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The Electronic Eye

The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society

Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    The Electronic Eye
    Book Description:

    Lyon looks into our mediated way of life, where every transaction and phone call, border crossing, vote, and application registers in some computer, to show how electronic surveillance influences social order in our day.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8613-1
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-x)
    David Lyon

    • 1 Introduction: Body, Soul and Credit Card
      (pp. 3-21)

      This book, while it certainly doesn’t ignore ‘bodies and souls’ is primarily about the ‘passport’ aspect of human existence. That is to say, I focus on that dimension of social life which today is vital to most relationships and transactions, apart from those of the most intimate or familial kind. Passports get us across borders, who drivers’ licences are taken more seriously than our own word for proving who we are. In much of modern life we deal with relative strangers, and to demonstrate our identity or reliability we must produce documentary evidence. Indeed, the Russian proverb above should really...

    • 2 Surveillance in Modern Society
      (pp. 22-39)

      Surveillance is not new. Since time immemorial, people have ‘watched over’ others to check what they are up to, to monitor their progress, to organize them or to care for them. The rulers of ancient civilizations, such as Egypt, kept population records for purposes such as taxation, military service and immigration. And the Book of Numbers records how even the nomadic people of Israel undertook more than one census to record population details as far back as the fifteenth century BC.

      The Israelite Censuses seem to have been a means of regrouping after the flight from slavery in Egypt and...

    • 3 New Surveillance Technologies
      (pp. 40-56)

      One thing features more frequently than any other in discussions of contemporary surveillance; the computer. Whether it is a massive new Australian databank called the Law Enforcement Access Network (LEAN), eventually intended to contain all of Australia’s corporate data and land-ownership details and accessible to Social Security, Taxation, and Federal Police Departments, or a Louisiana company known as the Employers’ Information Service, which prospective employers may use to find out about prospective employees’ prior job injuries or worker compensation claims, the machine that makes it possible is the computer.²

      Computers, or, more precisely, that combination of computer-power with telecommunications often...

    • 4 From Big Brother to the Electronic Panopticon
      (pp. 57-80)

      When I tell people that I am studying surveillance, and in particular investigating the ways that our personal details are stored in computer databases, the most common reaction is to invoke George Orwell; ‘This must be the study of ‘Big Brother’. A perfectly understandable response, given thatNineteen Eighty-Fouris about a state that uses a huge bureaucratic apparatus, ‘thought police’, and the figure of ‘Big Brother’ on the ever-present telescreen to intervene in the smallest details of its citizens’ daily lives.

      Back in the early 1970s, computer enthusiasts James Martin and Adrian Norman noted that ‘a surprising amount of...


      (pp. 81-82)

      We now turn from situating surveillance in various contexts – historical, theoretical, critical – to examining actual trends taking place today. In four areas in particular the contribution of new technology to surveillance, alongside certain political, economic and cultural developments, has been tremendous. These areas, which define the general scope of each of the next four chapters, are government administration, policing and security, the capitalist work situation and the consumer marketplace.

      The analytical distinction between the four spheres follows a fairly conventional pattern, although one important question is how long it will continue to be workable when the deployment of information technology...

    • 5 The Surveillance State: Keeping Tabs on You
      (pp. 83-101)

      Imagine you heard that in a certain country, where the population was twenty-six million, the central government operated 2,220 databases, containing an average of twenty files on each citizen. The names of ten per cent of that population are contained in the national police computer. A state in pre-1989 Eastern Europe, perhaps, or maybe South Africa? Wrong. This is Canada.¹ It is not until one stops to consider just how much personal data is held by administrative, police and security departments that the realization dawns that ‘surveillance society’ may be a good way to describe what has been created. But...

    • 6 The Surveillance State: From Tabs to Tags
      (pp. 102-118)

      ‘Don’t send him to jail. Send him home’. So reads the glossy brochure advertising ‘Justice Electronic Monitoring Systems Inc’. Starting from the innocent bed-time comic reading of a new Mexico judge,¹ the idea of keeping low-risk offenders at home and tagged with an electronic anklet has attracked attention in several countries.² Spiderman has much to answer for, it seems! Prison populations, especially high in the USA and Canada, present a number of pressing problems to government, not least expense. In Canada the daily cost of housing offenders in provincial or federal institutions is $127. On any day there are more...

    • 7 The Transparent Worker
      (pp. 119-135)

      Movie-goers with good memories will recall the image of Charlie Chaplin meshed with the cogs and gears of an assembly line factory inModern Times. The film epitomized one of the key themes of anti-modernism in the 1930s. In this attack against the mechanization of life, Chaplin parodied the breaking down of activity into its component parts for time-and-motion analysis and the subsequent detailed instruction to each worker – the system known as scientific management or Taylorism. He tried unsuccessfully to move faster than the line in order to get a break, ending in a whirl of wrenches. If ever a...

    • 8 The Targeted Consumer
      (pp. 136-158)

      A few weeks after passing a driver’s test to obtain a new licence for use in Ontario, I received an invitation to join the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). Had the Ministry of Transportation told them the news, I mused? Telephone enquiry revealed that it was in fact coincidence. CAA buys name-and-address lists from a company called Informart who in turn get them from Bell Canada. I simply showed up as a non-member in a computer matching process called ‘merge-purge’. Such direct access to personal data kept by government departments is actually illegal in Canada, but these distinctions are beginning to...


      (pp. 159-160)

      In the remaining four chapters we shall assess just how adequate are the analytical approaches and political responses to the rise of surveillance society. In Chapter Nine I ask what exactly is the challenge of surveillance and also what challenges have been made to surveillance in the later twentieth century. The latter take the form of technical challenges on the one hand, expressed through privacy laws in particular, and so-called mobilization challenges on the other. Mobilization challenges have to do with the role played by social movements in attempting to bring about broader-based change than mere legislation. While progress has...

    • 9 Challenging Surveillance
      (pp. 161-178)

      The chapter title is a deliberatedouble entendre. This book attempts to explore the meaning of surveillance in the late twentieth century, especially in the light of the rapid development and deployment for surveillance of new technologies. Now I want to shift the focus somewhat. On the one hand it is appropriate to pause and assess the nature of the challenges thrown up by contemporary surveillance systems, challenges both to sociological analysis and to democratic polity. On the other hand, we must ask what sorts of challenge have been posed to surveillance itself. What sorts of resistance are placed in...

    • 10 Privacy, Power, Persons
      (pp. 179-198)

      At the end of the twentieth century, names are worth a lot. A good name, said lago, is the jewel of the soul; little did he guess that names could become more valuable in money terms. But consumer surveillance has changed all that. Name lists, once merely valued administratively by the nation-state, are now bought and sold as well. Personal identification becomes a commodity. Direct marketing demands name-lists, which can be culled electronically from diverse and remote databases and sold at great profit. Our names thus circulate far beyond our control among others who do indeed make a gain.¹ But...

    • 11 Against Dystopia, Distance, Division
      (pp. 199-217)

      Does the future lie in Los Angeles? The web of elevated freeways and the pall of carbon-choked smog have in recent years dulled the attraction of that great city by the Pacific. But now another kind of future, equally ambiguous, is discernible there. Today, the neat lawns of LA’s Westside sprout ‘ominous little signs warning “Armed Response”.² In Watts, says Mike Davis, one finds a ‘panopticon shopping mall surrounded by staked metal fences and a substation of the LA Police Department (LAPD) in a central surveillance tower’. And an ex-police chief crusades for an anti-crime ‘giant eye’, a geosynchronous law-enforcement...

    • 12 Beyond Postmodern Paranoia
      (pp. 218-225)

      Modernity established surveillance as a central social institution. Today, the expansion of surveillance using electronic technologies, to settle with the articulation of surveillance with consumerism and its ever-stretching global reach, poses big questions for surveillance and modernity. As far as surveillance is concerned, at least, a good case can be made that modernity is either entering a new phase or, possibly, is being superseded. Surveillance studies throw fuel on the fire of postmodern debate, and rightly so.

      However, this requires that the ways we think about surveillance also undergo revision. At present, surveillance theory is dominated by models and metaphors...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 226-257)
  8. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 258-266)
  9. Index
    (pp. 267-270)