUNK" (SPY Master Tools 2009), posts "'questionable' pictures" on My Space (PC Tatteltale 2009), or commits acts of vandalism on the school bus (activcameras 2009).In addition, parental surveillance both piggybacks on and amplifies other products, such as RFID-enabled school uniforms and programs such as MyNutriKids, which focus on control and efficiency. 27. The child as an active agent can become enmeshed with the child status as a victim: surveillance is necessary because the child is equally vulnerable and dangerous, both unable to care for himself and yet more skilled than the adults in his life.
The tools designed to meet (create?) contradictory needs for protection and control are often positioned as a form of convenience that relieves parents from the tedium of raising a child. From baby monitors to cell phones to parental monitoring software, entrepreneurs promise parents time away from the child to eat dinner, watch movies and work, all without having to physically be with the child. The parent can escape the home (or room where the child is) because the child is tethered by electronic gadgets. Thus the "Portable Video and Sound Monitor" (Amazon.com 2009) is mobile, being wearable around the parent's waist. Information on older children is available via cell phone and the Internet. The home and immediate co-presence therefore both shrink and expand. There is freedom in one sense but omni-presence in another. More data may bring more questions rather than answers. As with prisons guards, always-on-call parents are also enclosed.
It is suggested that any concerns about long distance parenting are quelled because supervision is shared with others: Kiditel knows where your child is, MyNutriKids knows what your child eats, the staff at DriveCam watches your child drive and Club Penguin monitors your child's online chat. However, since the child's information is itself a valuable commodity, the home becomes one more source of market research data and point-of-sale transaction. 28. The home as a traditional refuge is under siege by connectivity from all sides. As the lines between home, play and commerce become permeable the child in constant contact with friends and family is now also in constant play as a commodity.
This may not make the role of parents any easier as they strive to maximize protection, safety and security of children while also giving them space to develop, explore, stumble and learn from mistakes. There are costs to overprotection just as there are to under protection 29.
The family as a primary group involves informality and trust to a much greater extent than is the case with the formality and written rules of the organization. Trust (or at least its gradual extension as the child grows) is seen as fundamental to emerging self-control and healthy development. The use of formal means of assessment such as drug testing a child or recording all of their communication can be unsettling because it fundamentally undermines that trust, 30. apart from any questions of privacy. Such actions communicate a lack of confidence in the individual and undercut the foundation for personal and intimate relations. Lack of private spaces (whether physical, personal or social) for children amidst omni-present parental oversight may also create an inhibiting dependence and fear.
A primary relation is partly defined by its diffuseness rather than by the narrower expectations associated with an organizational role. Family members are justified and indeed expected to attend to the most personal of issues beyond what is appropriate and formally defined for an employer, government, teacher or causal acquaintance. The breadth of the parental role can offer children a protective border and a safety net given the varied circumstances and surprises of growing up. Diffuse norms of attentiveness, care and parental responsibility are most pronounced in the case of children.
The shared physical space and the amount of time spent within the confines of the family means closer observation and greater awareness of information that may be discreditable (whether to the child, the parent or both). In situations where a child's behaviour conflicts with standards of the broader society such information may be withheld as a result of alternative standards, familial tolerance and understanding (or at least loyalty), self-protection and a desire not to lower the family's status or simply out of denial. 31.
The ostensibly benign, broad prerogatives granted parents to protect and nurture their children justify intensive and extensive crossing of personal borders. Dependence on parents, vulnerability to their threats, norms of family loyalty and the physical and legal borders separating the family and the home from external visibility can be supportive of parental abuse (whether involving doing too much or too little watching or exploitation) is not even more widespread.
The last source of conflict in Table 1 involves the dynamic nature of the parent-child relationship over time. Even if the previous conflictual factors were not present, the lack of clear points of transition as the child matures would generate conflict.
The family is the ultimate total institution where in the beginning parents have almost all of the formal and informal power. This declines and changes form with age and can even be cyclical. It contrasts with prisons or workplaces where external control remains more constant and where the individual may be present for a lesser time period. With appropriate socialization, the child's motivation and ability to comply develops, while in adult settings these are more constant. For the developing child, surveillance and subsequent punishment may have the intended effect. In contrast, for adults in the other settings the structural conflicts are relatively unchanging.
In the early stages formal (role relationship) family surveillance is non-reciprocal and non-negotiable. Parents define the goals and conditions and monopolize a rich mixture of traditional and new surveillance tools. The goals of parents and those of the young in need of nurturance and protection overlap. However, as the child moves from dependence to independence the conflict potential and its breadth and intensity may accelerate.
Infants are poked, prodded and observed by parents at will – almost nothing is out of bounds for responsible parental inquiry. Privacy and secrecy are meaningless for the very young. For the dependent infant or child, the failure to cross personal informational borders can be irresponsible, unethical and even criminal. With maturity this is reversed and the crossing of these borders can be wrong. Although this transition from openness to closedness may appear to be linear, it is often conflictual and judgments must be contextual. 32.
At a year or two, naked toddlers are photographed joyfully frolicking together in wading pools, parents inspect their bodies at will and dress and undress them in public. To the parent's consternation, the small child may freely disrobe in public. However, eventually the young child is likely to want the bathroom door closed, learn about modesty and come to value being clothed. 33.
The physical and social borders that give meaning to the protection of personal information come to understood. Closed bathroom and bedroom doors, the clothed body, desks, backpacks and learning to hide thoughts and feelings and to communicate obliquely bring the individual greater control over personal information, whether as a result of changes in norms, physical borders or new resources. With the development of language and motor skills children learn they can hide things and deceive parents.
There is a move from the absence or weakest of borders between the unborn child and the mother, to their gradual strengthening as the child emerges and ages. As an infant becomes a toddler and the toddler becomes a teen and then grows to almost adulthood, the varieties of protective surveillance (both regarding the environment and other people) decrease and change, respect for the borders of the person increases as self-surveillance (and the related self control) increase.
Childhood arenas expand beyond the clearly defined (and accessible and insulated) physical spaces of the home to the more distant spaces of day care centres, schools, malls, workplaces, cars, streets and parks beyond direct parental observation. This brings a variety of new needs and challenges for parents and opportunities for children.
As the child grows the goal of protection is supplemented by that of compliance. Surveillance seeks to discover and monitor new factors. Shared goals are joined by conflicts in goals. Formal and informal power imbalances become less pronounced. Children gain new rights and more informal power. The potential for negotiation and neutralization become more prominent. The young move from being subjects to also being agents of surveillance, within the family watching younger siblings (and sometimes even parents) and peers.
Responsible parents still watch their children and the child's environment closely. But if socialization is successful, children increasingly watch themselves (and learn to watch others for signs of danger and to report misbehaviour) and they are trusted beyond the range of direct parental observation, even as new grounds for distrust appear.
There is a gradual transition from external, mechanical control characteristic of situations where there is little or no trust (whether involving motivation or competence) to greater trust in the developing child's ability to control the self and to avoid problems from the environment. The ratio of involuntary, external forms of control relative to internal self-control changes. Managing the speed and form of this transition is a central task of parenting and a frequent source of family conflict.
Children learn the joys of secrets and dissimulation as elements of game-playing and become comfortable with surveillance. Beyond games, they also learn that self-interest is often served by avoiding the parental and adult gaze. Shifts in surveillance occur as parents and teachers may come to see children as potential suspects, in addition to continuing to see them as in need of protection.
New technologies replace the direct observation and control that is possible with younger, less mobile children. As adolescence arrives the greater opportunities for parentally disapproved behaviour, the increased salience of personal borders and new rights and resources make for less consensual surveillance and stronger reactions back. The sharing of secrets with parents is likely to decline and feelings of being intruded upon increase. The dynamic nature of the maturation process illustrates the continuing relevance of context. A parent's curiosity about the communication and possessions of an 8-year-old looks very different when applied to a 16-year-old. In the case of the latter, reading a diary, letters or computer files, over-hearing phone and other conversations, looking through desks, drawers and clothes may be done (not to mention rubbing these for evidence of drug or sperm residue), but surreptitiously and ambivalently. This may occur more directly through monitoring of credit cards, cell phones and cars for location and even video evidence. Concerns involving drugs, liquor, companions, sex, driving and academic performance may lead to new forms of monitoring and neutralization.
As the child reaches adulthood and leaves home, surveillance declines significantly. The pattern may eventually be reversed as the adult child looks after elderly parents. This can even be formalized with the grant of a power of attorney. Technologies with equivalent functions are used for dependent parents –implants and attachments for monitoring physiology, location monitoring, systems for toilet control, enclosed areas, locked rooms and video transmissions from nursing homes via the Internet. Warning signals are also present as with panic buttons, or when an alarm is sent if the refrigerator is not opened for a period of time or an exit door is opened.
The family and the state
Ideas about civil society as a separate sphere that must be protected from (and by) the coercive powers of government are central to the questions considered, as are conflicting questions about limits on private sector behaviour. With respect to data flows to and from distinct social sectors, note disagreement over the data flows between and among various institutions and settings (private places like the home and mall, diverse government agencies, work). What happens to data from the surveillance of children? Where do they go, how long are they kept, who can see them, are children and (or if done by others) their parents informed, are there review procedures? When should the state come into the home or provide data it has collected to parents? When should the family provide data it has to the state?
When the rules of government conflict with the somewhat autonomous spheres of the family or religion, whose expectations should apply? Consider permission and reporting requirements for abortion, sex education in schools, advocates for polygamy or parents who oppose vaccination or want to deny children needed medical treatment for religious reasons. Consider a family that seeks to shield and hope to reform a wayward member rather than have the state prosecute. A privatization theme in the ads for home testing is to keep results away from the state. 35.
Whether intentional or unintentional, an emphasis on the family as the provider is consistent with contemporary trends involving privatization in which the state in some ways lessens its direct involvement in providing services (schools, prisons, national defence) or fails to expand them to meet new needs (e.g., the increased participation of women in the labour force is not met by adequate daycare (Katz 2006)). A turn to the private sector and technology is often the fall back position – letting the state off the hook, while blurring the borders between public and private and perhaps lessening accountability. New markets for surveillance tools and services are created.
But is it right or wrong?
In much local play, as with hide and seek, relationships are relatively equitable (a feature in respecting the rules and in fairness) and the goals are manifest. Children are aware of the pretend quality of the surveillance and reciprocally respond. The activity is fun and its own end. Any data gathered are of no consequence beyond the play itself. Involvement in simulated surveillance can be a socializing experience and permits learning about information revelation, concealment, deception and trust. The child may come to see secrecy and discovery as normal (as in routine or ordinary) and such play may be preparation for later agent and subject roles. Yet it is unlikely to do direct harm to subjects the way "real" surveillance can and the ethical issues raised are less gnarly.
A different set of concerns is present when children cease to "play" (or at least "play" for real, if that isn't contradictory) and instead perform the role of informers. New issues also appear when adults are the agents and children the subjects (and objects) and when parents rely on mechanical devices in place of trust, or when commercially generated, networked play involves on-going, direct, low (or invisible) communication between the child and the merchant.
Holding apart the distinctive nature of children playing at surveillance, in reaching normative conclusions some general questions can be applied to adults as surveillance agents of children and to institutions such as the family, school and mall. Table 2 offers some questions to help in judgment. These are expanded at greater length in Marx (1998, 2005) and questions specific to children – such as manipulation, the meaning of informed consent for a child and whether some things such as a young child's imagination ought to be beyond the reach of the corporation – also need consideration.
Table 2: Questions for Judgment and Policy Across Surveillance Contexts
Let's get normative!
Between the extremes of parents emphasizing abstinence or permissiveness (or at least indifference) is a middle position of safe realism. This starts with acknowledging the powerful role that reality has on children's perceptions and opportunities. The PISHI manifesto recognizes that no child can avoid our sexualized culture or puberty and the opportunities our mobile culture offers for privacy. Nor can the culture's emphasis on alcohol and drugs as recreation and components of a sophisticated life style be censored away. To deny these realities and to rely on external mechanical means of enforcement can be seen as an insult to the child's intelligence and lessen the message bearer's credibility.
On the other hand, to deny the dangers that can be associated with drugs and sexual activity identified in the opening PISHI statement is naïve and irresponsible. The waters are indeed filled with sharks and worse, but there are reasonable protections as well. A position of safe realism begins with acknowledging the availability of alcohol, drugs and sex. It then emphasizes the role of the child as a moral actor capable of reasoned choices when given information. 36. For those who seek these activities, the parental goal should be to help children be safe by making them aware of options and of the likely consequences of their actions. 37.
Related to this is the need to ask how real and harmful a risk is (both as to likelihood and as to severity) and to be sensitive to the complex issues in defining and measuring these. Reduced to essentials this suggests a typology involving improbable events with minor consequences at one extreme and probable (or at least those that are not improbable) events with very harmful consequences at the other. Understanding how individuals decide these matters is an important task for research.
Table 3: Probability and Harm
What do individuals conclude about improbable events with extreme consequences and probable events with minor consequences? One does not need to read French philosophers to know that drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases or drunk driving – warrant action. But even then questions about the fit between means and ends must be considered. Does the tactic work? What other means are available (whether involving material or non-material technologies)? Among the latter is communication and openness.
Parents need to develop surveillance sophistication in response to the array of products they are offered and to link it to safe realism. This involves awareness of the techno-fallacies that can be so deeply embedded in North American (and perhaps increasingly world) culture. Careful analysis is needed of the claims undergirding bright, shiny, gee whiz tools that promise salvation amidst the horror awaiting parents who fail to purchase the solution.
Realistic assessments, awareness of developmental needs, communication, listening, weighing (but not necessarily balancing) conflicting interests are central, particularly for issues involving teenagers. The above can be acknowledged without falling into an immoral or amoral relativism. There are clearly some things which ought not to be negotiable and one size hardly fits all.
The developments we have discussed reflect broader changes associated with the new surveillance and emerging understandings of risk, responsibility and technique – enshrouded in the instrumental rationality central to contemporary society, a society where markets for the products considered are relatively unregulated.
Cultural expectations over what can and should be done for the young and the perception and appearance of new problems need to be better understood. We see new ways of measurement, new definitions and new behaviours. Consider for example public awareness of SIDS, ADT, AIDS and rates of teen pregnancy. The mass media is central in shaping public knowledge about this (Best 1999; Glasser 1999; Altheide 2006).
Given the complicated issues of perception and reality, it is too easy to see it only (as some social scientists do) as a reflection of marketing and moral entrepreneurs. In some ways children in developed societies have never been safer across an array of measures. 38. But citizen concern over a problem cannot be judged simply by comparative statistics. There is a clear need for research on public concerns and behaviour involving children, data on the extent and nature of problems and on the roles played by the mass media, including the Internet. Some questions for future research are suggested below.
If surveillance marketers are successful, children's lives will be increasingly structured by an abundance of surveillance tools aimed at them and by them. Will more complex understandings of childhood as a time of innocence/savviness, protection/exploration, nurture/autonomy be shaped by broader discourses around the relationship between fear, risk and resiliency on the one hand, and surveillance as a tool of parenting and governance on the other? Our review of surveillance marketing materials and children's games indicates that this relationship is already actively at play. Will this unreflectively promote conformity, the privileging of safety, and the equating of parental love with at-a-distance monitoring? Will this new form of parental caring lead to a view of children as both inconvenient and untrustworthy?
Is the meaning and experience of childhood being redefined as this generation of children faces an unprecedented level of measurement and technical surveillance? What does the world look and feel like to the child subjected to the new scrutiny? Will we see ever more anxious parents produce children who might be safer, but will become more apprehensive, dependent and conventional as adults, externally controlled by fear of being caught (as long as the machinery works), rather than internally controlled by a sense of right and wrong? This links to the logics of surveillance as measuring and disciplining deviations. To what extent is contemporary consumerism – in spite of the rhetoric of choice – encouraging mindless conformity?
Defenders of toy guns argue that their products are just make-believe and are harmless because they don't really work. Children can indulge their violent or protective fantasies without doing any immediate harm or confusing their game with reality. But that is not the case with many of the surveillance devices. They are attractive because they really do work. Children are no longer required even to pretend or to fantasize. In becoming accustomed to such toys and the pleasures they bring, are the seeds of an amoral and suspicious adulthood being unwittingly cultivated? Will private bugging, wiretapping, video surveillance and computer and location monitoring expand as a generation having had these devices as childhood toys or as protection come to see them as offensive and defensive necessities? Will they be more likely to uncritically accept claims made by surveillance entrepreneurs?
Surveillance of and by children is multi-faceted and not adequately understood. The topic offers a unique window into what it means to be watched and to watch under dynamic conditions and provides a glimpse into a future for which it may be difficult to muster even two cheers.
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