Presentation

A critique of surveillance

Presentation

Paul GHILS

Cosmopolis welcomes Philippe-Joseph Salazar as a guest editor of this special issue, devoted to the theme of “surveillance” in its varying forms and perceptions across the world.
The current upsurge of surveillance policies and, to a minor extent, of defensive movements to limit their expansion, appears to parallel escalating and overlapping conflicts in a shrinking world. Thousands of state agencies across the world, as well as private associations, lobbies, research bodies and observatories capture data, procedures, policies, issues and developments in their respective fields of interest to exert power or protect privacy, guarantee secrecy or expose abuses, defend corporate interests or work for the public good, extend or limit rights, regulate or deregulate, destroy or preserve the social fabric, control or build firewalls.

Far from being a feature of today’s mediatized world and its cyberspace, this phenomenon can be seen as deeply rooted in human beings’ age-old attitudes and interactions, in a complex network of “interveillance” that blurs the lines between trust and distrust, empathy and dispathy among individuals and communities. One resulting paradox is that, while the rule of law is entrusted to governments, parliaments and civil society, intrusions into privacy and espionnage may come from both public agencies and civil society, considering that commercial lobbies, hackers or terrorists are as often components of civil society, uncivil though these may be.

Where a borderless online world and communities jealous of their borders intersect, an old question is posed in new terms, to which succesful responses will depend on a proper balance between autonomy and control, and on setting standards to meet the differing needs of digitalized forms of globalization, traditional behaviours, collective security and basic civil rights.