How many people out there love satellites, but hate surveillance? A friend just emailed me this, along with the title “Why would people end privacy?”
I remember having the same debate in school: is it worth having surveillance to combat crime at the expense of our privacy? In hindsight, like many of the debates we had in Religious Studies, it wasn’t pitched very well: it assumed the majority of the class would arrive at the same conclusion: surveillance is bad.
(“So you’re going to behave in school, aren’t you? You don’t want us to have to get surveillance here?”)
Surveillance is for those who can’t be trusted to be monitored by those responsible for keeping them in line. Those who can be trusted. Those for whom omnipotence is okay.
The school discussions made sure no one developed any rogue opinions, nobody had any serious arguments. Nobody went against religious beliefs (because mostly we had these discussions in Religious Studies classes). It was peaceful and nice. It was a missed opportunity to challenge ourselves. Educate ourselves. Isn’t school supposed to educate you?
We never discussed futuristic technology when we discussed surveillance. That would have made surveillance seem cool. We were limited to one technology, usually ID cards or fingerprint/DNA matching. The concept was that surveillance would take controlof your identity and extract it from your body. Not all surveillance works like that. What about face identification? Satellites? Bluetooth tracking? What about manual people counting, because I have been out there in the wilds this last week, clicking people on and off trains. Is that not surveillance?
Crime was also spoken of as something that happened to other people, never you, which is ridiculous as an adult when I think about the measures women go through to avoid getting raped and men go through to avoid getting mugged. Why would the school speak of it like that when most of us had probably experienced a burglary already? Play off the crime aspect, don’t worry their little heads. We were teenagers.
We also discussed porn. The overwhelming conclusion is, porn is harmless so long as no one exploits the industry. Elements such as sexism were never discussed, because there was never any assumption that there was no good reason porn is so one sided.
Laurie Penny claims that the idea of surveillance is more horrifying for men than for women, because the expectations on men’s social behaviour is less restrictive: women are monitored constantly to make sure they look and act perfectly. So the idea of suddenly being watched is a shock to men, normal for women. But I think that for children, who are even more used to being watched, monitored and controlled, the horror of surveillance is worse than for adults. For children, privacy is still something they fight for, search for, sneak out at night for and pass as little notes under the table. It’s part of their search for identity. Take away their privacy, and you restrict the development of identity. In short, even without being guided, that discussion did not have a fair focus group.
And what horrifies me now is not surveillance one way or another, sexism or ageism in society, crime… It’s the knowledge that the school, an institution I put my trust in, was directing my thoughts, shaping my conclusions, to suit them. To suit lack of change. Everything is good the way it is; generation of the future, please don’t change a thing. You won’t will you?
Not a new realisation, but it still horrifies me.
Suddenly, all of my memories of Sandedge appear in a new light, and I am reassessing them, regurgitating them. A whistle of remembrances spirals past me as I open them all up, frantically resorting and restocking.
I am not who I thought I was.
But the worst thing is, I don’t know who I am any more.
Alice, of her school Sandedge in Chasing Rainbows