III. Surveillance

The Guardian article about the information released by Edward Snowden on the NSA’s habit of mass surveillance gets up on the sensationalist melodrama of a crime investigation drama series with every word. It is about the problem Foucault outlines in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison as “an integral part of the new physics and cosmology,” which here we substitute new physics and cosmology with the digital age, “there were the minor techniques of multiple and intersecting observations, of eyes that must see without being seen; using techniques of subjection and methods of exploitation, an obscure art of light and the visible was secretly preparing a new knowledge of man” (171). It is in this same rhetoric that the Guardian article wishes not only to inform the world about the Orwellian tragedy of being watched by “eyes that must see without being seen” but also, in this dramatic presentation, wants to challenge the public “to start a debate about mass surveillance.” Below is the outline of the article, which will be used for most of the language analysis and by visiting the article, you may look at and use the graphics/widgets mentioned herein.

  1. What the revelations mean for you
  2. All the data about your data
  3. A digital revolution
  4. Are your details secure?
  5. Who’s watching
  6. What now?

It is the article’s presentation which creates both the emotional closeness and narrative distance simultaneously for our argument on the experience of this article. The language here used in each of the sections is that which sparks controversy and interest, using buzzwords revolving this topic and its narrative of fear. Words like “revolution,” “watching,” “secure” and the assertion rather than question of the fifth section: ‘Who is watching:’ rather than ‘Who is watching?’ all specifically outline the emotional connection one might have to this because of the surrounding Orwellian narrative that the “big, bad government is watching.” One cannot help but to question these same things (“Are my details secure?”) with an article written and presented this way.



Also, by using different graphics, like the Facebook widget telling the user how many people can reach information on oneself just through that social media platform. It creates a threat to the entire mechanism of privacy for society, which Foucault says is caused just by the notion of being surveilled alone. This surveillance is by nature, for Foucault and Edward Snowden, an “exploitation.” So, the closeness, then, is in the identification with the emotion of this artifact—an artifact so wrought in the sentiment of fear of surveillance that it threatens the very “knowledge of man” (Foucault 171).

However, despite being incendiary in its language, the article falls flat for me—an uninformed constituent reader and therefore a subject to be enlightened on this issue’s details and convinced of its atrocious subjugation. It falls flat not just because I am without care for the issue, but rather because of its contribution to the fear narrative surrounding surveillance. This presentation style is flawed if, at any point, it passes into narrative contribution, because the narrative cannot be now re-defined from the Orwellian Cold War-era fear of government. That narrative is marked distinctly by the final posit that surveillance is an unavoidable condition of living in this world. As Raley notes in Dataveillance and Counterveillance, “Perfect anonymity is impossible” (128). And as Kierkegaard posits with his philosophical mechanism of “infinite resignation,” it is complete and infinite resignation which leads to accomplishing faith. Here, I apply Kierkegaard to Raley in that (a) given the avoidance of such dataveillance is impossible—(a’) and even theoretically, unfeasible—(b) the only solution is to infinitely resign any fear whatever for faith that everything will be alright.

Because no real, visible, widely-felt tragedy has occurred directly due to dataveillance, contributing to the narrative of Orwellian fear of surveillance narrative as a means to gain closeness/relation/identification is not a sound argument, as it creates a truer distance by (a) accepting the final posit of that narrative—anonymity is impossible—and therefore (b) accepting the philosophical resolution that fearing surveillance is therefore irrelevant. So, the article’s creation of distance is ultimately its philosophically unsound sensationalism—the same sensationalism which brings closeness by the appeal of controversial language and crime investigation melodrama. For this artifact, then, the experience is of paradox.


NEXT POST: Conclusion

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