The Benefactor is protecting you!

Zamyatin, Russian writer of the dystopian novel We, described the Panopticon-like One State and explained how the citizens of the One State, the Benefactor were protected.

Today, what does the panopticon mean in the age of digital surveillance? Is it our benefactor or on the contrary our malefactor? Both Zamyatin and Orwell – author of the 1984novel – see the panopticism with their sarcastic eyes as either the Benefactor or the Big Brother truly make you safe and happy.

They are right! Foucault discussed the major effect of Bentham Panopticon in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Panopticon is nothing else than a laboratory where conscious and permanent visibility assures the automatic functioning of power.

We know that in the era of Big Data, our behaviors have changed.

On the one hand, it could be a natural reaction to the fact that everything we have done can be publicly exposed. Amazon Fresh knows your tastes of food, Netflix proposes the movies that you may like, Youtube recommends the videos that you would love to watch. In China, the government would soon rate its own citizens via their online behavior. Social cooling, resulting from our self-censorship, is a unintended side effect of Big Data as internet becomes now a digital panopticon, continuously controlling our actions. That explains why in some European countries, people claim the right to forget and the right to privacy. It is not the case now in the United States where the internet neutrality has been recently abandoned and restaurants can use monitoring software to reduce theft and increase productivity.

On the other hand, the breakthrough of surveillance technologies makes the question of worthiness more insightful. Are surveillance cameras worth it as we know that none of the cameras on the Times Square contributed to preventing the bombing in 2010 and only one crime is resolved out of one thousand cameras in London each year? We have no true answer to these questions but we know that in some cases, it can be good and in some case it can be bad. The cyborg insect drones can be useful if limited to military use. Likewise, the body cams wore by the police officers can be a good thing to do as the use of officer worn cameras reduced the rate of use-of-force incidents by 59 percent. Even in France, a country where the privacy is very well protected, the government decided to deploy the use of body cam by the police officers as the good effects outperforms greatly the side-effect.

In conclusion, there is always a trade-off between privacy and surveillance. It is not a new subject but it becomes a ubiquitous question that not only governments but also corporations and individuals encounter every day in the Big Data era.








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