Undercover in Comparative Perspective: Some Implications for Knowledge and Social Research 1.
In C. Fijnaut and G.T. Marx, Undercover: Police Surveillance in Contemporary Perspective, Kluwer 1995, pp. 322-337. This chapter draws together observations I made in teaching and lecturing in Europe during the 1990s, as well as from some of the other chapters in this book. Two cheers for the internet in offering a means to bring it to a broader audience in the face of the book's $150.00+ price tag.

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By Gary T. Marx

Research projects, even when exploratory and largely descriptive as this undertaking is, always involve at least tacit theoretical expectations. This project is no exception.

In my study of undercover practices in the United States I argued that social control was changing in important ways. As we note in our introduction, a remarkable expansion in undercover tactics occurred in the decades following J. Edgar Hoover's death. The increased prominence of undercover methods was accompanied by an increase in other (often covert) forms involving video and audio surveillance and electronic location monitoring, computer dossiers, and a variety of biometric measures such as drug testing and DNA analysis. Rather than being alternatives, these often bolstered each other and can be seen to reflect a cult and culture of surveillance. 2.

The new surveillance and the 'maximum security society' seen in the United States reflect broader changes associated with the modern state. These changes in social control go beyond government and law enforcement to commerce, the workplace and even interpersonal relations. As a sociologist looking at the big picture, I hypothesized that these changes were not idiosyncratic to the United States and that many of the same broad factors operating to produce them would be found in other industrial democratic societies. Among reasons for thinking this were:

  1. Common cultural and structural factors associated with the development and organization of the modern state such as ideas of science, rationality and citizenship and the interdependence and complexity of mass society, with its impersonality, mobility and bureaucratic organization.
  2. Functional needs - modern complex societies face many common problems and may reach similar conclusions about how to best deal with them (e.g., radar and driving under the influence of alcohol tests for traffic enforcement; covert tactics for offenses without a complainant; testing and quarantine for public health emergencies; a common forensic science for dealing with ballistics and DNA evidence; and the internationalization of crime which requires cross border cooperation). This might be seen most clearly where risks are the greatest, as with control practices found at nuclear power plants or airports.
  3. Aggressive entrepreneurship by countries such as the United States and France seeking to export their control practices. This is done by government agents seeking influence and by private sector entrepreneurs seeking profits.
  4. Fads and fashion. In democratic societies, social interventions into complex social problems such as crime are generally only partly successful. There is a constant search for new and presumably better ways. A related aspect is simply symbolic - the desire of countries to appear modern and professional by using the latest means.
  5. Increased communication between countries and new cross border social control efforts involving bi- and multi-lateral treaties, international law, and new organizations and forms of cooperation such as Europol and Trevi and Schengen. Common security practices at borders and airports as a result of international standards are one example. The weakening of borders in Europe (and between the United States and its immediate neighbors) suggests that cooperative efforts and common practices will become more prevalent. For example, in 1995 the DEA had agents in 50 countries and the FBI and customs in 25.
  6. Competitive pressures in a global political and economic system and/or a desire to increase efficiency and control in which a tactic perceived to offer an advantage (such as new, more comprehensive forms of work monitoring or satellite surveillance) would be adopted out of self-Interest.

Such social forces are certainly operative. Yet regardless of how important the United States is as a political and economic superpower and exporter of its culture through powerful international mass media and governmental bodies and marketing channels, it is premature to conclude that a standard, technocratic, anticipatory, velvet glove, paradigmatic American social control model is taking over the western democratic world. If that were the case the main thing left to study would be the process of its diffusion. 3.

While Coca Cola and basketball may be quickly imported, new undercover police tactics and Intrusive surveillance technologies may be rejected (as seems to be the case in Europe with most drug testing and technologies for electronic monitoring of prisoners, children and workers). If accepted they will be adjusted and changed to meet a country's social contexts, culture and needs. Certainly the new forms of surveillance have come to Europe. Some changes represent a radical and sudden break with the recent past. In recent decades new enabling legislation has been passed, courts have offered new supports, special units (particularly for drugs and organized crime) have been created and covert activities have expanded in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and elsewhere. But this has not happened to the same degree, or with the same force and energy, as was the case for criminal and non-criminal uses in the United States. Europeans have far more stringent protections from personal data collection, and seem to go to greater lengths to maintain physical privacy in the face of greater density.

Holding apart counter-terrorist and state security uses, the main European use is for drugs. Property stings, street decoys, anti-corruption, environmental and endangered species protection uses were rare, or non-existent. To be sure, there are idiosyncratic uses (e.g., in Britain against soccer hooliganism and contract homicides, in Italy to recover stolen art and against the Mafia), but I had anticipated that the tactics would be used more extensively and intensively than they appear to be. Of course with time this may change.

There is of course great variation within the world outside the United States. For example, Germany makes far more extensive use of computer dossiers and artificial intelligence systems and has a more developed ethos of prevention than do other countries in Europe. Britain appears to make more extensive use of public video cameras, of telephone hot lines for secret citizen reporting and of neighborhood watches. France makes extensive use of political dossiers, while showing great contempt for informers. Italy relies upon mafia informers (pentiti) with new identities. Given its size, Canada may be the leader in wiretapping. 4.

The European country that seems closest to the United States in the use of these tactics is the Netherlands. It is interesting that the country often seen as one of Europe's most permissive and tolerant is closest to United States both in that regard and with respect to its surveillance practices. One factor is its importance as a transit area for drugs and for organized crime. Moreover, as in the United States, there may be the irony of greater restrictions on overt police leading to the greater use of covert means. The greater openness of the society may also generate greater citizen fear of crime and disorder and hence generate pressure for greater surveillance.

There are interesting historical differences between Britain and the United States, as Miller (1977) notes. Yet one might have thought Britain would be closest to the United States, given the many similarities and the absence of a strong centralized state tradition. Yet for criminal matters, it appears to make less use of covert means than its continental neighbors. With the divergence from its American offspring, it may no longer be possible to talk about a common Anglo-American fear of ‘continental despotisms.’

Finally, it would be wrong to necessarily conclude that the absence of the new surveillance technologies necessarily implies very much about how closely watched individuals are, or feel (at least in the conventional ways). The cloying eyes and elongated cars of the small village make that clear. While they don't know from data-base predictive profiles or DNA, community memories about character or family illnesses may overlap these.

The ratio of human to machine surveillance is an interesting issue. It would be wrong to conclude that a higher ratio necessarily means less overall surveillance. For many purposes video and other forms of electronic surveillance are certainly more efficient than using the unaided senses. Yet their absence need not mean less intense surveillance. Anyone who has traveled in poor, less developed, but more labor-intensive countries, is aware of the many guards, door and floor persons, and hangers-on, whose monitoring function may not be immediately clear.

While such persons are functional alternatives to electronic surveillance, they are not necessarily opposites. One interesting issue is whether the number of persons engaged in surveillance activities actually declines or even increases as hi-tech means are adopted. Machines require people to design, manufacture, install, repair and interpret results. In addition, results can generate new needs to investigate. This may be a bit like the number of restaurants on a block, in which contrary to common sense, up to a point, the more restaurants there are, the more people eat out. It may be the same for surveillance. Information begets a desire for still more information.

Cultural Attitudes

Cultural attitudes toward privacy, individual rights, community and government are relevant as both conditioners and reflectors of history and social structure. A more public and open ethos in the United States may mean greater acceptance of state requests for information (e.g., high rates of income tax and census request compliance), particularly when balanced by expectations that to the extent possible, the state will be open about its practices as well. This may also mean strong support for individuals and private organizations to use surveillance technologies for their own ends. There may be a kind of perverse and reciprocal tolerance involving a stand-off that is lacking in Europe where individualism is weaker and the state less trusted.

One indicator of possible cultural differences (at least at the level of attitudes) is to ask: what does the foreign observer find noteworthy? For example, when I taught in Austria my students were shocked by the extensive American police requests for information from citizens via hotlines. They felt that it was the job of police, not citizens, to locate crime and criminals and that 'it doesn't feel right' and 'it's not my business to report.’

Support for citizen review of police actions, citizen's rights against the state and the expectation that government actions should be as transparent as possible is not strong in Germany. On the other hand, the Germans have a constitutional protection for human dignity which appears to prohibit many of the kinds of surveillance found in the United States (where acceptability or rejection is based on the particular technology, not a general principle). In Germany I encountered surprise and even indignation at the United States' use of systems for the electronic and video monitoring of those subject to home arrest (one colleague shook his head in disgust and said 'it's shocking, it's a different culture'). Another colleague thought it was 'an absolute insult to privacy' that in the United States detailed telephone records were kept, and for billing purposes mailed at the end of the month. He said: 'I don't want to know who my wife calls or for her to know who I call.' This individual found it amazing that on visiting the United States he could not check into a hotel or rent a car without a credit card. The French were wary of private police and the Germans of the various forms of citizen involvement and oversight found in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.

On the other hand I found it of interest that the French are so accepting of the intelligence-gathering activities of the Renseignements Généraux which regularly monitors lawful political behavior, interviewing all political parties and trade unions several times a year—among its dossiers is a list of 600,000 serious gamblers. I was also surprised at the often close relationship between building concierges and police and that the French put significant reliance on handwriting as a key Io character.

I was struck by the massive 1983 protests in Germany against a national census which asked questions far less invasive than those routinely asked by the U.S. census. I found it curious that only phone numbers, not addresses, were found in the German telephone books I consulted (although the proportion of unlisted phone numbers appears much greater in the United States). I was astonished that even among national civil liberties leaders in Belgium and other countries with a Napoleonic tradition, there seems to be little opposition to the national identification cards which all must carry and present. My European colleagues in these countries take that, along with the traditional police habit of visiting hotels each night Io see the passports or identity cards of residents for granted. In some countries such as the Netherlands, hotel registration can now be remotely accessed via computer. The small size and communal nature of countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands also support this.

Architecture reflects and reaffirms attitudes. The North American visitor is often struck at how much more closed, private and less visible European life seems to be (although an exception to this is the centuries old vital and active public street life). Indications of this are more formal self-presentations and public dress, the high walls, human monitors controlling building access or locked doors of ostensibly public places such as offices and apartment buildings, and houses without inviting porches. Once inside it is often dark, there may be labyrinthine entryways that would do Franz Kafka proud, with doors, double doors (often a sign of high status), and closed shutters or layers of draperies.

In North America architecture in general seems more open and inviting (indeed design principles now even stress creating visibility as a crime deterrent). Of course the age of a city and building are factors, but I think it goes beyond this. In America office doors, particularly of clerical and staff persons, are usually open. My experience in European universities and other offices suggests that these are more likely to be closed. Once when I was alone using the office of a colleague he went out and closed the door and on returning a few minutes later he knocked on his own door. On numerous occasions as a houseguest in several European countries, I left the door to my room open on leaving for the day, only to find the door closed when I returned. I had left the door open unreflectively, perhaps for air or as a symbol that I didn't want to suggest a barrier between my space and my hosts. They obviously felt differently, whether to protect my privacy or theirs, or both.

Some of the general confusion around the broad topic of government information collection has to do with different histories and conceptions of government. This is illustrated by attitudes toward informing. While every culture has negative terms for this such as snitch, there are important national differences, particularly with respect to altitudes toward cooperating with government.

There are at least two informer traditions. In the democratic, Anglo-Saxon version, a degree of responsibility for community well-being and reporting misdeeds is viewed as a high form of citizenship. Local, limited government is favored and it is believed to grow out of the people and to be accountable to them. In reporting, Individuals are believed to be helping themselves and their community. This contrasts with a tradition of unpopular and/or colonial government imposed from the outside. In order to rule, such governments rely on buying and coercing informers who are viewed as selling out their own people. Informing is a way of destroying rather than sustaining community. The ultimate case is the boy hero of the former Soviet Union who turned in his father for anti-state attitudes.

This second tradition helps explain the Italian view of informers (in which retaliation is sometimes sought even against family members of the informer). Part of the French opposition to community police and citizen involvement in law enforcement is that this is believed to turn all citizens into informers. With historic and recent memories of authoritarian rule, Europeans in general want a clearer line between the police and public than is the case in Britain and the United States. This also helps account for the generally more favorable attitudes toward police in those countries. In an interesting contrast. East Germany continued with neighborhood watches after the war was over, but not West Germany.

A related aspect involves cultural differences in imposing (rather than taking) information. Countries show considerable (although perhaps lessening) differences in where they draw the line between one person's liberty or freedom of expression in a public place, and another's right to be left alone. Thus Americans are often shocked by the public displays of urination, nudity, and romantic expression seen in Europe, while Europeans are often surprised at the playing of loud music in public places and the extent to which Americans use first names and reveal personal information about their work, health, life style and religious and political beliefs to persons they hardly know. While Britain has its tabloids and Italy its papparazzie, in general it appears that Europeans are less likely to publicize the peccadilloes of public figures. They are also less likely to share personal details with those they do not know well.

A number of diverse behaviors may be subsumed under a broad variable involving degree of openness. For example, activities can be contrasted with respect to the extent to which they are public. This involves being seen and heard, and the revelation of personal, organizational and governmental information involving both informal expectations and formal law. There is a strain toward consistency in this, at least when we compare societies. It thus may not be surprising that the United States, on the far end of the continuum, would be a more receptive environment than Europe for technologies for discovering information.

We also of course can identify considerable variation within countries (e.g., between the many different police agencies and the divisions within an agency) such as in France between the National Police, the Gendarmérie and Customs, or in the United States between the FBI and DEA or local police. This alerts us to the need for caution in making broad comparative statements. General statements require a level of abstraction that is likely to mask much internal variation. Even with broad conclusions such as that the new surveillance tactics are in general less prevalent in Europe than In the United States and that there is significant variation within Europe, we cannot say much with precision. The data that would permit us to do that has simply not been gathered and may not be possible to gather. Nor do we have adequate analytic categories for parsimonious comparisons.

The Need for Research

Perhaps the strongest conclusion we can reach is how little we know that would permit a detailed assessment contrasting continents, specific regions and countries or functional areas. While this book contains work by many of the leading police scholars in Europe, they are generally forced to rely on the occasional government report of a scandal, court records, historical and mass media accounts, and their experience as citizens. Their task has also been to describe their country, rather than to work comparatively.

It is far easier to ask questions about social control than to answer them. The United States is distinctive, not only in the relatively large number of social scientists and journalists concerned with these questions, but with its degree of openness. In most European countries, perhaps reflective of the tradition of the strong state, citizens do not have the 'right to know' which is taken for granted in the United States. In much of Europe a special (and rare) parliamentary request is required to discover things such as how many official wire-taps are done each year, while in the United States an annual report detailing this is published by the Justice Department. The major federal police agencies must testify before Congress in budget and oversight hearings and Freedom of Information Act requests are often revealing. United States police agencies (along with those in the Netherlands) are also more open to social science researchers.

In mulling over these materials for several decades I have the feeling of working with a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, or perhaps better, one in which the pieces from a number of puzzles have been mixed together. There are partial fits, areas that appear to belong together and a glimpse of what the whole might look like, but there are also numerous pieces that don't seem to fit at all. Consistency and anomaly seem forever linked within and between areas. It is not clear whether (in Kipling's terms) we are simply looking at different parts of the same elephant or an entirely different species.

There is a great research need for standardized, quantitative trend data within and across countries, on the information collection and use practices shown in Table 1. There is much conceptual and empirical work to be done with respect to just what it is we wish to account for. We also need to specify the appropriate level of analysis. This is dependent on the type of question asked and level of granularity sought. For example, does one contrast techniques for collecting information by national, geographical or cultural borders, types of police and legal system, or by functional area of enforcement? Latent patterns or clusters may be identified which do not correspond to any of these. Rather than starting with presumed causes, we might start with outcomes and ask what the correlates of different patterns of control are. But to do this we need to be able to classify according to the variables in Table 1.

Table 1: Some Social Control Discovery Mechanisms
This list is meant to be illustrative and could be greatly extended.


Intelligence operations

Facilitative operations          

a. co-conspirators

b. victims

c. preventive operations

Participatory and non-participatory informers

Disguised observers

Hotlines and other procedures for citizen reporting; anonymous reporting

Neighborhood watches

Private police

Electronic surveillance: video and audio (wire-taps, bugs etc.), location

monitor­ing, monitoring of computer usage and computer generated data,

Computer databases (including suspects, arrest and convictions) and artificial intelligence systems and computer matching and profiling

Biometric measures: polygraph, voice stress and handwriting analysis, DNA, finger, hand geometry, voice and olfactory prints, hair, blood etc.

Detention; interrogation techniques

Traditional physical searches and seizures

National ID card and various police registries, census

Drug and alcohol testing

Psychological tests for honesty and other characteristics

Work monitoring

Consumer behavior monitoring

Health monitoring

For any discovery mechanism we need to ask:

  1. Who can use it (police, private organizations, any citizen)?
  2. For what purposes and under what conditions (as defined by law, policy or custom) can it be (and is it) applied and used?
  3. How intensive, extensive, invasive, engineered and invisible is the data collection?
  4. To what extent do individuals engage in self-surveillance or voluntarily cooperate with the data collection? What incentives (rewards, immunity, reduced sentences, witness protection) are offered for reporting and other forms of cooperation?
  5. Are certain places, activities, persons or relationships given particular protections (e.g. private places or churches and universities, political activities, family relations)?
  6. How is the data treated once it has been collected with respect to things such as validation, security, sharing and retention?
  7. What types of oversight and sanction exist for misuse?
  8. How integrated are the various discovery mechanisms across techniques and areas of life such as citizenship, work, consumption, health and leisure?

Some Additional Explanatory Variables

Even without data called for in Table 1, it is clear that American style undercover work and surveillance practices have not taken hold to the extent that one might have predicted. Just as we can identify factors presumed to create this, we can identify factors presumed to create differences between countries.

The lesser use of these tactics in Europe is likely related to a number of factors. Memories of 20th century totalitarianism offer some continuing inoculation, as may Britain's historic fear of an invasive central authority.

The degree of concern over crime is in general not as great in Europe as in the United States and there is less pressure on police to find innovative and intrusive means to deal with it. In general Europe does not criminalize drugs, alcohol, gambling and the sexual practices of consenting adults to the extent that the United States does. There is thus less demand to use covert means for gathering evidence regarding such consensual behavior. This is part of a broader variable involving the seriousness and prevalence of violations in which it is difficult to identify offenses, offenders and complainants. Perhaps related to this is that prison overcrowding is not a problem and hence there are fewer pressures to turn the community into a carceral environment.

One of the central arguments of Undercover (Marx, 1988) is that in a democracy covert surveillance is a functional alternative to restrictions on overt police powers both before and after arrest. In Japan, for example, there is almost no undercover work, wire-tapping or plea bargaining, but police can hold suspects for up to 21 days with minimal cause. European police also tend to have greater powers than is the case in the United States with respect to search and seizure, arrest, interrogation, and self-incrimination. They do not have an exclusionary rule. They may often interrogate without a defense attorney present. In most of Europe, citizens are required to carry ID cards and to register their residences with police. The greater power of European police to overtly intervene in citizens’ lives may mean there is less perceived need for new surveillance tactics.

A corollary hypothesis is that where the ability of police to gather information is relatively strong (whether to Induce confessions or to search), other means of information gathering such as through forensic science will be weaker. This is consistent with the very well developed crime labs found in the United States.

Other differences in legal culture are also relevant. In most continental countries it was traditionally a crime for police to engage in a crime, even for a worthy end. Police, in principle at least, had far less formal discretion with respect to whether to report an offense and to arrest and were bound to compulsory prosecution. Such factors obviously worked against undercover practices for conventional crime and the 'turning' of suspects and led to innovations such as the pseudo-buy.

Apart from the law's encouragement or inhibition and even prohibition, another relevant factor would appear to be the sheer number of laws police are expected to enforce. We might expect that the more police are expected to do, the more developed will be their arsenal. While I don't know of any good data on this, a popular saying holds that 'in England and the United States all that is not legally prohibited is allowed. In Germany all that is not legally allowed is prohibited. In Austria and the countries of the Mediterranean all that is legally prohibited is allowed.'

General societal attitudes toward fate, temptation and technology may also be relevant. For example, in Catholic countries where individuals may be believed to be prone to sin and vulnerable to temptation, it does not make sense, or seem fair, to test them with undercover opportunities, while in Protestant countries individuals' expectations about self-control and responsibility for one's own fate are stronger. Where fate is believed to be important to human affairs, there may be less Interest in anticipation and intervention and less may be expected of the individual. The European humanistic spirit is more skeptical of technology than is the case in the technophilic United States. While there is variation (e.g., Southern v. Northern European countries), Europeans have been slower to develop and adapt to technical changes.

Climate and geography are additional factors which may have an indirect effect on what is available to be observed without special efforts or technology. Thus, before the advent of modern building materials and better means of heating, structures in cold climates with fewer and smaller windows, smaller rooms, more enclosed areas, and thicker walls were less open to public view.

Some additional factors that we might expect to be correlated with surveillance practices are:

  • A civil or common law tradition
  • An adversarial or Inquisitorial legal process
  • A national or federal criminal justice system
  • Significant or minimal role for judicial review of executive and judicial actions
  • Clearly codified Bill of Rights
  • A single or multiple police system
  • The degree of police officer heterogeneity within systems
  • Police as part of a civil or military bureaucracy
  • An Anglo-American community or a strong state model of policing
  • Mediterranean Catholic or Northern European Protestant traditions
  • Imposed or indigenously developed democracy
  • A colonial power or not
  • Feudal tradition or not
  • Monarchy or republic
  • Greater or lesser importance placed on citizen actions to mobilize the law
  • Greater or lesser role for private sector social control for both individuals and organizations
  • Greater or lesser importance placed on anticipatory police actions

The above of course may be intertwined (e.g., feudal, Catholic, strong state, national, inquisitorial or common law, civil bureaucracy, community, federal). Having once defined what we wish to account for from Table 1, we can move to explore clusters of causal variables as above.

While there is an extensive English language literature on police in various countries, in general it is neither very analytic nor comparative. 5. My purpose here is only to indicate the kinds of variables that ought to be explored in moving to the next stage of understanding, rather than to offer hypotheses about surveillance and democratic societies. However, some hypotheses leap off the page, such as the greater the perceived crime threat, the greater the overt police power, the stronger the state tradition, the weaker organized labor, the greater will be the surveillance, other factors being equal (which they rarely are). Similarly, formal surveillance might be thought to be taken further within adversarial and judicial review systems, or within systems that have a higher likelihood of identifying government over-reaching as a result of external watchdog agencies, inspectors-general, and legislative and judicial oversight. In such settings there may be less concern that these tactics will be misused because of the likelihood of discovery. 6.

Moreover, there are some standard sociological variables that should be considered:

  1. Degree and types of inequality
  2. Degree and types of heterogeneity and homogeneity
  3. Degree of differentiation
  4. Degree of legitimacy granted authority
  5. Degree of consensus on the rules
  6. Degree of self-control
  7. Degree of expectation and willingness of citizens to control each other
  8. Population size and density
  9. Degree of geographical mobility

The implications of many of these are clear. Thus large size, impersonality, less consensus and legitimacy suggest there will be greater surveillance. But some of these factors pull in opposite directions—for example perceived crime seriousness and weak state traditions.

Some single variables permit opposite inferences. Should a high degree of homogeneity lead one to expect higher or lower surveillance? One can argue it both ways. Thus the homogeneity might suggest that there would be greater intolerance of difference and hence support to root it out. On the other hand deviant behavior may be seen as non-threatening because it is statistically insignificant and deemed not worthy of attention. In more heterogeneous settings, there may be norms of mutual tolerance out of self-interest, or civil strife which would call forth enhanced surveillance. It is also important to specify the type of homogeneity.

Furthermore, when one gets down to cases and looks concretely, each local context is so rich, distinctive and often changing, that an easily identifiable impact for any single variable is usually difficult to show. We also need to separate the formal (more easily measured indicators) from actual behavior. The mere presence of a law or a formal structure is not a sure guide to behavior, any more than their absence means that behavior consistent with them will not be found. The informal can be seen only through fine-grained observational analysis.

This raises a broader question regarding what type of understanding students of comparative social control should seek—that of the social historian or journalist who describes, or that of the positivist sociologist who looks for explanations and general laws. For the former, an important rule of social inquiry is 'beware of sociologists bearing broad generalizations.' For the latter, the rule 'find variation and account for it' is equally important. Yet if we qualify our generalizations by factors such as social context, time and place, and identify different types of the phenomena of interest, we can avoid the contradiction. A little humility and a tentative approach to a dynamic world also help.

My own position is somewhere in the middle. I think we must seek the explanatory and the general, but am not very optimistic about obtaining them. We will do better at offering reasonable, and sometimes disprovable, explanations regarding particular contexts and events, than general laws. When we find the latter they will often be bland and the kind of simple observations that can give sociology a bad name. We do not want our efforts to amount (in novelist Allison Luria's words) to offering 'explanations of the obvious by the devious.' We must reach for the moon, knowing that if we miss we may still grab a few stars. The observations throughout the book and in this section are far more impressionistic than I would like. But they do identify empirical patterns, relevant variables and some hypotheses for more systematic future assessments.

This discussion has sought to understand differences in the use of covert surveillance among democracies. The study of the relationships between covert and overt forms of surveillance and their correlates is one part of a broader interest in the forms, processes and powers of contemporary social control.

Our inquiry is part of a larger intellectual tradition concerned with convergence and divergence among ostensibly similar, economically developed democratic nations. Consistent with our findings, the comparative literature has generally found that in spite of the presence of apparently common structures, functional needs, communication and interaction patterns and regional and global pressures, distinctive national environments shape these common factors into at least somewhat distinct national behaviors. Yet there are patterns as well.

For several decades research has sought to understand the effect of broad social, political and cultural factors on public policy and behavior among economically developed democratic nations. Much of the literature on the topic has been concerned with three broad clusters of variables or dimensions which differentiate among nations. While various authors emphasize slightly different factors, Hicks and Swank (1992) identify these as left corporatism, state centralization and bureaucratic paternalism.

It would be useful to develop systematic empirical indicators of the surveillance and control practices from the items in Table 1 and to relate them to each other and to the three dimensions above. Would the pattern for surveillance be similar to that found for economic performance, welfare state policies, internal conflict and demographic patterns? (See for example Lijphart and Crepaz 1991; Hicks and Misra 1993; Huber et al. 1993; Schmitter 1979; and Pampel 1993.) Will these conceptualizations also help account for national differences in attitudes and practices involving surveillance, privacy and civil liberties? Will they help account for more general differences in social control?

My hunch is that the relationships would be weaker because additional elements are present. In fact there is likely a need for a distinct multi-faceted social control dimension reflecting a realm of social values and characteristics separate from (if related to) political values. Determination of the linkages among the many variables discussed in this chapter and hopefully their reduction to a much smaller number of broad dimensions is an important task for future work.

New Directions in Social Control

While the comparative observations in this chapter are tentative, the new surveillance has not yet (and may never) come to Europe to the degree it has in the United States. Yet I think it is equally clear that social control is changing.

While there have been ebbs and flows, in chapter 1 we argued for the normalization of undercover tactics. By that we meant that the secret and unobtrusive collection of information, particularly for political reasons, has been in use for centuries. Covert information collection, undercover interventions and disguised surveillance are fundamental social processes. In that sense the further development of these tactics in the United States in the last three decades and their spread to Europe in the 1970s and 1980s is not surprising.

Yet it would be a mistake to conclude from our historical review which notes some continuities, that there is nothing really new here. The normalization thesis is inadequate to account for the rapid changes that occurred and our occurring.

The technology is certainly new and it can probe much more efficiently, silently, intensively and extensively than human informers alone can. But beyond that there is a new, or at least much more clearly defined ethos or philosophy of modern social control 7 which involves:

  1. Prevention rather than responding after the fact with a reliance on engineering of physical and social environments to preclude violations or identify violators (Marx, 1995)
  2. A 'rational' strategy of categorical rather than individual suspicion and treatment of persons
  3. An interest in general problem solving and system intelligence rather than in specific cases involving a particular violation or violator
  4. A decentralized increased reliance on citizens to mobilize the law and to control themselves and others, rather than waiting for state agents to do this
  5. The extension of law and policy to tactics that had once been ignored and unregulated

Technology is of course fundamental to much of this. But the technology exists in a cultural context and is congruent and supportive of prior human goals and conceptions, even as it suggests new possibilities.

The European concept of 'high policing' which traditionally relied on covert means was focused on political threats to the state and tended to be beyond the law. Nineteenth century European and American legal reforms were in opposition to this. They stressed using the state's police power in a restrictive fashion to respond to legally defined dangers and to focus on concrete crimes.

There was a bifurcation. The rule of law was increasingly applied to garden variety crimes. Abusive police techniques, whether through searches and arrests or in interrogation, appear to have declined in the aggregate (Leo, 1992). Yet as our review and the articles in this book indicate, to a significant extent, the policing of politics continued to be excluded from this. In some relative sense that is still true. Yet the covert, anticipatory and encouragement techniques of high policing have become more normalized in their application to ordinary crime, while the policing of politics is no longer so far beyond the rule of law. Perhaps there is a golden (or depending on your point of view) tarnished mean here.

The American writer Mark Twain once said of an erroneous obituary, ‘The reports of my death were greatly exaggerated.' The same thing might be said of the death of clearly distinct national surveillance practices in the face of a homogenizing international system of modern social control. However, the report of Twain's death eventually was correct.

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1. I am grateful to Albrecht Funk, Richard Leo and Fred Pampel for their comments.

2. An analysis of the cultural imagery around surveillance can be found in Marx (1995).

3. If the model of a dominant United States social control paradigm is wrong, there may still be a move toward a more standardized, democratic, industrial society model which involves amalgamation and convergence. These contrast with a model of continued and perhaps even increasing differences. These should be seen on a continuum and can be broken down into a number of dimensions. We are certainly far from the ideal-type end points of the continuum. The key question Involves developments over time and whether general movement in a consistent direction can be observed.

4. Brodeur (1992) notes that for its size Canadian police appear to resort to electronic surveillance twenty times more often than police in the United States.

5. Some exceptions to this include Miller, 1977; Punch, 1983; Brewer et al., 1988; Bayley, 1985, 1994; Mawby, 1990.

6. This is part of a more general policy dilemma regarding discretion and risky tactics. The legalistic and bureaucratic response to codify them means restricting, but also legitimating them. Absent this, there may be greater risk to authorities in their use (and hence more discretion), since a mandate is lacking for the use of controversial tactics.

7. Social control is a broad term and its various components are not equally affected by those changes. For example, these observations apply more to efforts taken to deter or prevent violations and to the discovery of information on violations and violators (whether initial social control mobilization or subsequent interrogation of suspects) than to the creation of rules for enforcement, adjudication, mediation, or sanctioning.

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Bayley, D.H. (1985), Patterns of Policing: A Comparative International Analysis. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press.

- (1994), Police for the Future. New York, Oxford University Press.

Bok, C. (1978), Lying: More Choice in Public and Private Lives. New York, Vintage Books.

Brewer, J.D. et al. (1988), The Police, Public Order and the State. London, Macmillan.
Brodeur, J-P. (1992), 'Undercover Policing in Canada: Wanting What is Wrong,' Crime, Law and Social Change, 105-136.

Hicks, A.M. and Swank, D.H. (1992), 'Politics, Institutions, and Welfare Spending', in Industrialized Democracies, 1960-82, American Political Science Review, 658-674.

Hicks, A.M. and Misra, J. (1993), 'Political Resources and the Growth of Welfare,' American Journal of Sociology, 668-710.

Huber, E., Ragin, C. and Stephens, J. (1993), 'Social Democracy, Christian Democracy, Constitutional Structure and the Welfare State,' American Journal of Sociology, 711-749.

Leo, R. (1992), 'From Coercion to Deception: The Changing Nature of Police Interrogation in America,' in Crime, Law and Social Change, 33-60.

Lijphart, A. and Crepaz, M.L. (1991), 'Corporatist and Consensus Democracy in Eighteen Countries,' British Journal of Political Science, 235-256.

Marx, G.T. (1988), Undercover: Police Surveillance in America. Berkeley, University of California Press.

- (1995a) 'Electric Eye in the Sky: Some Reflections on the New Surveillance and Popular Culture,' in D. Lyon and E. Zureik, eds., New Technology, Surveillance and Social Control. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

- (1995b) 'The Engineering of Social Control: The Search for the Silver Bullet,' in J. Hagan and R. Peterson, eds., Crime and Inequality. Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Miller, W.R. (1977), Cops and Bobbies: Police Authority in New York and London, 1830-1870. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Pampel, F.C. (1992), 'Relative Cohort Size and Fertility: The Socio-Political Context of ihe Easterlin Effect,' American Sociological Review, 496-514.

Punch, M. (1985), Conduct Unbecoming: The Social Construction of Police Deviance and Control. London, Tavistock.

Schmitter, P.C. (1979), 'Intermediation and Regime Governability in Contemporary Western Europe and North America,' in P.C. Schmitter and G. Lehmbruch (eds.), Trends Toward Corporatist Intermediation. London, Sage, 285-327.

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