Surveillance and Society

Traditional Surveillance

An organized crime figure is sentenced to prison based on telephone wiretaps. A member of a protest group is discovered to be a police informer. These are instances of traditional surveillance—defined by the dictionary as, “close observation, especially of a suspected person.”

Yet surveillance goes far beyond its popular association with crime and national security. To varying degrees, it is a property of any social system—from two friends to a work-place to government. Consider, for example, a supervisor monitoring an employee's productivity, a doctor assessing the health of a patient, a parent observing his child at play in the park, or the driver of a speeding car asked to show her driver's license. Each of these also involves surveillance.

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