(NB: I use the term ‘surveillance’ herein expansively to include both the traditional notion of observing activities directly as well as the more contemporary notion of monitoring activities by analysis of data trails, which is sometimes referred to as ‘dataveillance’. Although I continue to use the term ‘surveillance’ broadly in these general descriptions, I have previously introduced the term ‘omniveillance’ in earlier versions of this essay (Taipale 1999, 2003, 2006) to reflect the phenomenal ubiquity of both surveillance and dataveillance as inherent characteristics of modern information cultures (cf., Lyon 1994, 2001).

Keywords: surveillance, dataveillance, omniveillance, social control, social sorting, audit, privacy, privacy enhancing technology (PET), data mining, observability, behavior predictability, identity, dividualization, borders, freedom.


For our purposes, a surveillance society is one based on maintaining social control or order through the collection, sharing, and analysis of information about populations in order to govern their activities.

Surveillance is a social-technical security and control response to individual privacy and anonymity, and to the delocalization of borders. (Thus, it is also a characteristic of globalization, see, e.g., Taipale, Panoptic Global Security State, 2005).

Surveillance societies do not monitor people qua individuals but operate through dissembling and reassembling data points (resulting in ‘dividualization’). Their subject matter is not the person but coded information flows — “digital dossiers,” (e.g., Solove 2004) “data doubles,” (e.g., Haggerty and Ericsson 2000) or “virtual personages” (ibid.) — which are ordered through audit and filtering (e.g., Lyon 1994, 2003).

Surveillance is a feature of modernity (Ericsson and Haggerty 2006; Lyon 1994, 2001, 2006); a networked information-based society is inherently a surveillance society in which resources and services (hence consumer satisfaction, power and control) are allocated by abstracted classification and automated personalization.

Surveillance in technologically-advanced societies is both panoptic and synoptic in practice and is partially motivated by (and is generally acquiesced in because of) the manifest human fetish for scopophilia (explore Albrechtslund 2008).

Surveillance societies seek to impose control and accountability through risk management and audit based in part on a “trusted systems” paradigm (see Taipale 2005), in which surveillance and certifiable reputation are used as proxies for counterparty trust (including through authenticated “identity(ies)”).

Surveillance in these systems is a method of social sorting (Lyon 2007) and audit based on perceived risk; a technique of power that shapes destinies based on what is measurable (thus, auditable or filterable) in a particular system.

The surveillance society is a metaphor for the ongoing transformation of modern information-based societies from a notional Beccarian (“punishment”) model of social order based on accountability for deviant actions after they occur, see Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment (1764), first, to a Foucauldian (“disciplinary”) model based on authorization, preemption, and general social compliance through ubiquitous preventative surveillance and control through system constraints, see Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1975, Alan Sheridan, tr., 1977, 1995), and, ultimately, to a complex Deleuzian (“control”) model based increasingly on seduction and enticement through manipulation of opportunity and desire rather than just coercion or constraint, see Gilles Deleuze, Postscript to the Societies of Control, L’Autre Journal, No. 1 (May 1990).

In this emergent model, social control and security mechanisms and interventions at all levels are geared not towards policing but to risk and opportunity management through surveillance, exchange of information, auditing, communication, classification, and filtering. Of pressing philosophical and political concern is the potential affects on freedom, in particular from dividualization (the limiting of opportunities through fragmentation) and its corollary contrapose, the autonomy trap (the limiting of opportunities through finely-tuned personalization).

In these circumstances, “privacy” is likely not a sufficient policy response (nor effective strategy of resistance) to surveillance since the ultimate outcome of a modern, technology-enabled surveillance society is not to uncover or expose deviance after it occurs (that is, not to make things ‘unsecret’) but rather to eliminate opportunities for deviance by managing opportunities.

This is a research interest of mine.