Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA. 1986. I am grateful to Stan Cohen, Glenn Goodwin, Nancy Reichman, Jim Short, Steve Spitzer, and Ron Westrum for critical comments. In addition to the ASA meetings, some of the material was presented at a 1984 conference on George Orwell sponsored by the Council of Europe, and appears in Dissent (Winter 1985). The title is inspired by The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove (Crime and Social Justice Associates, 1982). Police lyrics reprinted with permission of Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.
Home page | Notes
Gary T. Marx
In Orwell's Oceania, the state is all powerful and the citizen has neither rights nor input into government;
Indeed in many ways the society sketched in 1984 is the opposite of contemporary Western democracies, especially with respect to physically coercive forms of oppression and the social conditions supporting such a repressive society. 2 This would be cause to celebrate, were in not for the fact that new, and potentially repressive, social forms and technologies have appeared.
Traditional social supports working against totalitarianism are strong, and perhaps growing stronger in the United States; an educated citizenry committed to democratic ideals, a variety of independent channels of mass communication, a plethora of voluntary organizations, and constitutional protections for civil liberties. I would not wish to be characterized, following Brecht, as a man smiling because he "has not yet heard the terrible news," however. For if the news is not terrible, it does not follow that it is good. To judge the state of freedom and liberty and their social supports only by the standard set by Orwell (and previous theorists such as Burke and Tocqueville who were concerned about the growth of the Leviathan state), results in too narrow a vision and unwarranted optimism.
There is reason for concern about the state of privacy, liberty, and autonomy in Western democracies. Orwell's state used both violent and nonviolent forms of social control. In linking these, Orwell described only one of several possible totalitarian models: a model based on his experiences during the Spanish Civil War and his observations of the USSR, Germany, and Italy. Orwell's image of the future ("a boot stamping on a human face" and Big Brother watching) was drawn from those societies. Today, violent and nonviolent forms of social control are becoming uncoupled, with the latter increasing in importance. Therein lies the current danger. Over the last four decades subtle, seemingly less coercive, forms of control (some of which Orwell anticipated) have emerged. Their existence within societies that have not become less democratic, and in which the state makes less use of domestic violence, may obscure and blinding us to their ominous potential.
Orwell's powerful vision needs to be updated. Threats to privacy and liberty are not limited to the use of force, or to state power, and indeed they may appear in the service of benign ends. It is important to examine control by other means, and by groups other than the state. 3 New forms of control and surveillance represent a profound break with the past, posing great challenges to students of society and all citizens.
The velvet glove is replacing, covering, the iron fist. Orwell hints that the decline of physical coercion is consistent with the rise of liberty:
The heirs of the French, English, and American revolution had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and had even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian-- and in the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years-imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages and the deportation of whole populations-- became common again.
Many of the major ideas associated with the French, English, and American revolutions have crept forward. Despite ebbs and flows, the rebirth of the domestic use of physical force for social control purposes has not occurred. The kinds of harsh empirical indicators Orwell implies (some of which Amnesty International and related groups use) are an appropriate, but incomplete standard. It does not follow that the absence of physical oppression guarantees liberty. Orwell did not anticipate, or develop, the possibility of significant inroads on privacy, liberty, and autonomy, even in a relatively nonviolent environment with democratic forms, and with presumed bulwarks against totalitarianism in place.
Given democratic political values, Orwell identified the right set of terrible outcomes for his dystopia: absence of privacy, freedom, and liberty, lack of individuality, mindless conformity, misinformation and disinformation, rampant fear, insecurity, and hatred, and the equation of morality and truth with power. Some of these conditions are possible, however, within the framework of traditional democratic societies.
In the United States there are clear limits on the use of coercion by control agents. But there are few limits on efforts to shape behavior through culture and public relations campaigns that seek to create the impression of police omnipresence and omnipotence.
Modern technology offers an alternative set of causal mechanisms of social control beyond those so frightfully described by Orwell. Indeed, the decline of violent means seems ironically to be associated with increased use of manipulation and deception. Two major forms of manipulation and deception involve efforts to control culture through the mass media and new technologies of surveillance. We will briefly consider the former before turning to an extensive discussion of the latter.
The Control of Culture
The velvet glove comes in various sizes and shapes and is more likely to hold what looks like a carrot than a stick. Our psyches are more invaded by the economy's need for consumers than by repressive political needs of the state. An economy and state oriented toward mass consumption has a more benign view of workers and the public than did nineteenth-century laissez faire capitalism. The masses are motivated not so much by scarcity of fear of punishment (as in Orwell's society), as by the promise of ever-increasing abundance. For the affluent, a dazzling array of consumer goods is available. For the poor, direct and indirect supports are offered by the welfare state. However minimal relative to the more affluent sectors of society, in absolute terms of these supports are vastly superior to those available to the poor historically, and they may serve to mute dissent.
The self-conscious shaping of culture (and thus of behavior) through the manipulation of language and symbol, propaganda, and the rewriting of history is a major theme for Orwell, and one that has inspired much scholarly research. In Orwell's society, the state dominated the mass media and carefully designed media messages as an important nonviolent form of control.
Culture is invisible and usually taken for granted; we generally accept its myriad dictates unaware that we are doing so, or that a choice has been implicitly made for us. In the past, to a much greater extent than today, culture tended to develop nonpurposively from thousands of diverse sources, in an anarchic process of nondirected evolution. We are moving closer to the manufacture and control of culture found in Orwell's society, though private interests are involved to a much greater extent than is the state.
Since Orwell wrote, new varieties of professionals have appeared -media specialists, market researchers, political consultants, and public relations and advertising experts. They invent needs, package products (entertainers, politicians, public issues, or breakfast food), and sell the public. These skills are continually improving, though much art and guesswork remain (see, e.g., Fox and Lears, 1983, Schudson, 1984). Their influence may be experienced automatically and unreflectively. Even when we are aware that a choice has been made (for political candidate, a foreign policy, an underarm deodorant, or a lifestyle), the technologies seek to make us feel that the choice is rational and voluntary. 4
The state cannot watch everyone all the time. It is far more efficient to have all eyes riveted on common mass media stimuli offering messages of how to behave. Mass media persuasion is far more subtle and indirect than a truncheon over the head. Though the force involved is psychological rather than physical, it is not necessarily less coercive. Both violence and manipulation seek to counter informed consent and free choice. An adequate consideration of Orwell's vision and contemporary society must devote attention to culture and the mass media.
Another prominent form of the velvet glove involves medical and therapeutic responses to deviance, dissent, and disorder. By defining subjects as sick and in need of treatment (e.g., some psychotherapies, psychosurgery, pharmacology, genetic engineering), attention is diverted from structural bases for problematic behaviors and conditions. Here my attention must be limited to more direct forms of nonviolent control involving surveillance. 5
The New Surveillance
The hit song "Every Breath You Take," recorded by a popular rock group, The Police, includes the following lyrics (my notes of available technology are in parentheses):
Every breath you take["Every Breath You Take," by Sting; Copyright (c) 1983 Magnetic Publishing Ltd. Published in the U. S. A. and Canada by Regatta Music, Inc. Rights in the U. S. A. and Canada administered by illegal Songs, Inc. International Copyright Secured. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Used by permission.]
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Every single day
Every word you say
Every night you stay
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I'll be watching you
[voice stress analysis]
[brain wave analysis]
[closed circuit TV] 6
This song suggests that popular culture is more attuned to the social control implications of the "new surveillance" than is academic analysis. 7
The surveillance component of social control is changing in subtle and often invisible ways, the element of which are voluntary and not defined as surveillance. 8 For younger persons, especially, computerized dossiers, x-rayed luggage at airports, video cameras in banks, lie detector tests for employment, and electronic markers on consumer goods, and even library books, have always been the normal order of things. But their elders, too, are often unaware of the extent to which surveillance has become embedded in everyday relationships.
The new surveillance is related to broad changes in both technology and social organization. The rationalization of crime control that began in the nineteenth century has crossed a critical threshold as a result of recent technical and social developments. Technical innovations permit social control to penetrate and intrude in ways that previously were imagined only in science fiction. As digital information has become central to the working of the modern industrial state, traditional notions of privacy have been torn asunder. The information-gathering powers of the state and private organizations have been extended from focused and direct coercion used after the fact and against a particular target, to anticipatory actions entailing deception, manipulation, planning, and a diffuse pan-optic vision. The rough-and-ready cowboys of an earlier era have been replaced by new technocratic agents of social control and decentralized forms of monitoring.
Gigantic data banks made possible by computers raise important surveillance questions. The computers of the five largest credit reporting companies control more than 150 million individual credit records. Health records are increasingly computerized: More than nine out of ten working Americans have individual or group health insurance policies. Even pharmacies have begun to keep computerized records on patient's drug use and health characteristics. Individual financial transactions increasingly involve electronic tellers and electronic check and credit card authorization. Electronic Funds Transfer has become central to banking. The size and reach of criminal justice data bases, such as the FBI's National Criminal Justice Information Center, continue to grow. 9
Surveillance is qualitatively altered with computers, as well. Bureaucratic checking of records before the advent of computers tended to be for errors, internal consistency, and missing information. Cross-checking cast data bases was simply not practical. With computerization, surveillance is routinized, broadened, and deepened. Bits of scattered information that formerly posed no threat to privacy are now joined. Organizational memories are extended over time and across space. Observations have a more textured dimensional quality. Rather than focusing on the discrete individual at one point in time and on static demographic data, surveillance increasingly involves more complex transactional analysis, relating persons and events (e.g., the timing of phone calls, travel, bank deposits; Burnham, 1983).
A thriving new computer-based, data-scavenging industry now sells information gleaned from sources such as drivers' licenses, vehicle and voter registration lists, birth, marriage and death directories, and census-tract records.
Many issues of privacy, civil liberties, uses of and control over information, unauthorized access, errors, and the right of persons about whom information is gathered, are raised by computer matching and profiling operations (see, e.g., Marx and Reichman, 1984).
Matching involved the comparison of information from two or more distinct data sources. In the United States more than 500 computer matching programs are routinely carried out by government at state and federal levels, and the matching done by private interests is far more extensive. Profiling involves an indirect and inductive logic. Often clues are sought that will increase the probability of discovering violations. A number of distinct data items are correlated in order to assess how closely a person or event approximates a predetermined model of known violations or violators. Consider the following examples:
A Massachusetts nursing home resident lost her eligibility for government medical assistance because of a bank and welfare records match. The computer correctly determined that she had more than the minimum amount permitted in a savings account. What the computer did not know was that the money was held in trust for a local funeral director and was to be used for her burial expenses. Regulations exempt burial contracts from asset calculations. Another woman was automatically cut off welfare because a loan for her son's college education had been temporarily deposited in her bank account pending payment of his tuition.
A welfare recipient in Washington, D.C., obtained employment and notified the welfare department. Despite repeated notifications of her new status, her welfare checks continued to come in the mail. She eventually cashed the checks to pay off doctor bills incurred from a serious illness. A computer match linking employment and welfare records resulted in her indictment on a felony charge. Before her trial, her name (along with 15 others) was listed in a newspaper story describing the successful results of a computer match. Her case was dismissed.
The Educational Testing Service uses profiling to help discover cheating. In 1982 it sent out about 2000 form letters alleging "copying" to takers of its scholastic aptitude tests based partly on computer analysis. The letters note that a statistical review "found close agreement of your answers with those on another answer sheet from the same test center. Such agreement is unusual and suggests that copying occurred." Students were told that in two weeks their scores would be cancelled and colleges notified, unless they provided "additional information" to prove they had not cheated.
In New York City, because of computer matching, persons cannot purchase a marriage license or register a deed for a new home if they have outstanding parking tickets.
Some of fiction's imaginary surveillance technology, such as the two-way television that George Orwell described, is now reality. According to some observers, video-telephone communication is likely to be widespread in private homes by the year 2000. One-way video and film surveillance has expanded rapidly into shopping malls, banks, and other places of business. Cameras, with complete 360degree movement and the ability to tape record are often concealed in ceiling globes.
The telescreen surveillance in 1984 is a wonderful representation of the panoptic eye envisioned by social theorists such as Bentham. Orwell wrote, "Always the eyes watching you an the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed -no escape." Yet it had limits. It could not hear "a very low whisper" nor could movements "in darkness" be seen. And the "few cubic centimeters inside your skull" were "your own." Aircraft surveillance was limited to "Police Patrol" helicopters that, when "snooping into people's windows," had to skim "down between roofs." Surveillance is no longer limited by darkness, whispers, or distance. Given the claims made by increasingly sophisticated forms of physiological monitoring, even the "few cubic centimeters inside your skull" may not be one's own.
Recent developments permitted intrusions that until recently were in the realm of science fiction, not envisioned even by Orwell: new and improved lasers, parabolic mikes and other bugs with powerful transmitters, subminiature tape recorders and video cameras, remote-camera and video and audiotape systems activated by sound or motion, a refrigerator sized tape machine that can record up to 40 conversations at once; means of seeing in the dark, detecting heat, motion, air currents, and vibrations; odor, pressure, sound, and contraband sensors; tracking devices and voice stress analyzers and techniques for reading mail without opening it.
Surveillance technology need not rely on relatively primitive helicopters skimming between buildings to permit peering into people's windows. "Mini-AWACs" that can spot a car or a person from 30,000 feet up have been used for surveillance of drug traffickers. Satellite may soon be used for this purpose as well, from 180 miles up. The CIA has apparently used satellite photographs for "domestic coverage" to determine the size and activities of antiwar demonstrations and civil disorders. Computer-enhanced photography can identify vehicles moving in the dark and detect camouflage.
The "starlight scope" light amplifier developed for the Vietnam War can be used with a variety of film and video cameras or binoculars. It needs only starlight, a partial moon, or a street lamp 500 yards away. By amplifying light 85,000 times night turns into day. Unlike earlier infrared devices, it gives off no tell-tale glow. The light amplifier can be mounted on a tripod or worn as goggles. Attached to a telescope device, its range is over a mile.
The National Security Agency uses 2,000 staffed interception posts throughout the world, satellites, aircraft, and ships, to monitor electronic communication from and to the United States. Its computer system permits simultaneous monitoring of 54,000 telephone calls and cables. The agency is beyond customary judicial and legislative controls and can apparently disseminate information to other government agencies without a warrant (Bramford, 1983; Krajick, 1983).
The transmission of phone communication in digital form via microwave relays and satellites along with "cellular" automobile and cordless telephones using radio waves for transmissions and communication between computers offer new possibilities for eavesdropping.9 Automatic telephone switching technology now records when, where, to whom and for how long, a call is made. A person whose phone rings now may see a digital display indicating where the call comes from before the phone is picked up.
A 400-pound, bullet-proof mobile robot "guard" has been developed. Equipped with a sonar rangefinder, sonic and infrared sensor, and an odor detector for locating humans, the robot can find its way through a strange building. Should it encounter an intruder, a stern synthesized voice intones, "You have been detected." Another "mobile robotic sentry" (the Prowler, for Programmable Robot Observer With Logical Enemy Response) resembles a miniature tank. It patrols an area and identifies intruders. Users can choose the robot's weaponry and whether or not human command (from a remote monitoring station) is needed before it opens fire. But not to worry. The manufacturer assures us that in the United States, "We don't foresee the Prowler armed with lethal weapons"; or if it is, "there will always be a human requirement in the loop."
Telemetric devices attached to a subject use radio waves to transmit information on the location and/or physiological condition of the wearer, permitting continuos remote measurement and control. Together with new organizational forms (e.g., halfway houses and community treatment centers) such devices diffuse the surveillance of the prison to the community. Offenders in at least four experimental jurisdictions are serving court-supervised sentences that stipulate wearing a monitoring anklet containing an electronic transmitter. Radio signals are picked up by a receiver connected to the telephone in the wearer's home. The receiver relays a signal to a central computer. If the wearer stays beyond 150 feet from the receiver or tries to remove or unplug the device, the interruption of the signal is displayed on a computer. A judge receives a daily printout from the system and any errant behavior must be explained.
In other proposed systems subjects are not restricted to their residences; however, their whereabouts are continuously known. A radio signal is fed into a modified missile-tracking device that graphs the wearer's location and can display it on a screen. The electronic leash can be attached to nonhuman objects as well. In some police departments, an automatic car-locator system (Automated Vehicle Monitoring) has been tried to help supervisors know exactly where patrol cars are at all times. Various hidden beepers can be attached to vehicles and other objects to trace their movements. 10
The Hong Kong government is testing an electronic system for monitoring where, when, and how fast a car is driven. A small radio receiver in the car picks up low-frequency signals from wire loops set into streets and transmits the car's identification number. The system was presented as an efficient means for applying a road tax to Hong Kong's high concentration of cars. It can also be used to enforce speed limits and for surveillance. In the United States, a parking meter has recently been patented that registers inserted coins and then radio police when time has run out.
Surveillance of workers on assembly lines, in offices, and in stores, has expanded with computerized electronic devices. Factory outputs and mistakes can be more easily counted, and work pace controlled. Employee theft of expensive components or tools may be deterred by embedded sensors that emit a signal when taken through a barrier. Much has been written of the electronic office, where the data-processing machine serves both as work tool and monitoring device. Productivity and employee behavior thus are carefully watched (Marx and Sherizen, 1986; OTA, 1986). Even executives are not exempt. In some major American corporations communication flows (memo circulation, use of internal phone systems) are closely tracked.
In some offices, workers must inform the computer when they are going to the bathroom and when they return. Employees may be required to carry an ID card with a magnetic stripe and check in and out as they go to various "stations." The computer controls access to restricted areas, while continuously monitoring employee location.
A New Jersey hospital has what its director calls "a people-oriented system," designed to make the hospital more secure and also "to make the most efficient use of vital health care skills." Thus if a person stays too long at one place (e.g., the parking lot or the water cooler) the computer can alert a guard for possible assistance. The information is also used to "evaluate tardy employees."
Integrated "management systems" are now available that offer visual, audio, and digital information about the behavior of employees and customers. At many convenience stores information may be recorded from cash register entries, voices, motion, or from persons standing on a mat with a sensor. Audio and/or visual recordings and alarms may be programmed to respond to a large number of "triggering devices." 11
Means of personal identification have gone far beyond the rather easily faked signature or photo ID. One new employee security-checking procedure involves retinal eye patterns. Before gaining access, or a benefit, a person's eyes are photographed through a set of binoculars, and an enlarged print of the retina pattern is compared to previous print on file. Retina patterns are said to be more individual than thumbprints, offering greater certainty of identification. There is also a much improved technique for footprint or footwear identification. Signature verification technology, which analyzes the pressure and direction of a signature as it is being signed, can be automatically compared to data stored from previous signatures. A video camera that can distinguish guards from intruders has been developed and a camera able to identify particular persons by comparing the current image to one stored in its computer memory is being developed. These may be combined. A "hybrid multisensor system" developed by the Air Force examines voice, fingerprints, and handwriting before permitting entry to sensitive areas.
Scientists in the society Orwell described were "a mixture of psychologist and inquisitior, studying with extraordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expression, gestures and tones of voice, and testing truth producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis and physical torture." The last decade has seen increased use of "scientific inference" or "personal truth technology," based on body clues (such as the polygraph, voice stress analysis, blood and urine analysis, and dogs and machines that "smell" contraband). There are claims that brain waves can be "read" as clues to certain internal states. 12 These highly diverse forms have at least one thing in common -they seek to verify an implicit or explicit claim regarding identity, attitudes, and behavior.
Although precise data on polygraph use are not available, indirect evidence suggests that its use is increasing (Hayden, 1981; Lykken, 1984). The number of persons trained to operate polygraphs has significantly increased role. The most common use is not in criminal settings, but to screen job applicants. Such tests are used disproportionately by retailers, fast food franchises, drug stores, and non-unionized companies.
Conversations with pathologists and media reports suggest that use of "toxic drug screens" (of broad populations and particular suspects) has increased. According to one estimate, four million persons were required to undergo urinalysis tests in 1983. 13 Private citizens may play an increased role. A commercially available at-home urinalysis kit (with the lovely double-think name of "U-Care") makes it possible for parents to mail a child's (or other suspect's if they can get it) urine sample for analysis.
Increased public concern over drunk driving has led to broad population screens using roadblocks. A recent development for determining the amount of alcohol in a person's system permits easy assessment. All the officer needs to do is hold a microphone-like device or a special flashlight in front of the suspect, it is not even necessary for the person to agree to breathe into a breathalyzer.
Voice stress analyzer -of questionable reliability- are also in increased use. One firm offers an "ultra miniaturized" hand-held system that "in business or personal meetings" helps "determine if your employees are stealing... if your associates are cheating... if your friends are really your friends." The device is said to analyze a person's voice electronically for sub-audible micro-tremors that, it is claimed, occur with stress and deception. A person need not know that he or she is being tested and "even your telephone conversations can be analyzed for truth." The CIA has reportedly used microwave lie detectors that measure stomach flutters from a half a mile away (Christian Science Monitor, 1984).
Undercover practice -those old, traditional means of surveillance and investigation- have drastically changed in form and expanded in scale during the last decade. Aided by technology and imagination, police and federal agencies have penetrated criminal, and sometimes non-criminal, milieus in utterly new ways (Marx, 1982; U. S. Congress, 1982, 1984). The individual undercover worker making isolated arrests has been supplemented by highly coordinated and staged team activities involving technological aides and many agents and arrests. Fake organizations beyond the imposter or infiltrator are key elements in many operations.
In the United States, the most involved agency is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the past, the FBI viewed undercover operations as too risky and costly (for both individuals and the agency's reputation) for use in routine investigations of conventional criminal activity. Now, however, in the words of an agent, "Undercover operations have become the cutting edge of the FBI's effort to ferret out concealed criminal activity." The number of such investigations steadily increased from 53 in 1977, to 239 in 1979, to 463 in 1981.
Beyond well-known cases (Abscam, the fake consulting firm run jointly by IBM and the FBI that sold "stolen" data to Japanese companies; the John DeLorean case; police posing as derelicts with exposed wallets or as fences purchasing stolen property), recent cases have involved policewomen posing as prostitutes and then arresting the men who propositioned them; tax agents stationed in banks and businesses posing as prospective buyers or clients in order to gain information; phony cases entered into the criminal justice system to test if prosecutors and judges would accept bribes; "bait sales" in which undercover agents offer to sell, at a very low price, allegedly stolen goods to merchants or persons they meet in bars; agents acting as guides for big game hunters and then arresting them for killing protected species or animals out of season.
Less costly investigative means involve informing and citizen surveillance. These decentralized and inexpensive forms have expanded significantly in the United States. A good example are hotlines for anonymous reporting. These range from a turn-in-a-poacher program in Connecticut to a Washington state program that encourages motorists to report individuals driving in expressway lanes reserved for car pools by dialing 764-HERO. Federal cabinet agencies are required to have hotlines where citizens can report abuses. All 19 federal inspector general offices have hotlines for receiving allegations of fraud, waste mismanagement, and other abuses.
Many private companies maintain an internal hotlines for anonymous reporting, WeTiP, Inc., a nonprofit organization, offers a general, nationwide 24-hour toll-free hotline for reporting suspicious activity. One of the largest groups is TIP (turn-in-a-pusher) found in hundreds of communities. The video equivalent of the old reward posters is a program called "crime stoppers-USA, Inc.," now in over 450 cities. Televised reenactments ("the crime of the week") are used to encourage witnesses to unsolved crimes to come forward. There are also radio and newspaper versions. There is even a new mass circulation publication called Reward Magazine, the page of which are designed to look like wanted posters. It offers cash for information that leads to the location of wanted suspects. There are also more generalized forms. One sheriff's department gives out leaflets that ask, "Do you know something the Sheriff should know?"
Other resources have been made available to support the flow of information from citizens to the state. The Federal Witness Protection Program provides relocation and a new identity to informants. Increased legislative and judicial protections are provided for whistle-blowers. Some legislation also makes it a crime not to report certain kinds of violations such as hazardous working or environmental condition.
More open-ended and organized citizen crime-watching groups that report suspicious activity also should be noted. According to one estimate 20,000 communities have from 5 million to 10 million members of such groups. The National Sheriff's Association sponsors a group called "Neighborhood Watch" that exists in 2,500 communities. Detroit has groups on 4,000 of its 12,000 city blocks. The Citizens Crime Watch in Dade County, Florida, has 175,000 members and, like many such groups, has extended its operations into schools.
What were once scattered and isolated groups are nationally organized. Some of these programs are quite vigorous and have a social movement-like proselytizing quality. National staffs hold conferences aimed at starting new groups. Federal funds have also been provided for such programs.
Distinctive Attributes of the New Surveillance
Although the causes, nature, and consequences of the various new surveillance methods differ, they share to varying degrees nine characteristics relative to most traditional forms of social control. The new surveillance:
TRANSCENDS DISTANCE, DARKNESS, AND PHYSICAL BARRIERS. As many observers have noted, the historic barriers to the old, Leviathan state lay in the sheer physical impossibility of extending the rulers' ideas and surveillance to the outer regions of vast empire; through closed doors; and into the inner intellectual, emotional, and physical regions of the individual. Technology makes these intrusions easier. Technical impossibility and inefficiency have declined as the unplanned protectors of liberty.
TRANSCENDS TIME AND ITS RECORDS CAN EASILY BE STORED, RETRIEVED, COMBINED, ANALYZED, AND COMMUNICATED. Surveillance information can be "socially freeze-dried" (Goodwin and Humphreys, 1982). When stored, it is available for analysis many years after the fact and in totally different interpretive contexts. Computer records, video-and audio-tapes and disc, photos, and various "signatures" -like workers or parts used in mass production- have become increasingly standardized and interchangeable. Information can be converted into portable forms, easily reproducible and transferable through telecommunications. Data thus can migrate to places far removed from original locations.
IS CAPITAL-RATHER THAN LABOR INTENSIVE. Technical developments have dramatically altered the economics of surveillance. Information is easily sent back to a central source, making possible economies of scale. A few persons can monitor a great many persons and places (in contrast to traditional forms, such as the gumshoe tailing a suspect or manually searching records). Economy is further enhanced because persons become voluntary or involuntary consumers of much surveillance-indeed they participate in their own monitoring.
TRIGGERS A SHIFT FROM TARGETING A SPECIFIC TO CATEGORICAL SUSPICION. In the novel Gorky Park the police inspector asks a central character who she suspects of having stolen her iceskates. She replies, "Everyone," to which the inspector responds, "So do I." In the technical implementation of Kafka's nightmare, modern society, too, suspects everyone. The camera, the tape recorder, the identity card, the metal detector, the obligatory tax form that must be filled out even if one has no incomes, and the computer make all who come within their province reasonable targets for surveillance. These "softer" forms of control tend toward the creation of a society where people are permanently under suspicion and surveillance. The Napoleonic assumption that everyone is guilty until proven innocent is facilitated by technologies that permit continuous, rather than intermittent, monitoring. As Michael Foucault observed, what is central is not physical coercion-but never-ending "judgements, examinations, and observation."
HAS AS A MAJOR CONCERN THE PREVENTION OF VIOLATIONS. As Gordon Liddy observed in justifying the Watergate operation, "Closing the barn door after the horse has gone" does no good. Anticipatory strategies seek to reduce risk and uncertainty. Bureaucratic organization and modern management, consistent with the idea of rationality, attempt to make control more predictable, reliable, and effective. As little is left to chance as possible. Control is extended to ever more features of the environment. Publicity about omnipresent and omnipowerful surveillance seeks to deter violations. Where violations cannot be prevented, the surroundings may be so structured that violators are either caught in the act or leave strong evidence of their identity and guilt.
IS DECENTRALIZED-AND TRIGGERS SELF-POLICING. In contrast to the trend of the last century, information can now in principle flow as freely from the center to society's periphery as the reverse. National data resources are available to widely dispersed local officials. (The power of national elites, in turn, may also increase as they obtain instant information on those in the farthest reaches of the network.) Those watched become (willingly, knowingly or not) active partners in their own monitoring, which is often self-activated and automatic. Persons often are motivated to report themselves to government agencies and large organizations and corporations in return for some benefit or to avoid a penalty. Subjects may directly trigger surveillance systems by, for example, talking on the telephone, turning on a TV set, checking a book out from the library, entering or leaving controlled areas.
IS EITHER INVISIBLE OR HAS LOW VISIBILITY. It becomes ever more difficult to ascertain when and whether one is being watched and who is doing the watching. There is a distancing (both socially and geographically) between watchers and watched, and surveillance is increasingly depersonalized. Instruments are often difficult to discover, either because they are something other than they appear to be (one-way mirrors, or cameras hidden in a fire extinguisher or mannequin) or, as with snooping into microwave transmissions, there often are few indications of surveillance. Evidence may be hidden until some special process identifies it, as with fluorescent dust markings, hidden marks on currency and stocks, or a tiny beeper placed in a vehicle.
IS MORE INTENSIVE-PROBING BENEATH SURFACE, DISCOVERING PREVIOUSLY INACCESSIBLE INFORMATION. Like drilling technology boring ever deeper into the earth, today's surveillance is able to probe ever deeper into physical, social, and personal areas. It hears whispers, penetrates clouds, walls, and windows. With blood and urine analysis and stomach pumps it "sees" into the body-and with voice stress and polygraph analysis it attempts to "see" into the soul, claiming to go beneath ostensible meanings and appearances to real meanings.
GROWS EVER MORE EXTENSIVE-COVERING NOT ONLY DEEPER, BUT LARGER AREAS. Previously unconnected surveillance threads now are woven into gigantic tapestries of information. Or, in Stan Cohen's (1985) imagery, the mesh of the fishing net has not only become finer and more pliable, the net itself now is wider. Broad new categories of person and behavior have become subjects for information collection and analysis, and as the pool of persons watched expands, so does the pool of watchers. Anyone may be watched: everyone is a potential watcher. The creation of uncertainty about whether or not surveillance is present is an important strategic element. Mass surveillance has become a reality. The increased number of watchers (human and electronics) and self-monitoring have re-created some of the dense controls characteristic of small, closely watched villages.
The awesome power of the new surveillance lies in the paradoxical, never before possible combination of decentralized and centralized forms. Forms of monitoring traditionally used only for criminal and espionage suspects, or prisoners, now are used for categorical monitoring of broad population. 14
The new surveillance has been generally welcomed by business, government, and law enforcement. It has many attractive features, examples of which are easily cited: the life of an elderly heart attack victim who lived alone was saved when her failure to open the refrigerator sent an alarm through her telephone to a centralized monitor; a corrupt (or corruptible) judge was caught when he took a bribe from a police agent pretending to be a criminal; serious crimes have been solved as a result of tips received on hot lines. Advanced emergency communications systems, which flash a 911 caller's whereabouts and phone number the instant an operator answers the phone, have saved lives. Satellite photography can monitor factory compliance with pollution emission standards. Credit cards ease consumer goods purchases; taxpayers' dollars are saved because of computer-matching programs; citizens may feel safer when video surveillance is present. Increasingly, Americans seen willing, even eager, to live with intrusive technologies because of anticipated benefits.
We are not hapless victims of technological determinism. Technology is created and used in social contexts, and choices are possible. Errors and problems of data tampering and misuse can be lessened by legislation and policies, good program design, and sensitive and intelligent management. To a greater extent than in most countries, the United States restricts the use of surveillance technologies, though there is often a significant lag between the appearance of a technology and its regulation; and regulation is often weak. Furthermore, in a free-market economy, some surveillance can be neutralized by counter-surveillance devices.
My point is neither to advance a romantic neo-Luddite worldview nor to deny the enormous complexity of the moral judgements and trade-offs involved. I do not argue that more harm than good has resulted from these innovations. Absent a better statistical pictures of extensiveness and consequences, and agreement as to how conflicting values are to be weighed, any such conclusion is unwarranted. But the eagerness to innovate and infatuation with technical progress and gimmickry may obscure real dangers.
There is nowhere to run or to hide. There is no exit from the prying eyes, ears, and data-processing machines of government and business. Citizens' ability to evade surveillance is diminishing. Participation in the consumer society and the welfare state requires personal information.
The new surveillance goes beyond merely invading privacy, as this term has conventionally been understood. Many of the constraints that made privacy possible are now irrelevant. Traditionally, privacy depended on certain technically or socially inviolate physical, spatial, or temporal barriers-varying from distance to darkness, to doors, to the right to remain silent. Invasion of privacy required crossing an intact barrier. The new technology transcends these barriers.
Individual freedom and liberty prosper when detailed information about a person's life, for the most part, is private. The idea of starting over in the new world or moving West to a new frontier, is a powerful one. The optimistic belief that people can change and improve, and the belief that once a debt has been paid to society it ought to be forgotten, are important American values. American popular culture prides itself on looking at what a person does today rather than what they may have done in the past. Devices such as sealed or destroyed records, prohibitions on certain kinds of record keeping, and constant requirements for the release of information reflect these concerns.
With massive computerized "jackets" on everyone so easily accessible, the past is likely to become increasingly important in structuring individual opportunities. Persons may never cease paying for earlier misdeeds. Aside from the possibility of locking in erroneous or sabotaged data, this may have the unintended consequence of permanent stigmatization. It might even increase commitment to rule breaking. Those who wish to lead law-abiding lives may face increasing difficulties as a result of electronic branding. Starting over may prove to be much more difficult.
The issues go far beyond the criminal records and faulty computer banks. As records of education, work, health, housing, civil suits, and the like become ever more important in administering society, persons may decline needed services (as for mental health), avoid conflictual or controversial action (filing a grievance against a landlord), shun taking risks and experimenting for fear of what it will look like on the record. Conformity and uniformity may increase, squashing diversity, innovation, and vitality.
A related point concerns the changing nature of the things we wish to keep private. In 1930 much of what an individual wished to keep private could be kept in a desk drawer or a safe deposit box. But the location of personal information has shifted from the person to the large organization. Property in the form of information is less tangible. It can be seen or sent without a trace, and often without consent. Because the Fourth Amendment was designed for more tangible forms of property, and at a time when persons had much greater physical control over the things they wished to keep private, it does not cover recent incursions. The intrusive search behavior characteristic of the new surveillance is inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of the Bill of Rights.
In the face of such intrusions, and the changing nature of property, it is important to rethink the nature of privacy and to create new supports for it. Some of these, ironically, must rely on new technologies (such as encrypted or scrambled communications, antiradar and debugging devices). Legislation and heightened public awareness are also important. Less than one state in five has laws requiring written standards for the collection, maintenance, and dissemination of personal information.
Yet more is at stake than privacy. The right to be left alone and to remain anonymous, so highly valued in modern society, is diminished. Vast public available data based can be mined to yield precise lists, for example, of suspects or targets for sales pitches and solicitations. When they are linked with automatic telephone dialing equipment, or word processors, protection against invasion is increasingly difficult. Aside from annoyance, "personalized" yet standardized word processed solicitations may be threatening: "What do they know about me? How did they find out? What else do they know? Who are they?"
The fragmentation and isolation characteristic of totalitarian societies result not only from the state's banning or absorption of private organizations, but because individuals mistrust institutions, organizations, and each other. The social bonds among individuals, organizations, and government are weakened. In a society where everyone is suspect and a target for temptation and investigation, trust-the most sacred and desirable element of the social bond-is damaged. To be sure, in modern society suspiciousness is often a prudent response. But what of its unintended consequences and its proportionality to the threat?
The new surveillance may actually increase fear of victimization. If the government and large private organizations feel they must take such intrusive steps, is there not a great deal to fear? Legitimacy thus may be unintentionally damaged. Corruption in Congress or the judiciary may lead people to the cynical conclusion that all participants in basic institutions are corrupt. Surveillance practices of business may encourage alienation on the part of employees. Employees in the large retail firms serviced by a leading private detective agency received a memo stating the "systematic checkings are made of every employee; you never know what day or hour you are being checked." Such warnings, together with practices previously discussed, communicate mistrust that may be cynically responded to in kind.
Making means of anonymous denunciation too easily available may also encourage distrust and lead to false and malicious accusations. 15 Because much surveillance is of low visibility or covert, accountability is lessened and exploitation and coverups are enhanced.
Distrust is furthered to the extent that social control seeks to perpetuate the "myth of surveillance." Advocates argue that creating the impression that persons are always being watched, or that they can never tell when they are being watched, results in deterrence. But it may also deter legitimate behavior such as political expression or applying for entitlements. 16
The perception that surveillance is more powerful than it really is also deceives. The deception lies in the claim that people are being watched when often they are not (there is no one behind the one-way mirror, there is not monitor behind, or film in, the surveillance camera, there are no radar-equipped aircraft to monitor speeders). Deception occurs also when control agents and situations are disguised (e.g., police posing as elderly persons or alcoholics in the hope of attracting robbers, or as priest, journalist, lawyers, or doctors in the hope of eliciting information, or as private police posing as customers while testing cashiers or watching customers).
Efforts to convince people that techniques involving the polygraph, voice stress analyzer, and computer are more powerful than they actually are also deceive. Many people stand in fear of supposedly scientific investigative techniques. Nixon's remarks on the Watergate tapes are instructive: "Listen, I don't know anything about polygraphs, and I don't know how accurate they are, but I do know that they'll scare the hell out of people." Lie detectors are thought to be most effective when persons being tested believe that they work. This gives rise to a variety of ruses.
Freedom of speech and action are inhibited when deception becomes official policy. Deception may increase in the society in self-defense and because it comes to be seen as acceptable and easier to rationalize.
Proliferation of the new techniques may create a lowest-denominator morality. In order to protect privacy and autonomy, the tactics against which one seeks protection may be adopted in self-defense. 17 The new surveillance may create an electronic climate of suspiciousness.
The new surveillance increases the power of large organizations. There is hardly equal access to these means, even if, in principle, most are available to any individual or group.18 Except in totalitarian countries, intrusive technologies do not long remain the exclusive property of the state. 19 Countermeans may reduce the impact of surveillance for those with the resources to employ them. The tables may also be turned as private citizens or public interest groups use computers and other surveillance means to monitor government and corporate activity. 20 Yet the availability of such technology gives little cause for optimism. Although it may serve to neutralize some intrusions, on balance the technology is not likely to be used only defensively or in the public interest.
The scale is still overwhelmingly tipped toward government and large organizations. In spite of the spread of home computers and mail-order snooping devices, individual consumers, renters, political dissenters, loan applicants, and public interest groups clearly do not have the surveillance and data analysis capabilities of credit card companies and marketing research firms, landlords' associations, police intelligence units, the NSA, banks, or large corporations. As a result the new surveillance technologies are an important factor in decreasing the power of the individual relative to large organizations and government.
Some other negative aspects of the new surveillance can be briefly mentioned:
IT IS CATEGORICAL in nature, involving "fishing expeditions" and "searches" absent any evidence of specific wrongdoing, thus violating the spirit of the Fourth Amendment. The presumption of innocence can be undermined-shifting the burden of proof from the state to the accused. There is also a danger of presumption of guilt (or an unwarranted innocence) by association or statistical artifact. And, because of the technical nature of the surveillance and its distancing aspects, the accused may (at least initially) be unable to face the accuser. The legal basis of some of the new surveillance's crime-prevention actions is also questionable.
THE SYSTEM'S FOCUS on prevention entails the risk of wasting resources on preventing things that would not have occurred in any case, or, as sometimes occurs in undercover activities, of creating violations through self-fulfilling affects.
POWERFUL NEW DISCOVERY mechanisms may overload the system. Authorities may discover far more violations than they can act upon. There is a certain wisdom to the ignorance of the three monkeys. Having information on an overabundance of violations can lead to the misuse of prosecutorial discretion or demoralization on the part of control agents. Charges of favoritism and corruption may appear as only some offenses can be acted upon.
IN ORWELL'S AND OTHER science fiction accounts, control is both highly repressive and efficient. There is perfect control over information (whether the ability to discover infractions with certainty or to manage beliefs). As the examples cited suggest, the new surveillance has great repressive potential (in actuality or via myth). But it is invariable less than perfectly effective and certain, and it is subject to manipulation and error. 21
ALTHOUGH DETERRING OR DISCOVERING some offenders, the routinization of surveillance, ironically, may grant an almost guaranteed means for successful violations and theft to those who gain knowledge of the system and take action to neutralize and exploit it. This suggests that, over time, many of these systems will disproportionately net the marginal, amateur, occasional, or opportunistic violator rather than the master criminal. The systematization of surveillance may grant the latter a kind of license to steal, even while headlines hail the effectiveness of the new techniques.
A problem of a different order is the apocalypse someday argument, calling attention to future disasters rather than current problems (Rule et al., 1980). The potential for harm may be so great, should social conditions change, that creating surveillance systems may not be justified to begin with (e.g., creating linkages between all federal and state data banks and a mandatory identification system).
Because there is as yet no catastrophe and there are many benign examples to point to, this argument is usually not given much credence. From this perspective, framing the policy debate around the reform of surveillance systems is misguided. The issue, instead, is whether the system should be there to begin with. Once these systems are institutionalized and taken for granted, even in a democratic society, they can be used for harmful ends. With a more repressive government and a more intolerant public-perhaps upset over severe economic downturns, larger waves of immigration, social dislocations, or foreign policy setbacks-these same devices could easily be used against those with the "wrong" political beliefs, against racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, and those with lifestyles than offend the majority. A concern with prevention of disorder could mean a vastly expanded pool of "suspects".
Should totalitarianism ever come to the United States it is likely to occur by accretion rather than by cataclysmic event. As Sinclair Lewis argued (It Can't Happen Here), it would come in traditional American guise, with the gradual erosion of liberties.
Voluntary participation, beneficent rationales, and changes in cultural definition and language hide the onerous aspects of the new surveillance. As Justice Brandeis has warned:
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am grateful to Stan Cohen, Glenn Goodwin, Nancy Reichman, Jim Short, Steve Spitze, and Ron Westrum for critical comments. In addition to the ASA meetings, some of the material was presented at a 1984 conference on George Orwell sponsored by the Council of Europe, and appears in Dissent (Winter 1985). The title is inspired by The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove (Crime and Social Justice Associates, 1982). Police lyrics reprinted with permission of Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.
page | Top