The increase of the surveillance society

Following the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks, there has been an exponential increase in Britain’s surveillance: currently, Britain has a quarter of the world’s security surveillance cameras with around four million cameras in use and we are currently the world’s most watched nation — something which is very unnerving and reflective of the surveillance dystopia envisaged by George Orwell in his fictional work “Nineteen Eighty Four”.

The steady expansion and the overuse of the surveillance in Britain risks undermining the right to privacy; it poses a huge risk to individual liberty; and one more step towards a police state in the United Kingdom. Currently, there are few laws in place to limit the use of CCTV, brought about to “protect national security”: this has lead to a “mission creep” in the use and abuse of surveillance. Local councils have been accused of severely abusing the surveillance in the United Kingdom by using CCTV to prevent fly tipping, dog fouling and, recently, CCTV was used by Poole Borough Council to monitor the actions and whereabouts of a family who were wrongly accused of lying about where they live on a school application form.

Britain’s surveillance society can be closely linked to the works of Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault. In 1785, Jeremy Bentham proposed the idea of the Panopticon: the Panopticon is a conceptual prison design that allows the prison guard to watch the prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell when they are being watched, in order to gain significant psychological control. Bentham described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”. The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, took up this theme in his 1975 work “Discipline and Punish”, where he pursued the link between surveillance and social control. Thus, comparing the effects of surveillance to the effects of the Panopticon.

Although the use of surveillance clearly has its advantages in terms of fighting crime, its overuse can prove counter-productive and can ultimately be viewed as a challenge to Britain’s liberal democratic status.

 Daniel Button