Surveillance Society

Looking for someone? Here is a handy GPS service to help you find them. Just punch in their phone number at this satellite tracking site.

The idea that we are living in a surveillance society is not new. George Orwell’s 1984, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 are just a few examples of novels that have addressed the theme. And since the discipline began, sociologists have been interested in how societies use surveillance as a means of social control.

Today we will discuss the idea of surveillance and the surveillance society. On Wednesday we will continue this discussion by focusing on New Information Technologies and Surveillance.

Surveillance is:

“Purposeful, routine, systematic and focused attention paid to personal details, for the sake of control, entitlement, management, influence or protection.” (UK Information Commissioner’s Office, A Report on the Surveillance Society, p. 4)

  • Purposeful: there is a reason that can be used to justify the surveillance
  • Routine: it isn’t unusual, it happens as part of our normal lives
  • Systematic: it is planned and scheduled, not random
  • Focused: it examines details that can be linked to individuals rather than just aggregating community information

We often associate surveillance primarily with (authoritarian) governments and with technology. But although governments of all types frequently engage in surveillance, businesses and individuals do as well. And although technology is often used to carry out surveillance, it is not a requirement. In a surveillance society, however, the (often widely accepted) use of technologies to help generate and process surveillance information has the potential to fundamentally change social relationships.

“The surveillance society is a society which is organised and structured using surveillance-based techniques. To be under surveillance means having information about one’s movements and activities recorded by technologies, on behalf of the organisations and governments that structure our society. This information is then sorted, sifted and categorised, and used as a basis for decisions which affect our life chances.” (A Report on the Surveillance Society: Summary Report, p. 3)

Surveillance is not always a negative thing, and the purposes for surveillance are often widely shared in societies:

  • Law enforcement and protection of order
  • Maintaining public health
  • Ensuring efficiency management of public and private concerns

Surveillance can refer to physical observation of people or places, but it also (and increasingly) refers to gathering, sorting, and interpreting data about them. Surveillance is a pervasive part of modern life. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that residents of major cities are photographed by surveillance cameras every five minutes on average. Many of our interactions with governments and businesses require us to provide personal data, whether with ID cards, bank teller cards, or in other forms, and this data is stored and available for a variety of uses, whether legitimate or not.

Discussion: What are some examples of surveillance you can think of? What purposes might they be meant to achieve?

Even when the purposes of surveillance may be widely shared, the surveillance can raise issues such as:

  • Violation of privacy
  • Discrimination
  • Misuse of information/abuse of authority

Useful Links:


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Required Reading for Monday 9 April, Weblog Entry for Friday 13 April

The week of April 9 to 13 we will discuss NITs in relation to surveillance. Please read The Surveillance Society from Wired magazine. For this week (due 13 April) you should write a weblog entry discussing some aspect of the “surveillance society.”

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Weblogs, Weblogs, Weblogs!

I am in the process of going through the second round of weblog reviews and I have noticed that, though many people are doing a good job of keeping up with their weblogs, there are many who aren’t.

Please remember that, for this course, you must post to your weblog each week and that you must post entries on specific topics when I assign them!

Your assignment for this class period:

  • Check the link to your weblog in our course weblog links directory (section one or section two) and make sure the link is correct and that the material you think you have posted is actually visible on your site)
  • In your weblog, write a brief entry in which you tell me
    1. Is there something that I can do that will make your weblog a more effective tool for this course?
    2. Is there something I can do that will help you keep up with regular posting on your weblog?
  • Using the weblog links pages, visit two other sites from the course and make a comment related to an entry at each site

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Presentation on the Internet: You Are Invited

On Thursday 5 April in 237 Valikhanov (10:30 am) the Department of Journalism hosts a presentation by U.S.Ambassador David A. Gross, Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy. Ambassador Gross will discuss control of the Internet, government access to communications, the Internet as a tool for development, and related issues. Students in New Information Technologies are encouraged to attend.

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In Class: Weblog Entry

Take five minutes on your weblog to write a brief entry responding to this question:

On Friday we reviewed some of the basic qualities of new information technologies. Write a brief entry (one or two paragraphs) that considers how your experience with the weblog suggests that weblogs might (or might not) help people take advantage of the overall qualities of NITs.

Remember to treat your weblog entry as an opportunity to think out loud. I am not looking for you to produce correct answers. Rather, I want to see what you are thinking.

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Crowdsourcing and Weblog Entry for This Week

There has increasing discussion in recent years, in academia, in business, and in popular discourse, about the importance of social and technological networks for producing, evaluating, and disseminating information. Crowdsourcing is one example of a term that draws on network theory to describe (and also to advocate) new ways of producing information using social and technological networks (or perhaps socio-technical networks).

At the Crowdsourcing weblog, Jeff Howe defines the term as follows:

“Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

The term draws on the idea of outsourcing: an organization turning to sources outside the organization in order to carry out essential organizational tasks. For example, a car manufacturer might outsource some (or all) of the production tasks involved in constructing a particular car to factories owned by someone else, often located in a foreign country where production costs are lower.

Crowdsourcing is closely connected to the ideas of open source and collaborative production. It also relies on research into social networks (recently given the popular term The Wisdom of Crowds) that suggests that the collective judgment of diverse groups of people acting independently often produces better decisions than any single individuals in the group, including experts.

New information technologies are not required for taking advantage of “the wisdom of crowds” or for engaging in crowdsourcing, but the design of many NITs can help promote the independent collaboration these ideas rely on.

Today in class we will discuss the idea of crowdsourcing and look at a few examples of crowdsourcing in action:

This is an idea we will discuss further this week.

In your weblog for this week, write one entry (two-three paragraphs) in which you discuss something related to the idea of crowdsourcing. Note: Because our discussion on this issue has been delayed, you may have until Wednesday 11 April to produce this entry.

Here are a few suggestions you might consider for your entries:

  • Look at the journalism sites above and find examples of “crowdsourced” journalism. Describe an example and write something about it. Do you think it is an example of good journalism? Why does the example work (or not)?
  • Look at the non-journalism sites. Do any of the projects there interest you? Write about one.
  • How do you think you might apply the idea of crowdsourcing to something you might try to accomplish, whether in journalism or another field?

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Final Presentation Schedule

On Friday we set our preliminary schedule for end of term presentations. (If you are not on this schedule and expect to do a presentation (or if there is an error here) please let me know right away.

Remember presentations should be no more than 20 minutes each. (If you are working alone or in a group of two, aim for 15 minutes.) We will discuss presentations further over the next few weeks. Please ask me if you have any questions!

All course participants are required to attend all presentations for their section. (There will be weblog assignments related to the presentations.)

The schedule for final presentations is as follows:

Section One (noon to 12:50)

Wednesday 25 April

  • Tatyana, Margarita, Olga, Anel (Distance Learning)

Friday 27 April

  • Oxana, Irina, Ainur, Natasha (New Technology Products)
  • Kamilla, Anastasiya, Alexandra (Weblogs, Websites and NITs)

Monday 30 April

  • Katya, Aidar, Katya (Digital Photog/Ethics of NITs)
  • Natalia, Nica (NITs and Citizen Journalism)

Wednesday 2 May

  • Ruslan and Temir (Computer Games)
  • Aibek (Wireless Technologies)

Section Two (1 to 1:50)

Wednesday 18 April

  • Anar, Raniya, Kamilla, Aizhan (Distance Education)
  • Diana, Murat, Dina (Online Dating)

Monday 23 April

  • Ji-Aee, Raushan, Zhanna (Magazines Online and Off)
  • Elina, Maxim (Information in One Click)

Wednesday 25 April

  • Margarita, Aktoty (TBA)
  • Gaukhar (Distance Education)

Friday 27 April

  • Rano, Ainur, Aigerim (Advertising)
  • Elmira, Elvina (Wireless Technology)

Monday 30 April

  • Diana, Irina (Usage of NITs at KIMEP)

Wednesday 2 May

  • Ruslan, Temir (Computer Games)

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