You are monitored everywhere – license plates on passing cars, cameras on roads, shopping malls, gas stations, airports. It has begun to bother me, yet my friends advise “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you care if you are monitored?” I now know why I care.
Here is the problem: Whether it’s watching over your property, or the government watching you, or you watching your children, or any other example you can think of, surveillance always keeps in power who is already in power. Think about it. If you watch your property it’s because you want to keep authority over your property. If the traffic cameras watch you, it’s to make sure there is evidence to exercise enforcement actions against you. Security cameras ensure no criminal will exercise power to damage, destroy, or steal. Surveillance from the U-2 or satellites allowed America to stay in power during the Cold War. Even your electric power meter knows what you do every day. Aggregating data gives phenomenal power.
It’s problematic to create an impenetrable relationship that is too stable. To an engineer or an economist, society is a balance of powers. Politically, our nation is defined to be a balance of powers. Normally, there are bounded oscillations. Think of Republican or Democratic policies waxing and waning over the years. This is okay and healthy. When the mechanisms controlling the relationship provide too much stability or stickiness (hysteresis), the system will get locked one way or the other until an excess of force accumulates and when it breaks loose, the entire system will swing too far and break.
Surveillance – the art of knowing about the other person – is an insipid and irreversible form of hysteresis in the relationship between a government and the people that are governed. As this activity expands, it will lock in power whatever organization is already in power deploying the surveillance. I am concerned that “government for the people” will become “government to self-preserve the government”.