[Reader-list] ::::::::::::surveillance2::::::::

:bea:: bea at nungu.com
Thu Jun 20 11:29:09 IST 2002

A fascinating and in my opinion very accurate text

Time in the Shadows of Anonymity:

Fighting Against Surveillance Cameras,
Transparency, and Global Capitalism

The widespread and rapidly increasing use of surveillance cameras for the
purposes of "security" and law enforcement is not something that is taking
place in isolation, on the margins of society, or as an after-thought,
though many people seem to think so. Take, for example, New York Times
architectural critic Herbert Meschamp, who writes in "Echoes of '68 on
Columbia's Campus" (Sunday Arts & Leisure section for 24 October 1999) that
the surveillance camera in Columbia University's new Lerner Hall "insinuates
a sinister presence into the entire composition." Note that, for Meschamp,
the "entire composition" -- an abstract space, designed by Bernard Tschumi,
that is defined by sheer glass walls -- isn't "sinister" until the
surveillance camera is added; and that the "sinister presence" is added by
"insinuation," not by direct expression. The camera in Lerner Hall has, in
Meschamp's words, "a symbolic as well as a practical function," but it seems
that "ornamental" is closer to the architectural critic's meaning than
"symbolic." Contrary to Mike Davis -- who writes in City of Quartz (1990)
that "one observes an unprecedented tendency to merge urban design,
architecture and the police apparatus into a single, comprehensive security
effort" -- the camera for Meschamp is an add-on, something not really part
of or essential to the composition itself.

But, to us, the proliferation of surveillance cameras is directly connected
to the very essence of capitalist society. Generalized video surveillance
brings into visibility the sinister and repressive essence of spectacular
capitalism. To prove our point -- and to advance and enrich the practical
struggles of the Surveillance Camera Players -- we need to advance and
elaborate upon a theory of surveillance, the foundation of which will be the
concept of transparency. It is the demand for and imposition of transparency
that unites the apparently isolated spectacle of video surveillance with the
general capitalist spectacle.


To advance a theory of transparency, one must, unfortunately, first clear
the air of the stench of the widely and well-reviewed piece of shit entitled
The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy
and Freedom? (New York: Addison-Wesley 1998), which was written by David
Brin, a science-fiction novelist and staunch defender of capitalism and the
State. "When [capitalism] works, under just and impartial rules," Brin said
in an on-line interview in 1998, "the free market rewards agility, hard
work, and innovation, just as it punishes the stock prices of companies that
make too many mistakes" [emphasis added]. As we've pointed out elsewhere,
capitalism's "rules" are transparently unjust and totally "partial," and
only work for the rich and powerful. Indeed, to speak of capitalism's
"rules" at all is to ignore and deflect attention away from the essential
irrationality of capitalism, especially of such fundamental capitalist
institutions as the division of labor, bureaucracy, and commodity fetishism.

As for the modern State, Brin takes a position quite similar to that taken
in Reg Whitaker's peculiar book The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance
is Becoming a Reality.

A weak government is not a guarantee of freedom [Brin says.] It is a
guarantee of chaos that will be followed by tyranny. What we need is a
strong government that is totally subject to scrutiny so that every mistake
that they make will be pounced upon.

Though we find ourselves in complete agreement with Brin's assessment of "a
weak government," we find it appalling that anyone would prefer more poison
to less, rather than no poison at all. Our position is that, if there is
anything "we" the People need, it is the abolition of any external governing
body, and the instauration of universal self-government, so that "scrutiny"
of the actions of others is totally unnecessary and can be completely
dispensed with.

Typical of someone well-conditioned by capitalism and its State, Brin's
attitude towards both the widespread use of surveillance cameras and the
emergence (imposition) of "the transparent society" is utterly passive.

Cameras are proliferating like locusts [Brin says, using a peculiarly
Biblical metaphor]. In Britain they've tied in face-recognition systems to
scan pedestrians in search of wanted criminals. Nothing you or I do will
stop this. No law will prevent it. Banning the cameras will only drive this
technology underground and ensure it's monopolized by some elite group.

To prevent "monopolization," Brin would have us do nothing and allow
surveillance technology to proliferate and be used by everyone against
everyone else. "Nobody ever thinks of the reciprocal transparency solution
to these problems and that's taking cameras and shining it back on them,"
Brin says, his metaphor suggesting that a surveillance camera -- apparently
an active projector rather than a passive receptor of light -- "shines the
light of truth" upon whomever it is focused. "The light of truth" will, in
Brin's words, "force" the "gossips and patricians" to be "polite" and
"courteous" -- force being the operative word here.

We are going to have to learn something we knew in the old villages, and
that's courtesy [Brin says]. For our own safety's sake. We aren't going to
be able to hide anything. We'll be safe because our enemies won't be able to
hide anything either. But does that make it pleasant if everybody knows
everything? The only thing that will make it pleasant is if we grow up a

But "reciprocal transparency" -- using surveillance technologies to surveill
the surveillants -- is no solution at all. Quite obviously, "reciprocal
transparency" simply gives up on and denigrates the fight to defend and
reiterate our constitutional rights to free speech and anonymity, and to
protection from unreasonable searches of our persons. Furthermore,
"reciprocal transparency" is clearly irrational and a doomed strategy:
justified in the name of preventing the total surveillance of all by a small
minority, "reciprocal transparency" inaugurates the total surveillance of
all by all. The "solution" of "two-way transparency" or "omnidirectional
surveillance" -- like the Cold War "solution" of mutually assured
destruction -- is in fact the generalization of the problem (the war of all
against all) to the point of universal crisis. There is and will be nothing
"safe" or "pleasant" about the transparent society, that is, the universal
destruction of the rights to privacy, anonymity and free assembly: it will
be nothing other than the mass murder of social life.


Not surprisingly, Brin doesn't offer a clear definition of "the
transparent." Starting fresh, we take "transparent" to mean the following:
1) pervious solid objects that do not scatter light or prevent its direct
transmittal; 2) people or statements that are without deceit or pretense; 3)
behavior or speech whose hidden intention or nature is obvious and easily
detected, despite deceit or pretense; and 4) behavior or speech whose
meaning is clear and easily understood. That is to say, "transparency" is a
physical property of certain objects, as well as a metaphor for a jumble of
conflicting human qualities or behaviors (honesty, bad lying, and clarity or
"rationality"). Quite obviously, context of usage will determine a lot:
there can be honesty (clarity of intention) without clarity of expression;
clarity of expression without clarity of intention; and lying (opacity of
intention) without detection (clarity of perception).

But, in all this, there is the underlying assumption that neither obscurity
nor opacity is to be trusted, even if they are in fact not "hiding something
bad"; "hiding" is "bad" in and of itself. In other words, directly
transmitted light (or meaning) is bright, clear and "truthful," and
"darkness" (obscurity or opacity) is dull, stupid and "false." Let us call
this underlying assumption the ideology of transparency. We should note
that, like (pure) silence, (pure) transparency -- or pure, unscattered light
-- does not exist. There are in fact only relative degrees of transparency:
every object, even air or clear glass, scatters a little light or prevents
some of its direct transmittal. Thus, part of the ideology of transparency
is the denial of its relativity, and the irrational belief in and insistence
upon absolute transparency.

The relevance of the ideology of transparency to the use of surveillance
cameras is easy to see: figuratively speaking, the cameras render
transparent any and all walls and other obstacles that stand between the
surveillant and the space he or she wishes to surveill (which we define as
"observe continuously for the purposes of direction, supervision and
control"). There is a clear, though metaphorical, "sight-line" between the
hidden surveillant and his or her target. The most-advanced surveillance
cameras can literally "see through" and render transparent heavy rain,
darkness and such opaque solid objects as clothing. Thus, both literally and
figuratively speaking, surveillance cameras intend to make everything not
only "visible" but transparent, as well. If you are not transparent -- if
you are clearly doing something unfamiliar and "unpredictable," if you are
transparently hiding from or doing something obscure or opaque in front of a
surveillance camera -- you are immediately suspicious, even guilty, of
non-compliance. Ultimately, surveillance cameras are designed to render
transparent to the surveillant's eye the purposes behind and meanings of
every physical movement, indeed, the very thoughts in someone's head: are
these law-abiding thoughts? or are they the thoughts of someone who is about
to break the law or who has already broken the law?


Here George Orwell's nightmarish 1984 remains relevant, 50 years after its
publication. For Orwell dreamed that Big Brother would rule using a
combination of three very modern techniques: video surveillance (the
"Telescreen"), physical coercion ("Room 101"), and both detectable and
undetectable mind-control. (We all remember The Thought Police and the
illegalization of "thought-crime," but we all too easily forget that, as
O'Brien tells Winston, seven years before Winston "first" committed
thought-crime, O'Brien planted in his mind -- without Winston's knowing it
-- the phrase "We will meet in the place where there is no darkness").
Except for the architecture of the city (see below), Orwell envisioned
transparency being imposed at all levels: the walls of the room that Winston
rents from the old shop-keeper are transparent to the gaze of the (hidden)
Telescreen, and Winston's suppressed fear of rats is transparent to O'Brien,
who uses it against Winston in Room 101. There is "no darkness" anywhere in
Big Brother's Oceania; it has been banned and forcibly removed in advance.

In our society, there is "no darkness" -- or, rather, there is "less
darkness" -- in part because the mass of people have been conditioned to
"voluntarily" make themselves transparent to the gaze of all. As
demonstrated by certain works by Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, the
Catholic Church (specifically, the institution of confession, which has
become generalized through-out "Christian" culture), and "reality-based"
televisions shows, respectively, inculcate and reward the adoption and
internalization of the notions that it is both moral and healthy to
routinely render oneself transparent (to either the eyes of God or the eyes
of the camera). No one should be "hiding something," no matter what it is.
Everything must be publicly confessed, no matter how banal or reprehensible.
There is something suspicious -- something morally offensive -- about people
who, in David Brin's words, refuse to stop "cowering in the cool shadows
offered by city life, " people who will neither become completely invisible
nor stop being obscure and opaque.

In this regard, there is substantial interest in the content (and not just
in the form) of "reality-based" television. Under-rated as a TV critic, Jean
Baudrillard long ago pointed to the emergence of transparency -- he
preferred to call it "simulation" -- in the 1970s reality-based television
show that documented the wrenching everyday life of the Loudes, a "real
family." Explicitly arguing against Orwell's foregrounding of physical
coercion and his assumption that Big Brother's gaze would be resisted by
deceit, evasion, and stealth (symbolized by Winston's secret diary),
Baudrillard insisted that the masses were actually people like the Loudes,
who needed no coercing, didn't resist, kept no secrets, and were in fact
quite willing to be surveilled round-the-clock and have their private lives
made transparent to the voyeuristic eyes of the entire TV-watching world. To
control the masses, Baudrillard argued, the State no longer needed either
surveillance cameras (the Telescreen) or the spectacle (as the term was used
by Guy Debord and other members of the Situationist International to
designate a form of capitalist society in which material wealth has become
so accumulated and concentrated that the ruling classes, in order to divert
attention from the necessity of a social revolution in keeping with
society's new wealth, waste some of that surplus wealth in "spectacular"
ritualized public displays of participation). To Baudrillard's eyes, the
masses had internalized the functions of both surveillance camera and
spectacular monitor: the two merged into a single simulacrum of reality, a

Baudrillard's 1970s work reminds us of a very important insight, one that is
similar to the central insight of Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology of
Fascism: people want to be rendered transparent ("famous"), even if they
realize that it isn't in their best interests. The problem is not
intellectual befuddlement or "false consciousness," but repressed desire and
biologically-grounded authoritarian character-structures. But Baudrillard
was wrong about surveillance cameras and ritualized spectacle, both of which
have remained necessary as forms of State control of society. Indeed, these
two tools of power have become ever-more relied upon since the 1970s. As
Orwell understood, these two tools are closely related, a fact which in part
accounts for their effectiveness. Surveillance cameras or the Telescreen
(enforced transparency) accompany and balance the daily "Two Minutes Hate"
broadcast (the spectacle of the transparency of Emmanuel Goldtstein's
guilt). If they are not properly conditioned by the spectacle, people will
not accept the imposition of transparency; without the imposition of
transparency, people will not derive any satisfaction from spectacle.

To briefly pursue a tangent: This does not mean that we are perfectly
comfortable with the situationist concept of spectacle, despite our use of
it in certain contexts. (The concept of spectacle was also elaborated by
Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud.) As the situationists defined and
identified it, the spectacle is (paradoxically) a giant obscurity, an
immense blind spot or opacity. Despite its literal and figurative
"visibility" -- its obsessive visualization (representation) of life -- the
spectacle is essentially a mechanism of distraction, deception, diversion
and dissimulation: Le monde n'est qu'abusion. Debord repeatedly likens the
spectacle to Freud's dream-work in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899):

So long as the realm of necessity remains a social dream, dreaming will
remain a social necessity [Debord writes]. The spectacle is the bad dream of
modern society in chains, expressing nothing more than its wish for sleep.
The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep. [Emphasis added.]

A pretense to a type of X-ray vision rules here. To the "interpreter" (Freud
or Debord), the dream (individial or social) is, despite appearances, not
opaque and is not lacking clarity of expression. The dream (or spectacle) is
transparently the work of the unconscious (or political economy), and the
content of the dream itself, again despite appearances, is transparent (it
is a wish). There is no opacity or contradiction in the spectacle being both
"bad dream" and "the guardian of . . . sleep" if you believe, as Freud did,
that all dreams -- even or especially bad dreams -- are in fact
wish-fulfillments, and that the primary wish that they all fulfill is the
simple wish (the expression of the basic biological need) to continue

The problem here is that, while Freud's subject was actual (literal) sleep,
Debord's "sleep" is metaphorical: in the spectacle, people are encouraged to
act as if they are in a dream, though they are in fact wide awake, and need
to be "woken up" to this fact. Thus, Debord has both inherited a problem
from Freud (the one identified by Wilhelm Reich, i.e., Freud's concept of
"wish-fulfillment" doesn't examine the socio-historical nature of the
creation of wishes and the desire for their fulfillment), and caused one on
his own (the metaphorization of sleep turns a deep psychology into a surface
one that has no understanding of the biological function of
dream-spectacles). Debord doesn't help us when it comes to answering this
fundamental question: if the spectacle is "bad art," then why do people
continue to find it biologically satisfying (and not just temporarily

To return to our point: because of the mirror-like relationship between
surveillance and spectacle, "reality-based" (transparent) television hasn't
simply grown in popularity since The Loudes: it has come to dominate and
re-define television. "America's Funniest Home Videos," "MTV's Real World,"
"The Jerry Springer Show" and others far too numerous to name depend upon,
not celebrities and professional actors, but ordinary people who are happy
to expose their private lives to the global video confessional, even if they
know that they are being ridiculed and laughed at. Such other popular
"reality-based" television shows as "RealTV," "Cops," and the myriad
versions of the "Caught on Tape" theme -- the opposite of shows about real
events that use re-enactments as their content, and thus retain a degree of
opacity -- have also completely dispensed with celebrities and actors, and
rely exclusively on footage of ordinary people that has been recorded by
either other "private" citizens or police departments. A carnival of
constitutional-rights violations, these shows horrify and disgust everyone
except those who irrationally fancy themselves to be better, more
knowledgeable or smarter people because they, unlike those idiots who have
been "caught" doing stupid things and are now being publicly displayed, know
that everyone is being surveilled at all moments, and that "there is no more
privacy." How do they know this? Because they themselves are the
surveillants of themselves!

Paradoxically, the desire to "participate" in the spectacle of "reality" --
an irrational desire born of a society that is based upon passivity,
spectatorship and non-intervention -- is so strong that people are willing
to destroy whatever human reality their lives had in order to become
"famous." A growing number of people -- most notoriously American high
school students -- commit spectacular crimes (murder/suicides) so as to
appear on the news, "be famous" and thereby "participate" in the transparent
reality of the spectacle -- when, tragically, it is in fact as impossible to
"participate" in transparent reality as it is to breathe in a vacuum.

You will readily understand why people will go to any lengths to get in the
film to cover themselves with any old film scrap . . junky . . narcotics
agent . . thief . . informer . . anything to avoid the hopeless dead-end
horror of being just who and where you all are: dying animals on a doomed
planet. -- William S. Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 1962.

Ironically, this rush to make oneself famous at any cost takes place within
the same spectacular culture in which a great many celebrities are fighting
to re-gain the personal privacy they gave away when they themselves became
famous! The celebrities have realized something that the celebrity-wannabes
are not psychologically prepared to understand: when you play a role on
television or in the movies, that role -- that character's structure -- will
be transparent (will have no psychological depth, will have a
two-dimensional "clarity" and will be motivated by obsessions so narrow as
to be completely unbelievable). This is especially true when it comes to
"bad guys," the mentally ill, "perverts" and criminals of all kinds. On such
very popular "reality-based" fictions as "LA Law," "Hill Street Blues," "Law
& Order," and "NYPD Blue" -- note that few such fictions deviate from the
theme of crime-and-punishment -- tautology rules. Mentally ill people do
unexplainable things "because they are crazy" and "perverts" do
unmentionable things "because they are sick." Police officers or district
attorneys are obsessed to an unhealthy degree with prosecuting sex offenders
because they themselves are victims of sexual abuse and want to "heal."
Precisely because of their transparency, these utter failures of logic,
psychological understanding and character development are good TV.

As a result of being routinely, even systematically confused with the
transparent roles that they play -- and finding that this confusion clearly
reduces, distorts and even endangers their humanity -- celebrities now speak
out against the very transparence (the systematic spectacularization of
private life) that makes them successful as actors in the first place! The
politicians, too: like the celebrities, whom they've been imitating since
the early 1960s, the scandal-plagued politicians want exactly what the
public doesn't want: privacy, time in the shadows of anonymity.

Quite obviously, not every ordinary person wants to be visible to the point
of becoming transparent. Indeed, a great many people both cherish their own
privacy and are totally uninterested in the private lives of politicians and
celebrities. Unfortunately, even if there are no surveillance cameras
present and even if one is neither a confessor nor an exhibitionist, it is
increasingly difficult to be opaque in our society. A great many people,
even those who actively try to protect their privacy, routinely have their
rights to privacy and anonymity violated by any number of parties that
thrive on a constant input of data, information and intelligence (police
investigators, credit bureaus, market-researchers, businesses, government
agencies, secret services, industrial spies, reporters, voyeurs,
curiosity-seekers, stalkers etc. etc.)

The invention and proliferation of computers and computerized-networks have
obviously exacerbated the problem, even brought it to the point of crisis.
Every day newspapers carry accounts such as this one, which was published on
2 November 1999.

WASHINGTON (AP) The company behind wildly popular software for listening to
music on computers [RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle] is apologizing to
consumers amid complaints that its program secretly collected details about
the listening preferences of millions of its customers [...] More than 12
million people use the software, which puts it among the world's most
popular programs for listening to CDs and digital music on the Internet. A
security expert, Richard M. Smith of Brookline, Mass., found that the
software secretly transmitted to the company's headquarters details about
which music CDs each customer listens to and how many songs he copies, along
with a serial number that could be used to identify him. RealNetworks
insisted it never stored the information, which would have been lucrative
for marketing purposes. "We made a mistake in not being clear enough to our
users about what kinds of data was being generated and transmitted," said
Rob Glaser, the company's chief executive. He said officials "deeply

And so let us be as clear as we can: transparency is in fact rarely
consensual, and is most often forcibly and secretly imposed. One only learns
about its imposition when it is too late, and from people who add insult to
serious injury (here, by claiming that they never stored the very valuable
information that they risked so much to obtain). With these ideas in mind,
let us now expand our discussion of the ideology of transparency to include
its role in architecture, business law and world trade.


A great deal of contemporary urban architecture (the Glass Court in
Columbia's Lerner Hall, for example) has become similar in appearance to the
automated teller-machine facilities at banks: full of transparent surfaces,
mirrored surfaces and surveillance cameras. More than simply "forms in
light" (as Le Corbusier defined them), contemporary office buildings --
which are almost invariably giant squares, rectangles or triangles made of
steel frames and glass walls that can easily be seen through -- are now
forms of light. Here, in the spectacularization of urban architecture, the
ideology of transparency attains a concrete form. The literally transparent
office building -- like the "open" gridded street plan that is designed to
prevent opacity in the circulation of vehicles, people and commodities --
both signifies and embodies the transparency of capitalism's designs upon
and domination of the entirety of human society, all of life, the very
planet itself. The absence of opacity in such streets and buildings is meant
to insist that (now) nothing stands in capitalism's way. Like X-rays (or the
gaze of God), capitalism knows no limits: it can penetrate anywhere and can
see everything.

It is worth noting in this context that the surveilled city in We, the
dystopian novel by Eugene Zamiatin upon which Orwell based 1984, is an
abstract modern city made entirely of transparent glass. In 1984, by
contrast, the architecture of the city hasn't been re-made to make possible
and sustain the gaze of Big Brother: it has simply been allowed to age and
deteriorate. Perhaps because Orwell himself knew war-time scarcity better
than post-war prosperity, his novel doesn't include any hint that Big
Brother might finally be successful enough to dispense with the pretense of
the (phony) wars between Oceania and the two other super-powers, and use the
"freed" resources to express his victory, raise the general standard of
living, and "modernize" the city as a Panopticon.

In New York City (a city famous for its glittering steel-and-glass office
buildings), there are buildings that -- because they are built upon a
handful of massive and totally exposed pillars -- appear to be floating
above the ground rather than built upon it. Quite obviously, there are
rhymes here between old-style vertical monopolies and old-style
vertically-oriented buildings, and between new-style horizontal monopolies
and new buildings that seem to hover over the ground. The hovering buildings
-- some of which are also made of steel-and-glass -- take the ideology of
materialized transparency to dizzying heights: capitalism has apparently
finally succeeded in separating itself from the very earth, from earth-bound
human society and its mundane concerns. Capitalism has become transparently
visible everywhere and yet tied to no where in particular. It's very means
of support (humanity) has become transparent to the point of invisibility.


Transparency is one of the buzz-words among the international capitalist
elite. In regards China, which is, to the Western mind, the most obscure,
inscrutable and opaque country in the world, Daniel H. Rosen (member of the
Council on Foreign Relations, Research Fellow at the Institute for
International Economics, and the author of the 1999 book Behind the Open
Door: Foreign Enterprises in the Chinese Marketplace), writes

Greater transparency has been a consistent goal of [on-going] bilateral and
multi-lateral negotiations [on trade], and in fact much progress has been
made in this regard. By keeping regulations secret, authorities [in China]
could implement them as flexibly or arbitrarily as they wished. Earlier
investors were willing to come to China without having full access to the
[Chinese] statutes. But as the economy matured, policymakers have become
more concerned with a diminishing FIE [Foreign Investment Enterprise]
inclination to invest without transparency. China has had to make its rules
and regulations more public as a result [...] Transparency is clearly a
prerequisite for predictability and compliance. Although relationships with
high-powered leaders may temporarily substitute for the predictability
provided by a sound, transparent legal regime, in the long term these
leaders will be gone and a new generation of regulators will take their

In this truly global vision, transparency is required at all levels: at the
international level (that of the World Trade Organization, the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank); at the national level (in this instance,
China); and at the regional and local levels as well, because China, like
all the other very populous countries (and China still has the biggest
population by far), is actually a spectacular unification of autonomous
regions, and therefore conflict-ridden. But different forms of transparency
will not do: transparency means uniformity; the same transparency must exist
at all levels for the illusion to work.

The creation of a global totalitarian regime of transparency has been a long
time in the making and is far from complete. As even Daniel H. Rosen must
remind his readers,

For 50 years, the international trade policy regime has been developed and
refined, in order to bring freer trade and the accompanying economic
benefits to nations. Its embodiment is the World Trade Organization (WTO),
whose focus has been barriers to trade, such as tariffs, quotas, and
arbitrary trade bans (e.g., those couched as spurious health concerns
[sic]). The regime has been fairly successful at dealing with these
impediments. Partly because tariffs are lower as a result of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and WTO, and partly because trade with less
economically developed countries such as China has increased, attention is
turning to the domestic analogue of the open international trade regime:
domestic distribution rules, or competition policy. Ironically, although the
belief that openness in international rules of trade produces rich rewards
for everyone involved is almost universal [sic], openness in rules has
barely taken hold domestically in many countries.

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