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Surveillance entails monitoring or tracking the behaviors of individuals or objects with the aim of controlling, obtaining information, or changing the behavior of the subjects under surveillance. In most cases, the surveillance gadgets, especially the closed-circuit cameras, remain concealed from the subjects of the surveillance, but collect all the information required and, thus pierces the privacy shield (Goffman 87).
The increase in surveillance technology, although significant in combating crime, terrorism, and law breaking, especially in public places, it is incurring a significant attention as a privacy issue.
Goffman observes that, although surveillance is as old as written history, development in surveillance and the technological advancement, in surveillance technology, pose a significant risk in privacy matters (88). Civil liberty counsel urges that, the increase in the use of improved surveillance technology infringe individual rights to privacy, as personal information is under scrutiny in the use of surveillance technology, especially the closed circuit cameras (CCTV).
The use of listening devices, involving the recording of an individual’s private communication, puts one under the risk of privacy infringement, especially in a non-consensual or secret investigation. Although the increased use improved surveillance technology especially by the law, enforcing agencies help in controlling crime acts of offense, the technology, on the other hand, contravenes the policies on privacy protection and rights to privacy, as enshrined in the constitution of many nations across the world.
Effects of surveillance technology on privacy
Most governments of the world today use surveillance technology in the provision of security to its citizens but forget the harm posed to the citizens on privacy issue. With the fitting of close- circuit cameras in buildings, streets and work places, enabling monitoring of activities and communication without the consent of the subjects, puts their freedom to privacy at stake.
The arrival of biometric software, high-speed surveillance computers, and sophisticated surveillance programs increased the capacity of the government and law enforcing agencies to monitor the activities of the citizens, in both public and private places. Lyon expresses concern that; the continued use of surveillance technology by government on the activities of the citizens will end up in mass surveillance society with no existence of both political and personal freedom (109).
The transformation of public places including commercial places such as banking hall, entertainment halls and shopping halls by the fitting of surveillance gadgets and devices erodes the right to privacy causing individuals to protect their privacy by ways that undermine free social interaction hence down grading the value of such places.
In addition, surveillance technologies shape the texture in the functioning of different public places in which individuals change their behavior particularly within the vicinity of such places hence negatively affecting civic life of citizens.
Moreover, interference of privacy freedom leads to subjection of individual behavior under control of others. For instance, the monitoring of an individuals’ communication behavior through his/her mobile phone can jeopardize his or her operations as a phone call can give details of where and when the conversation took place with details of the communication.
Diminished privacy, in this context, thus leads to subjection of individuals to social pressures especially where individual’s behavior is contrary to the social norm of the majority in the society.
Furthermore, informational privacy offers protection to an individual’s speech by the removing scrutiny of personal information. All citizens, of a given nation, posses the right to visit public places, such as a street, sidewalks, and parks for recreation, political rallies, shopping, or informal meetings. This freedom encourages free socialization and offers an opportunity to individuals to interact freely and exchange ideas on economic, political, social, and cultural issues.
The presence of monitoring gadgets on these public places causes many people to shy away from these facilities hence negatively affecting the social aspect of living. In addition, the presences of monitoring devices in these places deny citizens their freedom to visit public places especially for recreation. Sartrew observes that, in addition to the right of all citizens of a nation to visit public places, they have also a right to use the public places and act in a certain way in it (115).
In this sense, public places provide an opportunity for members of the public to expresses their social and political affiliations as the grounds provide exceptional gathering places for such activities. The presence of surveillance devices and gadgets in public gathering places limits the use of the public places, as many people will tend to avoid such places in fear of exposing their privacy to their opponents especially in political spheres.
Moreover, high technology surveillance leads to shaping of individuals’ behaviors and consequently changes in lifestyle; therefore, surveillance with closed circuit cameras subject all people to scrutiny, rather than focusing on specified suspects. Decew argues that, the indiscriminate monitoring of public places presumes that all users of the public space are wrong doers (156).
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This creates an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and suspicion especially to those whose behavior does not match with the purpose of the particular public space. The disposition of being watched makes many people responsible for their privacy, and thus many avoid public places, although it is their right to visit and use these public spaces.
Decew further emphasizes, “Surveillance poses an emblematic risk to privacy by jeopardizing the people’s sense of self ownership of their activities” (157). People with the knowledge of possible monitoring and surveillance by covert camera, have regulated their behaviors, and have guided cautions in all their actions.
On the other hand, the use of high technology surveillance ensures security and helps in preventing crime in commercial, social, and public places. Although surveillance at some point jeopardizes the rights to privacy, it creates a sense of security and foster conducive environment for commercial and social activities. Laidler observes, “In many British towns, closed-circuit television systems are heralded as a means of drawing businesses and shoppers back to downtown districts” (109).
Business activities have a preference to secure places in which there is a poll of customers and high commercial activities. Surveillance ensures a pleasant atmosphere for shopping, as the surveillance devices target specified behaviors, such as homeless people, unruly youth, and political activists, who can pose a risk of insecurity within commercial areas.
Developments in information and communication technology have enhanced data gathering, transmission, and exchange in both the national and international network. There has been an electronic exchange across borders and globally, which have magnified information on any small issues in any part of the world.
This has favored the growth and expansion of economic aspects positively. Other developments in digital computing enable faster information processing and accessibility, within and across borders, thus facilitating quick and efficient response in cases of insecurity reporting.
Although, with the technological development in surveillance it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between a public place and other places, close circuit cameras provide 24-hour surveillance, offering a guarantee on security, at the expense of privacy (Laidler 110).
Usage of digital cameras including close circuit cameras enables a whole process of information and image reflection threatening privacy as it reflects on personal communication, behavior, and personal data. In the context of using surveillance gadget in controlling crime, this information becomes of significant importance in identification of the culprits.
Fixing of close circuit cameras (CCTV) at work places threatens privacy of the employees as the employer monitors the activities of all employees. On one hand, the privacy of employees is at stake and thus fear may set in interfering with the free functioning of the workers.
On the other hand, the presences of the monitoring gadgets may instill a sense of performance in the work place due to the constant supervision offered by the monitoring device fitted in the premises. Good performance at the work place helps in improving economic growth and this favor increase in commercial performance of a nation.
Surveillance with advanced technology helps in law enforcement through a series of monitoring of all the individuals using a particular public place. Close circuit cameras, fitted in streets and entrances to many buildings, help in recording all the activities taking place within the vicinity, and this would provide essential information in the event of a criminal activity occurring. In terrorism and many robberies digital detectives provides helpful information in the identification of the culprits.
Moreover, government security agencies use the digital surveillance in controlling the occurrence of crimes. Monitoring of an individual or a group of individuals over time would identify their deviance and expose planned crime activity, especially in commercial places, such as in banking halls and entertainment places. In this sense, prevention of crime attacks becomes possible although right to privacy is at stake.
Although surveillance with advanced technology provides effective security provision in many parts of the world through the provision of information and images helping in identification of lawbreakers, it negatively affects privacy. Privacy, as a basic human right, remains infringed with the incorporation of secret CCTV cameras in surveillance.
The surveillance, with the use of digital cameras and other gadgets, is not specified in monitoring a given behavior; instead, these devices monitor and record all the activities happening in a given place at a given time. In this case, all people, who happen to be using a given place with surveillance devices fitted, will have their activities recorded with or without their consent.
In this case, privacy of citizens is at stake. In addition, surveillance of public places, where people have liberty to visit and use, poses fear and suspicion leading to many shying off from such places, as a way of protecting their privacy. The utility of such recreational facilities such as parks reduces due to presences of surveillance devices. This is simply because many would rather avoid visiting such recreational facilities than put their privacy at risk.
Revenues to the nation generated from the frequent visits to these public places especially for political purposes reduce with the fitting of the digital surveillance devices. Therefore, it is clear that the wide spread usage of surveillance technology contravenes the right to privacy of all the individuals using the building, streets and other public places fitted with the surveillance CCTV cameras.
Decew, Judith. In Pursuit of Privacy: Law, Ethics and Rise of Technology. New York: Cornell University Press, 1997. Print.
Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Overlook Press, 1993. Print.
Laidler, Keith. Surveillance Unlimited: How We Become the Most Watched People On Earth. USA: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.
Lyon, David. Surveillance Studies. USA: Polity Press, 2007. Print.
Sartrew, Paul. Being and Nothingness. New York: Washington Square Press, 1996. Print.