Custom «Politics of Surveillance» Essay Paper Sample

Politics of Surveillance

Discovery is the mother of the invention; therefore, all the changes we see in the world today are a result of some discovery. The universe we are living in is changing so much that it is no longer  the innocent world it was centuries ago. This can be attributed to the fact that more discoveries are being made every day and hence the day to day living of the society is altering. Therefore, the world is evolving, so are we. New technologies are coming up every day. Moreover, education standards in the world are advanced. All these factors are combined together to make up a better and more advanced world. However, not every technology is used to benefit everyone in the society. This is a result of some people using the technology which is at their disposal to harm rather than help others. The most commonly misused technology gadgets are the monitoring gadgets. When in the right hands, the monitoring tools are intended to influence the society positively, however, when such technologies are acquired by people with evil intentions, many people get harmed and many are put at risk. This is the reason why every individual must exercise caution especially when entrusting new technology to others. Always it is important to take time to know their intentions before passing over the ownership rights to them to avoid future disasters.

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Today surveillance is ambiguous and inevitable; a result of modernity. It is an essential characteristic of the world today. People’s tendency to monitor the activities of others put together with modern day technology means that citizens may be monitored daily. This will happen even while carrying out their private or public activities. Moreover, it is done by multiple parties. Surveillance in a way enables, restricts and affects every one of us to a certain degree (Bogard 1996). This may be through the information we feed to network like Face book and Twitter, police infiltration of activist groups, supermarket loyalty cards and more. Through-out history people have engaged in surveillance of one form or another. Governments all around the world have carried out surveillance for various reasons such as to control the spread of a disease, to routinely police and to make informed policy. Individuals and nongovernmental organizations also monitor themselves and their peers in one way or another. This may be done through investigative journalism, phone hacking, private detectives, freedom of information requests and even gossip sites (Castells 1996). In one way or another, air-port body scanners, security cameras and social media data mining are analogs of a more archaic form of surveillance such as police note taking, parental controls and government censuses. However, with the vast technological advancements and  putting in different sociopolitical context, the surveillance plays an entirely different role. With this, surveillance becomes more or less significant governmental strategy. Surveillance in this day and age has the potential to change one’s life in sheer intense manner. Surveillance has become the subject of extreme sociological significance. This is likely to continue in the twenty first century.

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According to a large percentage of the common man, myths are mere stories, essentially primitive, irrational and unscientific (Bogard 1996). However, most people do not entirely disown them. Myths enabled ancestors to understand themselves and their relationship to nature. In this day and age, myths still continue to shape people's actions and attitudes in one way or another. There are those who think of myths as of metaphors rather than as of fantasies. However, myths are prevalent to the ideologies which, regardless of individuals’ occasional pretensions to impartiality, rule not only what we think but, more significantly, how we think.On the one hand, technology is seen as a more material product of science or as rational and the utmost expression of modernity (Burnett, Senker & Walker 2009). Whereas most people view myths as value neutral, we like to see technologies as value laden instrumental and practical technologies. For example, when the National Rifle Association argues that “guns do not kill people; people kill people”, guns are only harmful when used by murderers and children (Burnett, Senker & Walker 2009). On the other hand, they are immensely helpful to competitors in  biathlon and even  hunters. In addition to this, atomic energy provides heat in people’s homes when produced in a nuclear station and can destroy people when set up as an atomic weapon (Burnett, Senker & Walker 2009). Technology, which is seen either as right or as evil, can be used to lead to one or the other in a given situation. It all depends on the intentions and the skill of the user. Even former US Vice-President was able to shoot his friend while hunting for small birds; skill and competence is of utmost importance. Therefore, the neutrality of technology can be termed as the most monstrous myth of the twenty first century. In the rising wave of information, we come across medical, scientific and technological advances. They all hold the promise of creating an educated and more humane world (Burnett, Senker & Walker 2009). Though technology affords us empowering and essential advances, it is a mystery to us all pledging more than it can deliver. One of these extraordinary technologies is surveillance in the twenty first century.

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After September 11th, technologies of control, surveillance and security strategies of counter terrorism and terrorism intersect in a way to show governance of cities all over the world. They illustrate the characteristics of urban rebirth in this day and age of terrorism. Urban rebirth has become a prime objective for city leaders and professional planners likewise. Tactical solutions have been sought to get over the anonymity of suburbs of the cities.  This process tries to come up with new high quality streetscapes, safe and long lasting urban realms, higher densities, connectivity and walk abilities


Privacy concepts are always unclear and inadequate; the paramount recount to self-communication is deliberate, limited doings in relations of trust (Coleman & McCahill 2011). Surveillance is not neutral. Criminality in any region of the world is too serious to be left in the hands of the non-impartial verdict of the police and other authorities. This calls for a lot of debates on the efficacy of surveillance in the matter of social justice and the criminalization of any protest movements.

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Privacy elsewhere

The United States courts have always treated interception of communication within one’s house as a breach of privacy. In 1886, in the case Boyd v. United States of America, the court austerely protected the inviolability of anyone’s home. William Blackstone acknowledged that the law has the protection of a man’s home as his castle and that it shall not suffer impunity (Dandeker 1990). This was the law of the eighteenth century. On the other hand, the information age often requires us to exchange information with cable companies, internet service providers, phone companies and other third parties. This makes the previous notion of privacy to be annihilated in the world today. Privacy can now be used to mean an expectation of a certain level of accessibility of information. This is unlike before when it signified secrecy.

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Biometric Technologies

The European Commission’s Report of the year 2007 showed the impact that Biometric technologies are causing to the society (Coleman & McCahill 2011). This report concluded that the rapidly increasing information society comes to the community with the need to identify themselves remotely and quickly. Predictably the world needs these Biometric technologies to reduce fraud and national security, which after September 11th is of the utmost importance (Gates 2011).

Everyday Surveillance

Watchers of people have been subject to many studies. This is the myriad of CCTV operators and the police. However, there has not been a vast deal of studies on those on the other end of surveillance, the subjects. In the world, there are many people opposed to the idea of surveillance of any form (Coleman & McCahill 2011). Movements such as Occupy Wall Street were seen as resistance movements. On 14th October 2011 in Bristol and other cities all over the world, protectors met at a central place and attempted to live in this place for life. The occupation started on 14th October with the protestors campaigning of the corruption, power and greed in Wall Street, New York. This campaign was aimed at achieving change in the democratic systems of the government then. Their goal was to create an open space to discuss political decisions in the society. Even now, these groups are still closely monitored  by the police in case of any criminal offenses. In this case, surveillance comes in hand, as it helps the authorities to monitor the crowd closely.

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In spite of the increasing academic and political interest in the increase of surveillance brought about by technological advancements, the users of the said technologies appear to be unperturbed with surveillance (Garfinkel 2000). Users of technology accept the trade off for their privacy with greater usability. A study by David Lyon tried to find out whether users had consent to and understood the surveillance of their lives every day. The research carried out found out two crucial points of difference and one common point.  These findings were based on control society analyses of surveillance and the users own thoughts and any experience on being monitored. While a society control analysis shows an increasing trend in the quality of replicated data to be produced on individuals, the users hold on to the concept of reliability and truth of that information (Garfinkel 2000).  Where a control society examination uses surveillance in its postmodern form of diverse control, users of surveillance confess  their ability to target exact location.

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Non-resistors of Surveillance

Most non-resistors of surveillance are not even aware that it is happening. A great percentage of internet users in the United States are not aware that United States Homeland Security may at any point in time request to see the details of internet users from the internet search engines. These requests are carried out as part of criminal investigations. These requests consist of several thousand of internet users out of a billion people who are using the internet. A small number of internet users have devised methods to keep their internet use out of view by the government.  Most non-resistors are innocent, and monitoring happens without their concent (Coleman & McCahill 2011). They may also be fooled that CCTV is there to monitor traffic and not their movements and behaviors. The police authority in West Midlands apologized to the community due to the illegal installation of 169 CCTV cameras. They had lied that these cameras were meant to prevent vehicle crime and antisocial behavior. However, they had been installed to watch the movements of residents in this area. The cameras tracked the movements of people entering and leaving the area. The police had not acquired a court order to have these people of the Muslim neighborhoods of Spark brook and Wash wood Heath West Midlands monitored without their consent. Everyone should try to create a balance between the excitement of how the internet has the potential to make people’s lives better and fear of loss of safety, more so the safety of activist that challenge the “system”. Brooke (2010) suggests that instead of re-making the internet to accommodate unpopular leaders and un-popular laws we should re-make the political systems of the world to look and work like the internet.  This could create a utopia of the world, the first global democracy ever. Hundreds of millions of people living in poverty would finally climb out of it. Everybody would have the chance to join the universal conversation and become a part of infinite transformation (Brooke 2011). People all over the world would easily check the power of their authorities if they concentrate. However, this is not the case as the internet takes us deep into cultural roots. Users are made to believe that cosmopolitanism is an alternative for authentic cross cultural interactions. The use of the internet also creates a  stop shop for any nosy person seeking to the new information. In the United States of America and Europe, the law requires that all mobile service providers add an interception capability to their products and services. Because of this, Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan intelligence services were able to locate and arrest a sizeable number of pro-democracy protestors.Wiki Leaks exhibited what can be attained if one puts together drive to justice and the know how in coding.  The ability of governments all around the world to escape the consequences of their actions are immense. In the year 2010 Wiki Leaks with the growing support of worldwide mainstream press leaked video recording of US diplomatic cables and war logs from Afghanistan (Brooke 2011). The government of America sidetracked the evidence of war crimes and tortures to harm (The Guardian) that may befall those who leak such information to the public.

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Politics of Surveillance

In the year 2006 a report produced by the Surveillance Studies Networks on the Surveillance Society shows the persuasiveness and ubiquity of technologies used to keep tabs on its citizens by the government and other authorities. The government produces large volumes of records in their daily routine of work. This information has consequences of citizens in modern states. This report concludes that surveillance and citizenship are intertwined in the modern world. Surveillance has become an essential and common part of everyone’s life and that people now ignore the numerous cameras connected everywhere. People even dutifully surrender any information and personal detail to officers of the law, websites and social networks for personal benefit. Institutionalized and systematic surveillance have become routine in peoples everyday lives. They have adjusted to expecting and accepting a certain degree of intrusion into their personal lives by the powers that be (Haggerty 2009). In his book Haggerty talks of how sometimes surveillance may affect people's feelings. He talks of how we recall shuddering reading George Orwell’s authoritarian dystopia, laughing at the ludicrousness of a (purportedly) all-knowing bureaucracy in the movie Brazil, or questioning just how realistic depiction of surveillance in Enemy of the State  were. A few people, in time, would differ that we live in an age where surveillance surpasses by far anything that Orwell may have dreamt of. Portrayals of East Germany Stasi or secret police have made East Germany the embodiment of the surveillance state and intrinsically authoritarian. On the other hand, the apparatus used for surveillance in West Germany though similarly effective and evidently productive of a surveillance state has missed the title of authoritarian. The explanation for this, as put by various scholars, is that surveillance takes numerous forms. Therefore, one needs to study in ethnographic detail the causes of these disparities in practices, meanings and techniques (Haggerty & Samatas 2010). For example, the situation where David Lyon observed that surveillance has had dissimilar purposes and trajectories in Europe as compared to Asia and North America. Notions of what is proper and improper watching differ from one society to the other. Also, the resistance offered for surveillance differs, as one moves across borders. Surveillance needs not only to be seen as a vibrant process but rather should be scrutinized in the framework of power relations. Studying surveillance is going to be historically specific, contextual and situational.











Surveillance and CCTV

Technology and surveillance always lead to the discussion of the most common monitoring the world over, CCTV (Closed Circuit Television). The extent of CCTV coverage and government funding of this project has increased by leaps and bounds over the years. However, there is exceedingly minimal evidence on the workability of CCTV. Between 1996 and 1998, a massive three quarters of the Home Office Crime Prevention Budget funded CCTV projects. This money were spent on cameras in large numbers. A review carried out after this showed that crime reduction in the area was only at five percent after spending such large amounts of money. Further research on this issue shows that CCTV as a crime reduction tool has a given shelf life. It is only through maintaining exposure that the initial stance at crime reduction will fail. Evidence shows that the effects of CCTV on crime in any given area start before the cameras even start operating. This suggests that avoidance may have a superior role to play in detection (Coleman & Sim 2000). CCTV has an unusually minimal effect on public disorder but has a significant effect on crimes committed in parking lots. CCTV is better used when tailored to fit the needs of the area. It also works better at crime reduction when used with other crime reduction measures. CCTV monitoring by the authorities is truly discriminatory as some areas with certain residents monitored more than others (Armitage 2002). CCTV lacks quality evaluation tools; however, this issue being addressed by a research project carried out nationally and funded by the DTLR and the Home Office. This project will look at the gaps existing in current research on the effectiveness of CCTV. It will also look into the matter of mobile CCTV, which is an upcoming trend for CCTV providers (Armitage 2002). A study carried out showed that many people had little or no concern on the installation of CCTV cameras. However, the study also found out that these perceptions of indifference may change as CCTV and other, more technologically advanced, forms of surveillance become widespread. In conclusion, CCTV is not a universal remedy. No one should believe that because it is a crime reduction measure that it will bring about crime reduction (Van & De Hert 2011). The potential success depends on the circumstances of where it gets installed, and the crime problem it is meant to prevent or reduce.

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 Surveillance is not just a tool; it causes resistance in some situations to this pastoral gaze. For the administration to do their work, they must maintain a certain degree of surveillance to gather information on the citizens who come in handy many a time (Haggerty & Samatas 2010). The more the world's population grows the more there is information and people to keep track of. Also, there are new tracking and surveillance technology coming into the market.

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