9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Crime Building I, 2E2

Surveillance, Ambivalence and Public Participation

Surveillance has increased exponentially in contemporary societies, either extensively through all spheres of social activity, and also becoming global, as intensively penetrating in the routines of our daily lives.
This twofold process of expansion, already enabled by ICT, has been further enhanced by the emergence of new forms of surveillance, namely biosurveillance, videosurveillance, surveillance made possible by electronic identity cards and commercial surveillance.
The surveillance technologies (ST) are also used in a systematic way for risk prevention - having this aspect been enhanced from the September 11th. However it is paradoxical that the use of ST for the prevention of risk has become increasingly a risk to take into account for the exercise of citizenship.
On the other hand, the registration, categorization and classification made possible through ST triggers processes of the inclusion and exclusion concerning commodities, services and participation opportunities that impact upon life trajectory of people, depending on the categories in which they are inserted.
It is known that the ST are ambivalent, given that they have positive and negative dimensions that can be enhanced more in one way or another, depending on the purposes for which they were created. We also know that the development and use of ST can vary regarding the social and historical context. Even if used for benign ends, they may have unintended consequences
The question is whether we are witnessing either an increase to their negative dimensions or a growing imbalance of power between the "vigilant" and the "monitored" and, in this way, a subsequent thickening of the raising social risks of a totalitarian society, composed by increasingly "transparent" citizens. This is even more worrying, because large sections of the population are more willing to give - if solicited - their personal data, believing more in the benefits of surveillance than in the potential risks, thinking they have nothing to fear or hide.
Pursuing this line of argumentation, the purpose of this communication is to question the mechanisms and procedures for participation of people in the policies, design and uses of ST.