What’s New About the “New Surveillance”?

Classifying for Change and Continuity

A critique of the dictionary definition of surveillance as “close observation, especially of a suspected person” is offered. Much surveillance is applied categorically and beyond persons to places, spaces, networks and categories of person and the distinction between self and other surveillance can be blurred. Drawing from characteristics of the technology, the data collection process and the nature of the data, this article identifies 28 dimensions that are useful in characterizing means of surveillance. These dimensions highlight the differences between the new and traditional surveillance and offer a way to capture major sources of variation relevant to contemporary social, ethical and policy considerations. There can be little doubt that major changes have occurred. However the normative implications of this are mixed and dependent on the technology in question and evaluative framework. The concept of surveillance slack is introduced. This involves the extent to which a technology is applied, rather than the absolute amount of surveillance. A historical review of the jagged development of telecommunications for Western democratic conceptions of individualism is offered. This suggests the difficulty of reaching simple conclusions about whether the protection of personal information is decreasing or increasing.

Released: Replika 89, 21–42.
Replika block:
Ágoston Fáber