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“The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance is Becoming a Reality” by Reginald Whitaker Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2022


Issues surrounding privacy often attract heated debates ranging from definition, perception, and interpretation by a clique sharing common values. Often, the shared views are dependent on what such a group would quantify as an immediate area of concern. “The end of privacy: how total surveillance is becoming a reality” is a political science book written by Reginald Whitaker, and is dwelling on power, specifically on surveillance as a tool for controlling social mechanisms. Though Michael Foucault and Jeremy Bentham developed panopticon concept, as a compliance prison with guaranteed rules of inescapable surveillance, Whitaker applies the principles of real world instances on surveillance technology development across the period from the early Second World War to the modern digitalized society. Quantitatively, Whitaker is straight on approaching panopticism analysis. Thus, the key conceptualization of this analytical treatise is an in-depth review of the book, “The end of privacy: how total surveillance is becoming a reality” by Reginald Whitaker on the facets of the dwindling privacy concept as component of information technology metamorphosis.

This book captures the impact of increased surveillance and information technologies on the privacy of an individual. Since the author is more interested in revealing the magnitude of these impacts, he is relevant in selecting the book title as a significant discussion background. Being a vastly experienced political scientist, the author articulates these implications with an inner understanding and a personalized approach. He concentrates on the issues surrounding political power as influenced by information technologies such as surveillance.

Century of Intelligence

In chapter one, the author is stringent in presenting the key roles played by information technologies on growth of a state in the twentieth century. The author reflects on the issues surrounding secretive information acquisition as the main aim of intelligence service. This chapter discusses the use of information technology in wars, spying, and maintaining superiority as a state. Several wars are mentioned from the Second World War to the infamous gulf war of 1991 when the warring nations used information technological inventions to experiment on the strength of their arsenal. In England, the then prime minister, Winton Churchill is described as having successfully use his pool of information technology wizards to encode and interpret the signal messages from their enemies during the second world war. The same trend was adopted by America who used advance technological skills to encode the plans of Japan who intended to raid them. As a precautionary measure, Hiroshima was hit by a deadly bond before their plan matured. In addition, the chapter discusses the totalitarian state intelligence orientation as utopia transforming into dystopia and characterized by relentless repression machinery. In the end, this leads to chaos, contradictions, and imperfection especially on power Balance

Spying has been institutionalized by states for intelligence information collection. Working around the clock, these spies are well trained to acquire information from perceived enemies and use it to their home country’s advantage.The state continuously exploits secretive intelligence at times of peace or during civil strife. The author opine that totalitarian theory of power control such as that witnessed in the Orwellian state is monopolistic on information control and dispatch. Reflectively, the same model is being used by liberal democracies around the world to monitor movements of goods, weapons, and other assortments of public interest through their intelligence and secret services. According to the author, the magnitude of the same is not as concentrated as that in the Orwellian era characterized by strings of misleading structural power guide. In Maryland, the national secret service works around the clock in a spying center.

Privacy has direct influence on behavior inclination, assumptions, and understanding micro and macro levels of the society. As part of the Marxist theory, the author is critical of the unaddressed technological influence on power balance. In addition, he is realistic on surveillance strategies of social control. Briefly, the concept of panopticism is introduced as a formal mean of controlling privilege in an informal setting to reveal the main theme of information technologies as the influencing power outside structures of the state. The author is articulate in explaining this concept though in my opinion, is biased as it has been proven that capitalism as an economic system can balance with competitive labor provision market. As a result of dramatic technological progresses, surveillance technology provides global coverage of lives of members of any society whether at work, school, or home on internet to serve private, public, or prurient interests.

The Panopticon

This chapter defines surveillance in the words of Christopher Danderker as collection, supervision, and application of information for behavior monitoring. Discussed in the image of panopticon, the author presents a visual picture of a programmed human being whose activities and movements are restricted to an environment. In an example, the panoptic sort is displayed. Just like a circular prison, the governments have invented information systems which monitor every conversation occurring within the parameter boundaries of its operation. Unlike the religious existence of afterlife, panapticism is void of this and only concentrate on present occurrence. Here, the metaphor is a good tool for social control as the surveillance subjects are powerless on any other alternative of preventing trespass into their boundaries. The author describes a short history of surveillance as having a time variance of more than two centuries as an enclosed mechanism of influence on a helpless individual. In addition, metamorphosis of panoptic factory as an administrative control mechanism predominate both the capitalist and nation state.

Under capitalism regime, there is a distinct line between political and economic compartments of public and private sectors. As bushfire, this system spreads via inflation. Knowledge as resource for productive capitalist orientation is presented as a specialization tool of innovation and manageable market pressure to revitalize efficiency. Just as goods passing the assembly line are automated, surveillance system works on the same principle. Based on the need to optimize gains, capitalism surveillance at work place is associated with scientific labor management irrespective of what an employee might opine.

Reflectively, the author interprets panoptic states as a primary site for organizational and technical surveillance of innovation. Sovereignty is replaced by a legitimized monopolistic coercion of single culture, language, and national identity. The modern state is represented as a structured administrative unit with the full powers to enforce and set rules, adjusting disputes, and redistributing the limited resources. Satisfactory role accomplishment demands for reflexive knowledge on the best ways of managing taxation systems. Whitaker reveals that private employers have the necessary technology to monitor progress and movement of every employee in finer details. Also, the government can track tax defaulters. Following these inventions, it is clear that ordinary citizens are at the risk of losing their private information to anyone who can afford to pay at the government information data base (Reginald, 1999). Today, brokers of private information amass dossiers for different economic uses depending on commercial purpose variety such as marketing.

Cyberspace: The Library of Babel

This chapter discusses on how computers are actively transforming the society, economy, human beings, and culture. To those who predict the active revolution, there is a possible bright future especially for the capitalist market system which can use the surveillance technology to its advantage. On the other hand are the leftists who think otherwise. Instead, they believe that true transformation will climax with the people ruling the internet and not vice versa. However, they share the same views on computer technology as a historic engine. Reginald describes the library of cyberspace as information repository universe consisting of life as a constituent of interpretation and information retrieval. Digitalization is described as a tool which permits alchemy of physical objects at reduced costs as transformation from colossus to faster microprocessors surfaces.

Computers have since advanced into complex machines operated by just a command mode such as the flash technology capable of receiving series of digital command on a single transmission. Innovations and transformation of computers is discussed from the late 1890 to present age from Arpanet to internet. Information as an element of growth has experienced metamorphosis on the facets of global competition as it faces revolution on the economic, social, political, and cultural landscape. Wherever an individual may step into, chances are that traces of computerized generation may appear. For instance, use of credit cards in the malls, hospitals, and online services leave behind information of the user. Copies of these transactions are often stored in the generating computers and can be used to facilitate data collocation from a central server. Unfortunately, this might also include embarrassments, tragedies, fears, and problem an individual might wish to keep private.

Without defined individual rights on information as a property, excess information is readily available and often used by corporations, organizations and companies. Regrettably, harmful or undesirable use of such private information might be intimidating to the victim. As an individual strives to be what he/she is, private life would be manageable as oppose to the current situation where such an individual is powerless and is totally on the mirror of benevolent supervision and observation by the state organs and private scientific labor management subscribers. Though the computing era can be described as a breakthrough into the basis of the efficient, faster, and more reliable multitasking vistas, their misuse by private information brokers is eminent. This may endanger variety and quality component of maintaining private information within the boundaries of an individual.

The night has a thousand eyes: new technologies of surveillance

This chapter concentrates on rationalization of surveillance systems by governments. According to the government, this is necessary in monitoring activities of terrorists, drug traffickers, and other criminal minds from harming the general public. The author points out the number one enemy of information privacy as leftist and right wing political power orientations and power struggle to maintain influence. Views of conservatives and feminists are also factored in and analyzed.

Factually, data banks for private information collected are dangerous in limited governments, political environments, and free market setting. Intrusive and unrestrained government should be limited to lawful information acquisition. This should be factored in the laws of computing and ethics of information surveillance. This reveals the vital aspects of privacy on the facets of domain and sense in use and storage. In addition, he is clear on the reasons why people should strive to operate within their independent and private thoughts, intimate associations, and deeds away from the programmed orientation

Reflectively, the Big Brother system might be unsecured to hackers and other information brokers intended to intimidate and demean the victim. From finger prints to portraits, these information surveillance merchants are an eminent threat to social, political, and security concerns. The revelations of this chapter are chilling and lucid. People are no longer independent to exercise self control, mutual individual rights respect, and self responsibility as private is information is now available for purchase. Now, the author cites threatened intimate and private loss in the arena of prying ears and eyes. Thus, with privacy, the meaning of modesty or shame would automatically regenerate into a lesser conflict phenomena.

Dark Towers: Data Bases and Alienation

This chapter discusses the active informational transformation from secret dossiers to public commodified data bases and the various uses to which this surveillance information can be put. From storage, coverage, ownership, retrieval, to institutionalization, surveillance information has been commodified into books, newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets arranged according to the purpose and classification. Different data bases are explained. For instance, those that are parallel to a dossier of secret or intelligent security agency are organized and updated for operational purposes in cumulative volumes.

Data base give out security information held from the public, this information is secretively acquired and it has its sole operators unlike dossiers which are kept after collection. Often, security dossier originates from a central place. However, data base may capture information from different sources. In addition, the author explains the transformation from mere surveillance to dataveillance.

Often, central political government attacks the privacy of its citizens in the encryption of private and public communication methods of personal development. From the government of Reagan to that of Obama, the similar overriding principle remains to be direct influence the government has on the codes used by private citizens or organizations.

The Participatory Ponopticon

The author briefly discusses the irony of the ideal and the reality with an example of the Santa Claus fairy tales. This is related to capitalist culture described as punishment brought about by uncontrolled information surveillance making the unsuspecting victims visible from all angles. For instance, they can be monitored from malls, schools, churches, and even in the comfort of homes. The decentered panopticon illuminates ubiquitously through electronic systems to yield a pattern of unification. The Big Brother/Inspector is presented as an immediate redundancy as it operates from a central command prompt.

The author describes Big Brother as a centralized but unnecessary surveillance institution with more demerits than merits. However, the positive aspect of voluntary contracting makes it difficult to ignore this concept. The issues of seductive gaze in information spread are well explained by the author. From the comfort of home, information technology inventions have made it possible for people to transact monetary and non-monetary businesses, thus, making life more convenient, secure, and personalized as smart cards are programmed to encode volumes of personalized command prompt from health, diet, expenditure, and income. In addition, this chapter discusses the necessity of surveillance for public safety in form of secret video recording cameras. Thus, drug trafficking, prostitution, burglary, and gang-like activities are least expected where Big Brother is fitted. However, deeper approach which might be adopted by an oppressive political system is expected to attract substantial resentment. Also, the chapter review consequences of these convenience and security assuring gadgets in the field of private heath, finance, and education which might increase the risks involved when such information is leaked to an unwanted party. Those who use these services are presented as prone to human genome mapping as their private information lands in unsecured sites or hands. In comparison, the author classifies the dream Disney World to the current confusion existing on information privacy. In the Disney World, fantasy and ideal control the minds of children. Unfortunately, the same is witnesses in the current information transformation into a pleasing but deadly arrangement depending on the person who controls the focal point of database. Just as in Disney World, all activities are controlled from a focal point as every aspect is fused on panoptic gazes.

The big brother outsourced

This chapter focuses on the future on the facets of the expected political systems as the globe experiences extension in then technologies of information network in the society. An example of complete model discussed by the author is that commonly referred to as virtual feudalism. The author goes a head in strong argument to reject this system. The author opine that this model is inconsistent in accounting for the numerous demerits of the expected fresh global order which is likely to neglect the democratic forces capacity for unitizing the reviewed information technologies for resistance to global network. In conclusion, the author suggests that the inherent global order instability is likely to compel limited state regulators return as agreement enforcers. From this central place, they collect, emails, fax, cellular, fiber-optic, and telephone communications around the globe in a network of satellites, ships, and vehicles. Information gathered is then channeled to this workstation for interpretation and study for content which might be suspicious. This practice has lowered the rights of freedom and privacy in use of information as Echelon system tracks every channels of communication.

Also, the author successful discusses power diffuse and dispersal as it continue to sustain and organize it existence. Reflectively, the main issue is how well such a power system is organized to partner with sustainability on the balance between inhumane and humane surveillance. Somehow, this is achievable through democratization of effective political engines and networks with the responsibility of monitoring, contesting, criticizing, and checking the nature of relationship between state power and corporate influence.


Conclusively, this book is specific in reviewing and discussing the position of intelligence on national security as these agencies work hand in hand among identity states to create a global surveillance order. Deeply researched, the author identifies effects of continuous surveillance on privacy and security of an individual. For instance, the relevance of centralized power of state is sidelined as the Big Brother slowly fades away. In the global arena, the world has embraced information technologies with a promising information revolution as the globe continuously turn into a village. However, these new developments have continuous, serious, and profound impact in terms of their implications on the lives of human beings. The title is effective as it is visible that the new technological surveillance gadgets are continuously making individuals transparent while reducing their traditional private space comfort. However, the author is silent on privacy protection alternatives such as legal and public policy approaches.

Work Cited

Reginald, Whitaker. The end of privacy: how total surveillance is becoming a reality. New York: New York Press. 1999. Print.

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