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Desperately Seeking Surveillance Studies: Players in Search of a Field
This is a longer version of an article for a symposium on surveillance studies in Contemporary Sociology, March 2007. 35:2. Various articles
from which this draws are posted elsewhere on garymarx.net. A longer and more recent article incorporates and expands on many of these
ideas (Marx and Muschert, forthcoming).
Back to Main Page | References | Notes
By G.T. Marx
We are at any moment those who separate
the connected or connect the separate.
In its current state the sociological subfield of surveillance studies reminds me of the joke that began an
editorial letter of rejection I received as a beginning scholar:
A poor man saves and finally manages to buy his first suit of which he is very proud. A rich relative sees
him on the street wearing it and says, "that's nice material, have you thought of having a suit made from
The previous reviews suggest the richness and variety of this budding field. There is indeed something
happening here! Yet, in calling for better conceptualization the reviewers would no doubt agree with song
writer Stephen Sills that "what it is ain't exactly clear." I will elaborate a bit on this and, consistent with
brother Georg's observation above, suggest some ways of hopefully making it clearer.
Not long ago, one could fit all of those interested in social studies of surveillance into a phone booth –that
possibility is gone (along with the phone booth). David Lyon (forthcoming), in a comprehensive overview,
observes "…surveillance studies started to emerge as a coherent sub-disciplinary field towards the end of
the twentieth century." As both scholar and organizer, Lyon has played a major role in this beginning.
Now there is a vibrant and growing international network of scholars interested in surveillance questions.
(Monaghan 2006) There are new journals, special issues of, and many articles in, traditional journals and
frequent conferences. 1 Between 1960-69 Sociological Abstracts listed just 6 articles with the word
"surveillance". Between 1990-99, 563 articles were listed and if current trends continue, there will be well
over 1000 articles for the decade ending 2009. In 2005-06 alone, five significant edited sociological books
were published with scores of contributors (Zuriek and Salter 2005, Lace 2005, Haggerty and Ericson
2006, Lyon 2006, Monahan 2006), and many more monographs and edited volumes are on the way. Yet a
boom in research does not necessarily mean an equivalent boon.
As in that other famous case, it is premature to conclude "mission accomplished", let alone even
consensually identified. This particularly applies to the sociologically tinged versions of the field. In
contrast, studies of surveillance from law, economics and geography suggest more coherent disciplinary
subfields. 2 The increasing number of surveillance scholars in sociology and related fields such as
communications, criminology and cultural studies speaks to the currency of the field.
The field is strongest in its' historical and macro accounts of the emergence and changes of surveillance
in modern institutions and in offering an abundance of nominal (if rarely operationalized) concepts. 3
Terms such as surveillance, 4 social control, privacy, anonymity, secrecy and confidentiality tend to be
used without precise (or any) definition and are generally not logically linked. There are also case studies,
usually at one place and time, involving only one technology and often with a policy evaluation
(particularly of CCTV) component. 5
To marketing, law enforcement and national security critics, sociological surveillance research tends to be
seen as coming from left field (in both senses). Surveillance writing often shows sympathy for underdogs
and suspicion of overdogs, indignation over flagrant violations and concern for the future of personal
dignity, equality and democracy. Yet beyond the newsworthy horror stories, 6 we have little quantitative
data on the frequency and correlates of abuses or trend data on the individual's overall ability to control
personal information. Replicable empirical research and hypothesis testing on contemporary forms lags,
(although surprisingly, perhaps less so in Europe than in North America).
For the systematic, comparative, context and empirically focused social analyst, much of the current work,
while often elegantly phrased, exploratory 7 and useful in offering background knowledge, raising issues
and sounding alarms, remains conceptually undernourished, non-cumulative and non-explanatory (at
least in being conventionally falsifiable) and is either unduly abstract and broad, or too descriptive and
Consider for example the nominal concepts noted in footnote 3. These are each part of the story about
the Hindu elephant whose varied, and sometimes conflicting, elements can be hazily seen through the
pixilated shadows and fog of the present. However for systematic empirical assessment, naming names
is not enough. We need to break down the named into their multi-dimensional components, locate
connections among seemingly disparate phenomena and use a more variegated conceptual framework in
our data collection and analysis.
Terms such as "the new surveillance" and "surveillance society" (Marx 1985 a,b), which I used to label
emerging trends illustrates this problem. These general terms served well in effecting broader climates of
public opinion and in calling attention to the issues. 8 Yet we need to get beyond buzzwords and the
simple, "just say 'yes' or 'no' Professor" responses desired by the media. In reflecting on just what is new,
I identify 27 dimensions by which any surveillance means can be contrasted. I use this as the bases for
contrasting the new surveillance with traditional surveillance. 9 (Marx 2004)
A further weakness of the field involves omission. Most studies deal with contexts of conflict, domination
and control involving surveillance agents and organizations (almost all of the books chosen for review in
this symposium). The extensive use of surveillance in other settings for goals involving protection,
management, documentation, strategic planning, ritual or entertainment is ignored. Goals are too often
simply assumed. Their frequent lack of clarity and their multiplicity are ignored. 10
The very word surveillance evokes images of conflict spies skulking in the shadows, rather than of
cooperation with reassuring life guards or parents in the sunshine. Surveillance as a fundamental social
process is about much more than modernism, capitalism, bureaucracy, computer technology and the
aftermaths of 9/11, however important those are. A zero-sum, social control, conflict game involving the
unilateral, effective and unchallenged power of the hegemons does not define the universe.
Surveillance subjects and uses by individuals (e.g., in a familial contexts or by voyeurs) are neglected, as
is the interaction between agents and subjects. 11 Surveillance culture, which so envelops and defines
popular consciousness, also tends to be under-studied. 12
The sum of sociological surveillance studies is unfortunately not yet greater than the individual parts.
To take topics studied by the reviewers, it is not initially apparent how research on undercover police,
passports (Torpey 2000), political repression (Cunningham 2003), work monitoring (Zureik 2003), mobile
telephony (Lyon 2006), constitute a field, let alone studies of welfare eligibility (Gilliom 2001), anonymity
(Frankel and Teich 1999, bots (Kerr 2004), the internet and political polls (Howard et al 2005), e-
government (Ogura 2006), cardiac patients (Dubbeld 2006), abandoned DNA (Joh 2006) or reality
television (Andrejevic 2004). With respect to theory and method, established fields of political sociology,
stratification, organizations, social psychology, deviance and social control, science, technology and
society and social problems are more helpful than an autonomous surveillance subfield.
A field needs greater agreement (or well articulated disagreements) on what the central questions and
basic concepts are, on what it is that we know empirically and what needs to known, and on how the
empirically documented or documentable can be ordered and explained, let alone some ability to predict
the conditions under which future developments are to be expected. Reaching these objectives should be
the next steps for the field.
The multi-dimensional nature of personal information and the extensive contextual and situational
variation related to this are often found within dynamic settings of social conflict. This rich brew prevents
reaching any simple conclusions about how crossing or failing to cross personal informational borders
will, or should, be explained and judged. Such complexity may serve us well when it introduces humility
and qualification, but not if it immobilizes. An approach that specifies the contingent factors offers us a
situational, rather than an absolutist approach. A compass is not a map, but it is better than being lost
Towards A Field Definition
One Marx manifesto every couple of centuries is probably sufficient, although that should not be the case
for Marx jokes. Nonetheless, let me offer, in greatly telegraphed form, one way of approaching the new
surveillance for the collection of personal information. This approach is tied firmly to our discipline and its
historical concerns from Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Simmel and more recent concerns such as those
expressed by Shils, Nisbet, Merton and Goffman. It takes systematic account of the variation whose
causes, processes and consequence need to be understood.
I suggest a situational or contextual approach which, while not denying some commonalities across
surveillance behavior, emphasizes patterned differences. Amidst the sweeping claims (whether of
dystopians, utopians, ideologues, single case study over-generalizers, or one trick pony theoretical
reductionists), we need to specify. Conclusions, whether explanatory or evaluative, require identifying the
dimensions by which the richness of the empirical world can be parsed into dissimilar or fused into similar
analytic forms that are systematically studied. To paraphrase a country and western song, "there is too
much talk [aka meta-theory] and not enough research".
Among key elements in this approach are:
1. keeping distinct (yet noting relations among) a family of concepts encompassing personal
information—e.g., privacy and publicity, public and private, personal and impersonal data,
surveillance and surveillance neutralization, secrecy, confidentiality, anonymity, pseudo-
anonymity, identifiability, and confessions, yet also locating these within a broad conceptual net
2. the characteristics of the data gathering technique: (contrast the unaided and aided senses —
directly overhearing a conversation with intercepting electronic communication on the internet)
3. the goals pursued (contrast collecting information to prevent a health epidemic with the spying of
4. role relationships and other social structural aspects (contrast parents gathering personal
information on children 13 with an employer or merchant gathering nformation on employees or
customers and these with the reciprocal and equivalent watching of industrial espionage agents
or poker players)
5. space/location (contrast personal information in a home or office with that on a public street or in
cyberspace, or the past vs. the future)
6. the type of personal information involved (contrast a general characteristic such as gender or age
with information which may be stigmatizing, intimate and/or which offers a unique and locatable
7. the form of the data itself (contrast a written account by a third party of an event with the same
event revealed by a hidden audio or video camera, or both)
8. cultural themes which provide meaning and direction in telling us why surveillance is needed, or
is itself the problem, and how we should experience it as both watcher and watched
9. the dynamic aspects involving interaction processes and surveillance careers (contrast the
appearance of radar detectors and so-called "fuzz busters" and subsequent tools to identify
possession of the latter, or the initial widespread acceptance, but eventual reigning in of the
One way of organizing surveillance studies is as part of a broader field of the sociology of information. A
major area within that involves the rules about information in general, and personal information, in
particular. 14 The nine elements listed above exist within a normative environment in which expectations,
policies and laws set conditions around which behavior flows. This approach yields a number of
hypotheses about surveillance behavior and the patterning of normative expectations regarding the
accessibility and inaccessibility of information. (Marx and Muschert, forthcoming)
Central questions within a normative approach are: what are the rules governing the protection and
revelation of information, how are they created, what are their consequences and how should they be
judged? Who has access to personal information and under what conditions? How do factors such as the
type of physical, temporal and cultural border, the type of relationship among actors, the roles played, the
type of information involved, the form of its presentation and the characteristics of the means used and
the goals sought effect rules about information and the distribution of various surveillance forms? 15 What
does surveillance focus on—individuals, groups, organizations, or environments? And, once focused,
what does it look for (e.g, rule compliance, eligibility, wanted persons, purity, networks, location) and what
actions, if any flow from the activity? How are results assessed, where are the lines drawn, how valid are
the instruments used, both in general and as applied in a given context?
What factors condition varying connections between the rules and actual behavior? How do normatively
sanctioned and coercively supported data extractions (or data protections) differ from softer, seemingly
voluntary (and often seductively elicited) revelations (or protections—e.g., industry favoring self-
regulation)? How is information treated once it has been gathered (e.g., security, repurposing, alteration,
retention and destruction)?
Borders are central factors for understanding surveillance. They of course may include or exclude as they
facilitate or restrict the flow of information, persons, goods, resources and opportunities (Zuriek and Salter
2006, Andreas and Nadelmann 2006). The literal and symbolic role of border surveillants as guardians,
gate keepers, spotters, cullers and sorters needs to be better understood, as well as subject responses.
A question I have been concerned with is under what conditions do individuals feel that a personal border
has been wrongly crossed, or that there has been a failure in not crossing a personal border re the
collection of information? The latter is particularly interesting and neglected, but see Etzioni (1999) and
Allen (2003). Re the former I hypothesize that important correlates of a sense of injustice are non-
consensual crossing a border—physical (whether a wall, skin or disaggregation), temporal, or social,
presumed to be protective of information, or recording such information. (Marx 1999)
Directionality can also be considered. Most attention is on taking information from the person. But as with
Orwell's telescreeen this can be joined (and also needs to be contrasted with) impositions upon the
person –whether sound, images, smells or unwanted messages (e.g., much telemarketing and spam).
These of course may be joined as when monitoring of internet behavior leads to receipt of spam.
Privacy and publicity are major concepts here as they form polar ends of a continuum involving rules
about withholding and disclosing, and seeking or not seeking, information. Depending on the context,
social roles and culture, individuals or groups may be required, find it optional, or be prohibited from
engaging in these activities, whether as subjects or agents of surveillance and communication.
This approach precludes the automatic equation of surveillance with privacy invasion. Surveillance can
invade privacy or protect it. Re the latter, consider authentication systems that restrict access to data or
that offer protection from id theft (or the better term identity fraud proposed by Pontell (2003). This
distinction also avoids the frequent confusion of the private and the public as adjectives describing the
actual empirical status of information (e.g., the Pentagon papers became public or failure of a government
official to file a required disclosure statement means that the information remains private) apart from
formal proscriptions or prescriptions.
Rules are at the heart of publicity and privacy. When the rules specify that information is not to be
available to others (whether the restriction is on the surveillance agent not to discover or less often, on the
subject not to reveal or on the means) we can speak of privacy norms.
When the rules specify that the information must be revealed by the subject or sought by the agent and
that particular means are to be used, we can speak of publicity norms. The subject has an obligation to
reveal and/or the agent has an obligation to discover and to report what is discovered. 16 With publicity
norms there is no right to privacy that tells the agent not to seek information, nor that gives the subject
discretion regarding revelation.
The conditions for such reporting (whether mandatory revelation by the subject or discovery by the agent)
involve important variables such as who is to be told. The audience for mandatory revelation/discovery
and communication can vary from a few persons entitled to know (as with buyers and sellers bound by a
contract or the reporting of signs of possible child abuse by teachers to social welfare officials), to the
public at large (as with conflict of interest statements for those in public office).
A sociology of information approach emphasizing norms offers a way to connect and contrast the highly
varied topics studied by surveillance scholars. David Cunningham's welcome call for dissagregation is
joined by aggregation. The logic of joining freedom of information and right to know issues with the right to
control personal information can be seen in having a single agency responsible for these, as with some
European and Canadian commissions (Flahterty 1989, Bennett and Raab 2003). 17
Surveillance Structures and Processes
Surveillance can be further analyzed by identifying some basic structures and processes Organizational
surveillance is distinct from the non-organizational surveillance carried about by individuals. The internal
constituency surveillance found in organizations (in its most extreme form in total institutions (Goffman
1961) contrasts with external constituency surveillance present when those who are watched have some
patterned contact with the organization (e.g., as customers, patients, malefactors or citizens). Note also
external non-member constituency surveillance in which organizations monitor their broader environment
in watching other organizations, individuals and social trends. Beyond organizational forms, consider
personal surveillance in which an individual watches another individual. Here we can differentiate role
relationship surveillance as with family members from non-role relationship surveillance as with the
voyeur whose watching is unconnected to a legitimate role. 18
With respect to the roles played we can identify the surveillance agent (watcher/observer/seeker). The
person about whom information is sought is a surveillance subject. All persons of course play both roles,
although hardly in the same form or degree. This changes depending on the context and over the life
cycle. The roles are sometimes blurred and may overlap.
The surveillance function may be central to the role (detectives, spies, investigative reporters and even
some sociologists) 19 or peripheral (e.g., check-out clerks who are trained to look for shop lifters, dentists
who look for signs of child abuse). A distinction rich with empirical and ethical implications is whether the
situation involves those who are a party to the generation and collection of data (direct participants) or
instead involves third parties.
Surveillance can also be analyzed with respect to whether it is non-reciprocal or reciprocal. Surveillance
that is reciprocal may be asymmetrical or symmetrical. Related to this is the need to contrast contexts of
cooperation where goals overlap or are shared, as against those where agents and subjects are in
conflict. Consider also agent-initiated surveillance vs. subject-initiated surveillance.
In the books reviewed by Cunningham for example we see governmental organizations engaged in non-
reciprocal, asymmetrical, conflictual, agent initiated forms.
Rather than being only static and fixed, surveillance also needs to be viewed as a fluid process involving
interaction and strategic calculations over time
Rather than being static and fixed at one point in time, surveillance needs to be viewed as a fluid, ongoing
process involving interaction and strategic calculations over time. Among surveillance processes are
efforts to create the myth of surveillance, surveillance creep, gallop and contraction and surveillance
commodification. Behavioral techniques of neutralization –strategic moves by which subjects of
surveillance seek to subvert the collection of personal information can be noted. Among forms that can be
observed are: direct refusal, discovery, avoidance, switching, distorting, counter-surveillance, cooperation,
blocking and masking. Marx (2003)
Surveillance practices are shaped by manners, organizational policies and laws and by available
technologies and counter-technologies. These draw on a number of background value principles and tacit
assumptions about the empirical world.. Using criteria such as the nature of the goals, the procedure for
creating a surveillance practice, minimization, consideration of alternatives, reciprocity, data protection
and security and implications for democratic values, I suggest 20 questions to be asked about any
surveillance activity. (Marx 2005) The more these can be answered in a way affirming the underlying
values, the more legitimate the surveillance is likely to be.
In anxious, media saturated times we must be especially attentive to public rhetoric that so effortlessly
passes for profundity. 20 Consider the stock line that everything changed after 9/11 and we must therefore
be prepared to tradeoff liberty or privacy for security. Perhaps. That conclusion should only be reached
after careful analysis indicating 1) that the threat has been accurately portrayed 2) that the tradeoff is
genuine i.e., that the sacrifice will work 3) it is morally justified and involves an appropriate prioritization of
values (i.e., whatever is being traded off is of less worth than what is presumed to be gained) and 4) as
Torin Monahan (2006) and his colleagues suggest, tradeoff talk does not lead us to ignore consequences
for other important social values such as fairness, equality and personal dignity, let along technologies
that bite back. (Tenner 1996)
Social research attentive to empirical and moral complexity may move us closer to the enlightenment
promise of our discipline and leave in the realm of fiction, Brecht's observation that the person who smiles
is the one who has not yet heard the bad news.
Back to Main Page | Top | Notes
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1. For example new journals include Surveillance and Society; Ethics and Information Technology;
The Information Society; Communications, Law, and Policy; New Media and Society; among
special issues of traditional journals Block 1992; Jermier 1998; Mack 2001; Marx, 2002a;
Marguilis 2003; Van Harten and Van Est 2003; Hillyard 2004 and 2006.
2. For law the emphasis is on constitutional, legislative and regulatory questions (Froomkin 2000,
Slobogin 2002 Solove 2006, Solove et al, 2005, Turkington and Allen 2002). Central topics for
economics are the implications of information asymmetry for markets, new kinds of intellectual
property and regulation (Stigler 1980, Noam 1997, Hermalin and Katz 2004). For geography new
spatial issues are central (Graham, and Marvin 1996, Cury 1997 and Monmieer 2002). In contrast
sociology is in the familiar role of a residual hodge podge.
3. With respect to historical surveillance development and changes a sampling of works I have
found helpful Cohen 1985, Beninger 1986, Dandeker 1990, Giddens 1990, Bauman 1992, Lyon
1994, Ericson and Haggerty 1997 and Garland 2001,
With respect to the free lunch activity of naming, a sampling: the gaze, (Foucault 1977);
surveillance society, the new surveillance and maximum security society (Marx 1985 a, b; dossier
society ( Laudon 1986); dataveillance (Clarke 1988); super-panopticon, (Poster 1990);
l'anamorphose de l'etat-nation (Palida 1992); panoptic sort (Gandy 1993); Waever, 1995);
synopticon, (Mathiesen 1997); securitization (Ericson and Haggerty 1997); telematic society
(Bogard 1996); techno-policing, (Nogala 1995) Deleuze 199_, Haggerty and Ericson 2000);
information empire (Hardt and Negri 2000); post-panopticon, (Boyne 2000); glass cage, (Gabriel
2004); ban-opticon, (Bigo 2006); high policing, (Brodeur and Lehman-Langlois 2006); ubiquitous
computing, (Greenfield 2006); ambient intelligence (Friedenwald et al 2006) ); safe society (Lyon,
4. As Torpey notes in his review there is no good English term conveying the full meanings of
surveillance, nor is there an adequate word for it as a verb (spell check doesn't like to surveil).
The dictionary translation for the French verb surveiller touches only one aspect –to supervise.
The Latin roots are sur = super, vidre = to look and vigilare = to keep watch. Super-watching
conveys an important strand, but is awkward. For those uncomfortable with to surveil, the English
term to survey which can involve either a general overview, or a critical inspection is the best we
have. One can also play with prepositions –viewing and contrasting surveillance as looking over,
under, above, below, beyond, back, out and for, as these apply to both agents and subjects and
to position, time and goals.. In an interesting ethno-table turn, Mann et al (2003) labels his use of
videocams to record the behavior of the more powerful sous-surveillance. It is that not only
because it is done by those presumably socially below, but also because in probing underneath it
may reveal taken for granted social worlds.
5. On CCTV for example Norris et al 1998, Newburn and Hayman 2002, Goold 2004 Hemple and
Topfer 2004, Welsh and Tarrington 2004. But relative to the ubiquity of, and vast expenditures on,
CCTV there has been very little evaluation, particularly in the U.S. The same holds for the paucity
of independent studies of the impact of drug testing. Much of the federally mandated testing has a
ritual quality to it simply being in response to a requirement for contracts and other funding.
(American Management Association 1999, Tunnell 2004)
6. Among noteworthy examples: the employee of an AIDS testing lab who sold the names of those
with positive results to a funeral home and the arrest of 29 low income pregnant women in South
Carolina after positive results from in a secret drug test administered at a medical clinic.
7. The use of the term exploratory by a reviewer can define a necessary point in the historical
development of a field and/or serve as feint praise offered by those felines unwilling to be critical.
Given a comfortable sabbatical-for-life as a retiree, no longer having instrumental reasons for
diplomacy, my motivation only involves the former.
8. Beyond direct social engineering (with its pejorative and unduly optimistic assumptions about the
power of our instruments) such communication is a central way that sociologists can contribute to
social change. (Marx 1972)
9. This is the “Is there anything really new?” question. The answer is of course both yes and no
depending on the aspect considered, the level of abstraction, and the context. Clearly there are
functional aspects of surveillance that do not change. (Nock 1989)
Among some of the most important characteristics of the new surveillance: extends the senses,
low visibility, involuntary, remote, lesser cost, multiple indicators, strategic, integrated, automated,
real time data flows, attention to systems and networks as well as individuals, routinization of
surveillance into everyday life, immediate links between data collection and action and emphasis
on predicting the future and preventing some forms of it. When not hidden altogether, the new
information gathering seeks to be soft, relatively non-invasive, unnoticeable and to avoid direct
coercion. (Marx 2006)
10. Consider for example the multiplicity of goals and users for efforts such as the 72 miles of
cameras along California coastline sent to lifeguard stations and then to the Web. Surveillance
serves as a protection for swimmers, a beach and traffic control and management device, a work
monitor, a symbolic deterrent reminder of unseen watchers, a documentary resource should a
crime occur within camera range and a strategic resource for helping viewers decide which beach
to go to.
11. Some exceptions Gurstein 1996, Smith 1997, Staples 2000, Calvert 2000, Marx 2006.
12. Some exceptions include Denzin 1995, Marx 1996, Groombridge 2002, Pecoria 2003, McGrath
2003. Here I refer not to culture as ethos for action (Garland 2001) but to culture in its broader
sense as the deliverer of meaning, particularly through the mass media (e.g., Doyle 2003,
Lehman-Langlois 2002; Altheide 2006). Some exceptions include Pecoria 2002, Marx 1996,
Groombridge 2002, McGrath 2003.
13.Consider also the related category of cat owners monitoring for FLUTF (Feline Lower Urinary
Tract Disease) via cat litter made with Eco-Friendly Components. The litter comes with a patented
“built-in sickness indicator” determined by the color the litter turns –brown for “normal” and hot
pink for "urgent." See http://www.scientficcatlitter.com
14. Of course this spills over into still broader fields involving surveillance of animals, insects, climate,
soil etc. Note can also be made of the hazy conceptual borders between information on a given
individual and group data made up from aggregating individual data, as well as gathering data
from one individual which may permit knowledge of a group (e.g., as with some aspects of DNA).
There is clearly a need to rethink some of these categories.
An alternative, but compatible, approach views surveillance as consisting of four elements;
representation, meaning, manipulation and intermediation which generate “surveillance domains'.
15. There is an enormous imbalance here between organizations and individuals. Anyone new to the
area would do well to read Jim Rule's (1973) pioneering study. Rule suggests contrasting the
power of surveillance systems with respect to variables such as the size of their files, degree of
centralization and the rapidity of communication between different systems.
A related concept, surveillance slack, can be used to contrast time periods, cultures and contexts
with respect to the degree of slack (if any) between the potential for a fully unleashed technology
and the extent and form of its actual application Using this measure suggests that we live in
relatively benign times and that things may in one sense be getting better all the time, as the
potential power of the technology expands much more rapidly than its institutionalization.
Whether because of the almost simultaneous development of means of neutralizing surveillance
(e.g., encryption) and the growth of legal and policy restrictions on asking certain kinds of
questions some police, security and medical officials and employers are concerned that in
particular contexts there is now too much protection of personal information.
16. The same or opposed expectations for the two actors suggests four possible types and a paper in
waiting. This calls attention to an important dignity-social justice issue and harks back to the
discipline's earlier labeling concerns regarding the degree of fit between self-identity vs. that
slapped on by external agents as a result of profiles and statistical models. Beyond the issue of
control over one's identity, there is the stratification and life chance issues, as individuals
increasingly are remotely sorted into categories. (Lyon 2003). Among the most important forms of
social ignorance is lack of awareness of the multitude of ways that life chances are increasingly
shaped by data in distant computers. Central policy issues involve accountability through the
creation of rules and organizational forms that permit transparency and openness regarding what
data are collected, how they are used, means of challenging this and notification procedures
when mistakes occur. The frequent distance (whether geographical or social) between the subject
and organizational decision makers resulting from the complexities of data migration and
repurposing, the frequent lack of validation and incomprehensibility (to the average person) of the
computer models used for decision making, along with intentional obfuscation, offers ample room
at the inn for Kafka along side of Orwell and Huxley.
17. The United States is conspicuous in not having a federal agency concerned with these questions,
particularly since the Office of Technology Assessment was terminated. The forthcoming National
Research Council report on Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age:
Issues and Insights recommends such a commission.
18. Consider the true fiction case of Tom I. Voire, an individual who uses, or is subject to, more than
100 contemporary surveillance practices. (Marx 2006)
19. The social researcher as agent of surveillance for the state, the private sector or for a social
movement, contrasts with the researcher as subject of surveillance as a citizen, consumer,
communicator and employee (consider citation and other data base searches involved in
promotion and tenure, as well as loyalty oath controversies). Note the FBI's interest in
sociologists and anthropologists during the cold war period (Keen 1999, Price 2004) and more
recent encounters, sometimes triggered by the researcher's proximity to dirty data topics involving
crime and deviance.
The ironies can be striking. In an epilogue to his study of government welfare surveillance
(Gilliom 2001) reports on his serendipitous encounter with some involuntary participant
observation data, as he became the subject of unwarranted state surveillance. See also Kemple
and Huey 2006.
20. One approach to this is to identify empirical, logical and value fallacies as done in the analysis of
a “true fiction” speech by one Mr. Rocky Bottoms to the annual Las Vegas convention of the
Society for American Professional Surveillance. (Marx, forthcoming b).
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