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Nkosinathi Mokoena
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I am scared, we are under constant surveillance...

28 August 2012, 20:20

Few weeks ago I was rambling nearby Rondebosch streets, on the other side of the road there were technicians installing surveillance cameras (Replacing the old ones). It was not just any kind of Camera but it was the motion sensor cameras. I continued my excursion, went into the Jammie Shuttle (Bus) and I saw another camera inside the bus. From that instant, something snapped on my mind. Everything started to make sense.

Likewise, the inspection of the movie titled “Enemy of the state” which is one of my much-loved movies of all times has un-wrapped my eyes in a distinct manner. Likewise, my first Sociology lecture as an undergraduate came in to class and taught us the concept of the strange in a familiar. It is basically the idea that things are not what they seem to be thus, is it for that day onwards that I started to interpret the world in a dissimilar way in order to comprehend the social traits of life.

 Call me paranoid or whatsoever, I have a sensation that we are under constant surveillance. And yes it troubles me. In 1787, a utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform Jeremy Bentham proposed a model of Panopticon. A Panopticon is a model of a prison which was later used as an illustration by prestigious scholar Michel Foucault in his Theory of Surveillance. The Panopticon ("all-seeing") functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he was being surveilled -- mental uncertainty that in it self would prove to be a crucial instrument of discipline.

A scholar such as Firmin DeBrabander (2012) shares the same sentiments and contends that our phones are subject to warrantless wiretaps. Our email and internet transactions leave a trail for some to follow. The police can access our GPS location data through our smart phones, also without a warrant. Retailers record our purchasing habits with painstaking detail. In addition, “Congress recently passed a bill that opens the gates to widespread use of surveillance drones on US soil” and this is done as a national security measure, they say.

I cannot tip my nose on the bus anymore because someone somewhere is watching us. Some of these security measures undermine our privacy. Subsequent entities we will hear or see are surveillance cameras on the rest rooms [my prediction-we are moving there soon]. The reason will always be the same “is for national security” all the time. Their installing these things everywhere yet the crime rate skies up. What are they really using them for? Just to watch me tipping my nose on the bus? What will our personal lives be like as so much more of them is made public? Everyone will agree with me that, we are apt to behave differently when we feel we are alone or watched.

In contrast, it’s also ideal for autocratic government in that it’s an extremely efficient form of power: authority doesn’t need to coerce folks physically to behave a certain way; surveillance inserts authority’s eye inside the individual, and he monitors himself. Surveillance enables power to be anonymous, Foucault says, which is especially devastating. You don’t know exactly why you are being watched, or exactly what’s expected of you, and ultimately cultivates a kind of inbred paranoia where you are unsure and timid about everything you do.

All I am saying is that, I don`t want to be under constant surveillance for no apparent or valid reason. At least let me know why am I being watched, elaborate what are these Cameras for? What are they used for? I don`t see their use because people get robbed, marked, killed on the same streets daily. I want freedom; freedom without privacy is no freedom at all. Firmin DeBrabander (2012) sums it up nicely and argued that “democracy requires creative, independent, fearless individualism”.

Alternately, as Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor has argued, we are a society increasingly suffering from ‘time poverty’: we work long hours, commute long distances, ferry our kids to and from countless activities, and in our frenzy, have come to rely on the multiple conveniences offered by the new technology that helps us get through our frantic schedules. In general, these new media are so fully integrated into our lives that we simply can’t imagine living without them. They have gotten us accustomed to levels of convenience such as we’ve never known before—a convenience directly proportionate to the amount personal information we surrender.

For more follow me on twitter @UNkosinathi

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