Definition of surveillance
A surveillance society is an organization which thrives on obtaining information about its users. The reasons for getting such information may be varied. Some of the organizations gather information from their users because that enables them to provide better services to them. One example of such an organization is an internet browser; as one continues using that browser, it saves the sites visited and uses them to predict things in which the customer would be interested. That is also the application of internet cookies. Another definition of surveillance is the collection of people's information on a routine basis for the goal of governing, managing or regulating them to influence their future activities. Based on the latter definition of surveillance, it is clear that surveillance arises some ethical questions. Many people may feel offended by the practice of collection of their information and analyzing it because they think it is a breach of privacy. Others view it as a tool which may be used to promote injustice, selectively control people's access to some services, limit the movement and freedom of some people, and impair trust between people.
Parties involved in performing surveillance
Different parties may do surveillance for various reasons. It may be done by service providers or by the government. It may also be done by other individuals who have the aim of collecting information from people to use it to control the subjects through whichever means. Surveillance done for the benefit of the user is demonstrated by what happens in some service delivery areas. The sole purpose for their collection of data from individuals is to ensure that they know exactly what the user likes the next time when a person is their client. It may also be performed by retailing facilities to follow-up on customers so that the shop can give away gifts to the most loyal customers. The only way through which they can tell the customers who attend their outlet the highest number of times is by collecting user information each time, the analyzing which users appear the most. The programs which assess loyalty are also useful for the retailers to investigate ways through which to reach their target audience better during future campaigns and advertisements for their products. Local shops may also be involved in the gathering of data on customers so that they may be in a position to customize and improve their service to the customers. Another way through which surveillance can be helpful is when people use the global positioning system (GPS) to find their way around new places. For that to be applicable in the lives of its users, the information had to be gathered on all sites on the ground including private areas. It also requires regular updating of the data to ensure it is most accurate. The GPS thus fits as a surveillance system because for it to be usable, there has to be an aspect of the collection of information that may sometimes be personal. There is no approval sought for the inclusion of property positions on the GPS, but they are all included anyway. GPS may also be used as a third party as a source of data for a given location so that the third party may use the information to control an aspect of the subject's life.
Surveillance may also be done to deter illegal activities within society. The monitoring which is done using financial institutions exemplifies that. Throughout everyday activities, the transactions which are done by most people are recorded and analyzed by commercial companies to detect fraudulent activities. Mobile companies make regular records, storage and analysis of user data such as conversations that a user has had and locations, which can be used later if an emergency occurs and the client is untraceable. The information in the mobile company system may be used to find out the last known location, where a search can now begin. Military camps are another excellent example of an instance where surveillance is done to avoid illegal activity. The military base sends out drones or other such instruments, which is useful in gathering data from their surroundings. The drone is then sent to places which are near the camp to record information about the people there and the types of activities they are doing. The primary goal of such a surveillance activity is to watch out for enemies and identify them in advance so that the military operation has the upper hand in the encounter with their enemy.
The government is inevitably associated with mass surveillance done for various reasons. Sometimes information is gathered for the identification of citizens or numbering of the people who belong to a particular country. That is achieved by taking population counts and citizen registration. The government is also able to get medical information from a large population of people during screening processes when there are outbreaks of diseases. During such times the citizens are frequently terrified and would thus do anything to be safe from a fast-spreading disease. Sometimes the collection of medical information in a screening process is not focused, and more information is collected than what is strictly necessary for specific disease screening. That may be helpful because the risk of developing another health problem may be determined using the same information that was obtained in one sitting, but it qualifies such activities as a form of surveillance.
All of the methods named above are the regular ways through which surveillance happens. Sometimes monitoring may be performed by unauthorized parties. They frequently use databases which already exist as their entry point. The data may be obtained from any of the sources which are known to collect data such as exemplified above, and then the data is used for other reasons. Sometimes it may be used to spy on the subjects, or as a tool of extortion.
The nature of surveillance and how it is done
Wherever monitoring happens, it tends to achieve a limited set of functions; aiding in the management of resources, people and their activities (Hintz et al 2016). Whether it is done by a government or by private institutions, it always has an end goal of control of an aspect in the lives of its subjects. As elaborated above, surveillance may either be used for good or evil. It may be perceived as a good thing when the objects of the scrutiny feel protected by the constant monitoring and recording of their activities. An excellent example of such a scenario is when the government is performing mass surveillance after a significant terrorist attack, and the surveillance deters future events. Monitoring may, however, be a negative force. The most significant danger with surveillance is that it creates a good database of information which may illegally accessible and thus used to exploit citizens (Hintz et al 2016). Besides that, it may also get misused by the people who obtained it.
Surveillance has been known to give the holder of the information some sense of power which becomes all-consuming, embedded within the organization and the systems they represent (Lyon 2014). The ability to have data on the population becomes more apparent as the information gets on demand on both national and international platforms. When an organization needs to know something about the community, they do not need to access the actual people, only the groups which hold data on the population. So the data becomes an item of trade as a result of the power it confers to whoever holds it (Lyon 2014). The ability to perform surveillance may have unwanted effects on the subjects of the same (Hintz et al 2016). When a government can investigate most aspects of people's lives, it may invoke events which scared citizens to get approval to watch every activity for a different goal. For instance, the ruling power may want to investigate what people speak of the government, or it may wish to smoke out individuals who pass hate speech about government officials so that they may be punished, however, it is illegal to spy on the private conversations of citizens. Therefore the government may use news about a possible attack by terrorists to get approval for surveillance, and then use the opportunity to find out the individuals who do not support them. Through this example, it is evident that because the government has the power to ensure people are under surveillance, it harms the subjects
Monitoring has many unwanted outcomes on the people whose information gets collected. First, there is a high risk of infringement of the right to privacy (Lyon 2014). Many times surveillance involves the collection of details about an individual which are personal. The subjects of a surveillance program are not very frequently asked for consent before the collection of their information, and thus most surveillance systems are involved in the illegal gathering of personal data. All these factors show that surveillance breaches the rights of the subjects to lead a private life (Lyon 2014). Right to privacy is one of the most important rights any individual should be able to enjoy.
Surveillance may also promote discrimination between people based on many criteria (Lyon 2014). It may enhance segregation based on financial capability. For instance, surveillance that is done to improve service delivery at a retail outlet may show that the better market for a specific item is the high-end market. That may lead to the institution of mechanisms which ensure that the item is more available for the high-end market, regardless of whether it becomes less reachable for other markets. Although it is not said in an obvious way, such a scheme enhances segregation based on social class. Similarly, surveillance may promote racial discrimination and other forms of exclusion because institutions can know an individual before they ever get to encounter them (Mann, 2017).
Surveillance also raises questions on transparency by the governing bodies that participate in the collection of people's information and trust from the citizens to whoever is collecting their data (Lyon 2014). It becomes impossible for the ordinary citizen to determine whether the information obtained from them is truly going to be used in the manner that they were told, or there may be an ulterior motive in the collection of the information. The trusting capacity of the subject of surveillance may be tainted from a history of misused data. That makes it difficult when data from the masses is critically needed such as during disease outbreaks and other national disasters. As it is currently, the subject of surveillance has become a sore subject for most people who know its history and how it has been mismanaged in the past to exploit its subjects. Any form of surveillance, whether good or bad, has become undesirable in society because the people acknowledge that the activity can be turned against them even when the original goal was genuine (Lyon 2014).
Surveillance is done through several organizations, people and infrastructure that are distributed throughout the population, but they are interconnected (Helles and Flyverbom 2019). The application systems are well aligned to the strategy and goals of the different organization which are associated with it. It is not all forms of surveillance which happen similarly. Some may occur throughout the day, and they entail the recording of every piece of information that is shared such as call centres. Some other forms of surveillance involve regular checks and recording of results as exemplified by a military base observing their surroundings in search of the enemy. Several institutions perform monitoring by gathering the information that was to be used for other purposes, then analyzing it.
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