The Proliferation of Surveillance – To what extent can it erode the public/private divide?

At latest since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the quest for security has become ever more present. Especially due to the different nature of attacks, it has become increasingly difficult to prevent these. In the wake of this  need for security, politics have turned to surveillance. In this light the techniques and the amount of surveillance have expanded immensely including i.a. CCTV, drones. But also other international actors have contributed to the increase of surveillance due to the enormous power of data. Thus, this proliferation has blurred the public private divide. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence […]. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”[1]

Surveillance cameras are often hidden in plain sight, making it hard for civilians to know when they are being watched, by whom, whether the footage is stored or not, and for what purposes they are being recorded. Hence, with the augmentation of public surveillance it is questionable whether there is any privacy in public places, and whether public surveillance can reach a point where it invades private spaces.  Thus, the question arises: to what extent does (more) surveillance secure or  infringe on people, and to what extent can these aspects of security and privacy work together as a tandem?

Having said that, the following visual essay is to touch upon this specific question. The photos and video clips are arranged in order to depict two separate narratives: security and privacy. Wanting to portray the trend of the proliferation of surveillance, the essay is set in the near future, in the city of tomorrow originated in today’s s society. When observed closely, there is a specific development in the essay – the scenes do not follow each other in a chronological order (as depicted by the date in the upper corner). Rather, this is done to create a stronger link between the ‘world of today’ and the ‘city of tomorrow’ by eroding the difference created as time passes by, and also to make the beholder reflect upon the situation now and ask “could this happen today?” The further in the future the scenes are set, the further they are also from today – thus portraying more and more absurd, or invading, situations. The individual excerpts are to illustrate the possible shortfalls and improvements: The latter being a seemingly more secure environment, whereas the former being an over-intrusiveness in public spaces (e.g. library) and possibly private spaces; Thereby risking the possibility of becoming a surveillance society (Überwachungsstaat).

Methodologically, we used photographs, timelapses and videoclips as they are considered to portray the reality in the most accurate way. While, still acknowledging the possibility provided by the nature of these visual mediums as mere representation of the real and not the reality itself. This element is also used to work in favour of the critical standing point of the essay by eroding the difference between tomorrow and today. Moreover, this is also intended by having created the essay in a form of a video, thus giving us the power to create the narrative.  In this vein, we employed a high angle, similar to one of a security camera. The variety of media is intended to intensify the effects of the previously-mentioned advantages and disadvantages of the proliferation of surveillance; whereas, on the other hand, to compensate each other’s deficiencies. Finally, we acquired the consent of all the people part of the scenes, where nobody was harmed.

By Martine Ouwersloot, Jana Dabbelt, Sara Salminen

[1] United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf

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