Who’s keeping tabs on you? The U.S.’s culture of surveillance
More than 70% of major U.S. employers engage in some form of electronic monitoring of workers, tracking their email, Internet use and whereabouts with GPS devices, according to William Staples, a University of Kansas sociologist who has released the second edition of his book, “Everyday Surveillance.”
About 90% of U.S. manufacturers test workers for drugs, according to Staples.
And of course the National Security Agency (NSA) recently made news when it was disclosed NSA has been analyzing the communication records of all U.S. citizens. But surveillance is not the sole purvey of secretive and little-known federal agencies.
Surveillance as a “social control” mechanism as Staples describes it is made possible by a host of private and public organizations who track our bodies, activities and movements – both with and without our consent – through Internet use, cell phones, video cameras, credit cards, license plate readers, loyalty shopping cards and more.
Other forms of scrutiny include transit-swipe cards, electronic tolling devices, smart phone location beacons, card key access points, and Internet hot spots for systematically recording and storing data on us.
Data brokers and “aggregators” scoop up vast loads of information about us from hundreds of sources, according to Staples. One company has constructed the world’s largest consumer database containing detailed information on nearly 500 million consumers worldwide and sells it to other businesses so potential high value customers can be targeted for advertising campaigns.
And new “Student Information Systems” collect minute details on students’ performance, attendance and behavior, then make that information available to parents in real-time on the Internet.
Some school districts have issued radio-frequency identification (RFID) student badges to monitor students’ movements on campus. Many students today are tested for drug and alcohol use.
One consequence of this culture of surveillance is what Staples calls “social sorting.” Surveillance-generated data in effect evaluates, judges and sorts people into different categories, such as worth or risk, which can have real effects on individuals’ life chances, says Staples.
It turns out Big Brother is a collection of little brothers. Rather than build a new and politically dubious and controversial surveillance network post 9/11, as many as 50 telecommunications, Internet and data brokerage firms were coerced, paid or simply offered up the data they had been collecting for some time, according to Staples.
Since the first edition of “Everyday Surveillance,’” was published 12 years ago, Staples says he has witnessed a “staggering proliferation” of technologies that constantly, on a daily basis, assess our behavior, judge our performance, account for our whereabouts, determine our “value” and pose a stark challenge to one’s privacy and personal integrity.