Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
The Panopticon Inverted: Why Privacy Is Less Valuable In Contemporary Society

By Jonathan Marcus

The concept of the Panopticon initially developed as a model for imprisonment. It was the model of a neatly structured prison where a guard, from a centrally-located position could view all prisoners and directly control their environment. From this vantage the guard was in a position to see and control all the prisoners, with a minimum of resources required for this supervision. It was a model of command efficiency.

No mention of Bentham?

Foucault exploded this model into a powerful metaphorical concept in Discipline and Punish. He recognized that this sort of centralized control—premised on the twin virtues of visibility and definition—was not simply a model of prison life, but an aspect of all power relations (including state, social and religious institutions). He examined several aspects of our penal system to demonstrate how our forms of punishment are set to observe crime and categorize criminals. He extended this metaphor to other aspects of governmental control to societal control as expressed through education, citizenship oaths and even cultural organization. The essential value of his work was to demonstrate how power and control of people can and often is accomplished by making people visible and manipulatable through categorization.

Doesn't look to me like you actually went back to read the book.

None of the individual threads of this narrative are especially unique, the history of intellectual analysis, notably Hegel, Marx and Gramsci,

This would make "the history of intellectual analysis" less than fifty years long.

consider the role of cultural eminations in structuring social life. Foucault’s purchase comes from his ability to connect all of these different narratives of control into a metastory that helps us see the world of power generally, rather than deriving from one particular source, for instance, the state. He recognized that the story of power can be removed from the particular and even from historical context, and rather looked upon it as a method of human control of other humans. This, after all, is the underlying truth to all institutional, structural and formal concepts—humans implement them and they are implemented upon humans.

"The" underlying truth? More an underimpressive tautology: human society contains human beings. Surely Foucault had something more to say?

With the development of the internet and social networking, it seems like the power of the Panopticon is at its absolute apex. The ability to see people is certainly greater than ever before, but the power of control may have been mitigated at the same time. Perhaps, we’ve lost privacy, but we’ve also begun to lose the need for privacy. Those with power have more access to knowledge, but that same system gives everyone that same knowledge and more power to over the rest of society.

The "same" knowledge? You don't and can't demonstrate that: it's false.

The internet has drastically increased the visibility of all people. The amount of information publically available about any given person is at its apex.

Reuse of cliche phrase. This time, it's wrong.

But the difference is that this information is available to anyone who knows where to look.

Can you prove this? No.

In the past, there was a vast differential between the amount of information about people available to those with resources and a regular person.

Today, there is a similarly vast difference. More is available at both ends of the continuum, and in the middle. But, as in so many other contexts, a few have gotten immensely richer.

Today, the internet democratizes the spread of information.

A cliche. If a conclusion, needs evidence.

To be sure, those with more resources are certainly able to glean more from the information available, but the differential between the two is mitigated by the absolute increasing in the availability and searchability of information on the internet.

Maybe. Maybe not. Evidence?

It is not simply the access to information that the internet provides, it’s also the ability to enhance collective action to sift through information available on the internet. Consider the U.S. Attorney’s Office scandal during the second term of George W. Bush. One of the key breaks in the story came from the left-leaning political news blog Talking Points Memo. The information which propelled the story to the front pages of every major news outlet was provided by hundreds of TPM readers sifting through thousands of documents and correspondence from various governmental institutions. The internet, while decreasing privacy, enhances the ability for regular individuals to find others of like-mind and cause and employ their collective resources towards a common goal. In today’s Panopticon everyone can see everyone else.

You cannot see Mr Zuckerberg as well as he sees you, right? This statement is literally false, and its presentation as though true is powerfully misleading.

It allows individuals to create alliances that were never possible before and exert power in a way that counterbalances the power of institutionals with centralized power.

The increased visibility for all, also leads to a rethinking of the way that visibility can be used for control. As with the U.S. Attorney’s Office scandal, the internet has also increased the transparency of powerful institutions like governments. Even with the pressure of several governments, Wikileaks still remains an effective, if less visible, institution. The power of the internet to balance out large institutions act in more subtle if pervasive ways; in fact, the very structuring of knowledge and information is democratized on the internet. Some might say that there is a cacophony of information out there, such that actual truth is somehow devalued. The truth is the knowledge on the internet is available from a number of perspectives and the ideological perspectives of those institutions are much clearer. It’s far easier for people to decide the truth for themselves rather than relying on any particular paper or even encyclopedia of record. This is not to say that the internet is some sort of perfect marketplace of ideas where the best opinions prevail. But it is a place where the entire market of ideas, complete with labels and metalabels, is available to the information consumer.

On one side of this new information culture is the fear that our privacy has been all too invaded, but on the other side of the ledger is the power of the public persona. As information about the dark recesses of the internet becomes available, the actual norms and interests of our society will become clearer. As truth about us as a people becomes clearer, the greater our tolerance for difference is likely to be. While privacy is a value unto itself, there is an instrumental component to its operation. We want privacy because of how the publicity of certain information will impact our social lives. But as information about everyone becomes available, the detriment of this information is diluted and the issue itself may no longer be a big deal in light of the release of this information.

As the internet develops we have a greater scope of personal control over our own public persona than ever before. We able to craft a narrative, respond to the world and limit access to our lives as we see fit. In turn we can develop deeper sympathies for our fellow man and change the zeitgeist of the times nearly instantaneously if the idea catches the fancy of our community. Our privacy and the need to self-monitor our internet persona is a small price to pay for a new global community.

But this is not the actual deal, rather the deal that seems to be presented and isn't. If you wanted to present this as a conclusion, it required evidence.


Webs Webs

r4 - 11 Jan 2013 - 21:48:51 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM