Interview for Description of the Lie.
Though the fashion for Foucault has come and gone, the PoMo maître has left us with the indelible realization that power and surveillance are tightly bound up together. He repeatedly portrayed society as a giant panopticon, in which power holders exert surveillance over the rest and in which subjects' awareness of constant surveillance is a reminder that punishment awaits if they step out of line. The rulers would know, and they would respond.
It is not surprising, then, that a traditional role of architecture has been not only to make efficient surveillance possible, but also publicly to represent the presence of surveillance. Jeremy Bentham's own panopticon prison design is not unique, but only one of the most extreme and vividly diagrammatic examples. After all, civic and institutional buildings are normally constructed by those in power. So we see prominent watchtowers on the walls of old cities and of modern jails, monumental police headquarters buildings bristling with electronic antennae in city centers (look at Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles), receptionist and guard desks conspicuously placed in building lobbies everywhere, and even little signs saying "Police take notice."
As the electronic era dawned, George Orwell presciently anticipated that telecommunications devices would take over these roles; in the world of 1984 the television monitor became an ever-present instrument of surveillance, and the displayed face of Big Brother was a constant, graphic reminder that he was, indeed, watching. But Orwell did not bother to think through the technical details, and this scheme would not really have worked-not with the primitive electronics that Orwell knew about, anyway. Where would Big Brother have put all the corresponding monitors on the receiving end? Where would he have found the labor force to watch them all? How would he have sifted through and collated all that information?
What actually happened was far more subtle and insidious. Instead of one Big Brother, we got a vast swarm of Little Brothers. Every computer input device became a potential recorder of our actions. Every digital transaction potentially left fingerprints somewhere in cyberspace. Huge databases of personal information began to accumulate. And the collation problem was solved; efficient software could be written to collect fragments of information from multiple locations in cyberspace and put them together to form remarkably complete pictures of how we were conducting our lives. We entered the era of dataveillance.35
The last time I came face-to-face with the Little Brother dataveillance force was in a car salesman's cubicle. In response to the Honda hawker's two-finger typed command, a jittering old printer spewed out a TRW credit report, a minutely detailed listing of all my credit transactions and transgressions, going back years and years. Many sources had been combed and correlated electronically to put it all together: the databases of banks, stores, collection agencies, credit unions, insurance companies, motor vehicle agencies, magazine subscription services, and a lot more.36 It was an impressive performance; TRW's electronically mediated surveillance had never faltered, and it had not missed anything. That printed report was as vivid a demonstration of power as any face peering out from a display screen.
But this is just the beginning; our lives have been leaving increasingly complete and detailed traces in cyberspace as two-way electronic communications devices have proliferated and diversified. Telephones were the first such devices to find widespread use; they soon yielded telephone company billing data-records of when, where, and by whom calls were made. Then bank ATM machines and point-of-sale terminals in retail stores began to produce transaction records. As personal computers were plugged into commercial online networks, they too began to create electronic trails.
There is more of this to come. As switched video networks become extensively used for everyday purposes-shopping, banking, selecting movies, social contact, political assembly-they potentially will grab and keep much more detailed portraits of private lives than have ever been made before. And wearable devices-ones that continuously monitor your medical condition, for example, or perhaps the cybersex suits that some journalists have avidly imagined-may construct the most up-close and intimate of records.
Life in cyberspace generates electronic trails as inevitably as soft ground retains footprints; that, in itself, is not the worrisome thing. But where will digital information about your contacts and activities reside? Who will have access to it and under what circumstances? Will information of different kinds be kept separately, or will there be ways to assemble it electronically to create close and detailed pictures of your life? These are the questions that we will face with increasing urgency as we shift more and more of our daily activities into the digital, electronic sphere.
Contention about the limits of privacy and surveillance is not new, but the terms and stakes of the central questions are rapidly being redefined. Isolated hermits can keep to themselves and don't have to keep up appearances, but city dwellers have always had to accept that they will see and be seen. In return for the benefits of urban life, they tolerate some level of visibility and some possibility of surveillance-some erosion of their privacy. Architecture, laws, and customs maintain and represent whatever balance has been struck. As we construct and inhabit cyberspace communities, we will have to make and maintain similar bargains-though they will be embodied in software structures and electronic access controls rather than in architectural arrangements. And we had better get them right; since electronic data collection and digital collation techniques are so much more powerful than any that could be deployed in the past, they provide the means to create the ultimate Foucaultian dystopia.37
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