The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. The name is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman.
The design consists of a circular structure with an “inspection house” at its centre, from which the manager or staffs of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term.
Bentham himself described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” Elsewhere, he described the Panopticon prison as “a mill for grinding rogues honest”.
”Panopticon”, is an installation consisting of eighteen CCTV cameras, by the Polish artist Roch Forowicz, 2008 Photo: http://www.environment.pl/panopticon.html
Panopticon in practice
In the spring of 2011 Dutch filmmaker Peter Vlemmix read an article about body scanners. He decided to go a search for the state of privacy in The Netherlands, and discovered that society is starting to show signs of a panopticon. But how does this exactly work, why are f. ex. the once liberal Netherlands especially privacy troubled, and when will we all start to feel the consequences? We are already feeling the consequence and this phenomenon works like this: Data scanning and storage information of everything a citizen does both publicly and private. By using every means technically (not necessary politically) possible in surveillance on all types of internet use, digital traces you leave on the net, GPS in cars, on smartphones, cameras in public spaces, on public transportation, company based spying on employees or other companies, state sponsored spying, etc. This so-called Metadata (all the data content collected) can then be used by authorities, agencies to give them the information and control they need in some circumstances.
Imagine: You are participating in a demonstration with the Global Positioning System (GPS) on your smartphone in the pocket. Maybe you are an “ordinary” participant or maybe you are a leader. Imagine further that this demonstration or protest is one in a row of rather important protests against the government, and a possibility for change, maybe change of the whole system, globally. What better tools can the authorities and capitalists get than surveillance, in this case, through GPS-monitoring. Especially interesting is it to get information on the leaders doing and whereabouts. In managing to control and catch leading persons of an uproar, is basic for trying to control and intimidate the masses. But not necessary so, the people can turn and fight back. Anyway, this is not conspiratorial writing, this can happen and have also been used against f. ex. persons and possible the Occupy movement in the US.
The Data Retention Directive, more formally “Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC”, is a Directive issued by the European Union and relates to Telecommunications data retention. According to the directive, member states will have to store citizens’ telecommunications data for 6-24 months stipulating a maximum time period. Under the directive the police and security agencies will be able to request access to details such as IP address and time of use of every email, phone call and text message sent or received. A permission to access the information will be granted only by a court. But “astonishingly” 8th of April 2014, the highest court in the EU, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), declared it invalid. What will happen next is any ones guess.
The EU directive has been transposed into Romanian law as well, initially as Law 298/2008. However, the Constitutional Court of Romania subsequently struck down the law in 2009 as violating constitutional rights. The court held that the transposing act violated the constitutional rights of privacy, of confidentiality in communications, and of free speech. The European Commission has subsequently sued Romania in 2011 for non-implementation, threatening Romania with a fine of 30,000 euros per day. The Romanian parliament passed a new law in 2012, which was signed by president Traian Băsescu in June. The Law 82/2012 has been nicknamed “Big Brother” by various Romanian non-governmental organizations opposing it. This is a good example of what can happen if the “master’s voice” is not clearly “understood”!