Crimes are rampant today and laws have been implicated to prevent crime and impose regulations in a nation. Many laws have been reformed from brutal tortures to a lighter punishment which is imprisoning the law breakers. Even if this is more humane than the previous punishments, prison is still criticized by many. Michel Foucault was one who criticized imprisonment in his book ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’. He discusses the disciplinary power and its difference from the sovereign power of the state. In his book, he discusses a prison, Panopticon, of Illinois State Penitentiary. His idea was adopted in bringing more surveillance after the September 11th attack. National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to secure more information and prevent terrorism attacks than the 9/11 attack. Monitoring is harmless but to analyze further, it is like imprisoning the lives of civilian in surveillance and leaving their privacy lesser than they’ve thought.
Foucault’s point in his book regarding the birth of prison is about the whole control of representative government to society at large. His context of analysis gave a notion that power is discipline. He cited that this kind of power was taken by the state from the army in France in the 17th century. Then spread at a large scale to societies and institutions. He did use as an example the architectural design of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon wherein the powerful person is at the center monitoring the prisoners (European Graduate School).
He discussed that the institutions like armies, factories, and schools are being disciplined by the head through surveillance, knowledge-gathering technique, both real and perceived. He then concluded that the body or the subjects are being controlled psychologically because of these techniques that they are using to their subjects. Disciplinary power can be seen in this institutions wherein their thoughts or psychologically manipulated by the head of these institutions. Producing docile bodies or submissive subjects to their leaders are their main objective in doing the monitoring of these institutions. This will then give wholly power to the head or acting official because their subjects are being controlled and lead easily. According to him, prison is actually an institution. Thus, Foucault concluded that the prison system is an institution whose produces criminality and recidivism to their prisoners (European Graduate School).
Disciplinary power has been criticized in many aspects for it can take away the freedom of an individual. However, sovereign power mainly exists for the sake of the subjects of the state. John F. Covaleskie of Northern Michigan University discussed three differences of disciplinary power and sovereign power. First, disciplinary power is diffuse in its power which means it can be everywhere, and acting to everyone; while sovereign power operates through specific visible agents. Second, because the operation of disciplinary power is diffused, it is almost invisible amongst the people making it all-pervasive, difficult to locate, and difficult to resist; while sovereign power, being visible, can be subject to resistance by its subjects. And third, because of invisibility, disciplinary power affects all aspects of living, everyone is possibly subject to surveillance at all times; while sovereign power only affects a small portion of an individual’s life because of its visibility and leading the subjects the possibility or power to choose where most of people are being resistant (Covaleskie).
Surveillance was first used in the plagues of 17th century. It is used to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses. This was done by locking up all the villagers in their home for several weeks and guards are monitoring the villagers. Therefore it is like imprisoning those people. In this surveillance, a system is based on a permanent registration: reports from the syndics to intendants and from the intendants to the magistrates or the mayor of the town. Before the lock-up for quarantine, the information of the villagers is being recorded like age, sex and other information notwithstanding the condition of a certain villager. Then, the monitoring will take place. Everything that will happen like deaths, illness, complaints, and irregularities are being noted and given to the magistrate or the mayor. The head, mayor or magistrate, has the whole control like there was specific physician in the area and no one else, and the guards or sentinels. Nobody was allowed to leave the village unless it was ordered. Therefore, the villagers were either subject to death penalty or contingency (Foucault).
The best example of surveillance in history is the Panopticon of Jeremy Bentham. The whole building was in full control by a supervisor being in the tower at the center of an architectural masterpiece. All of the information from the subjects is being collected easily since the head is in the center. This is a big advantage in addressing the needs or controlling the behavior of all the subjects in the building. The guards will then be seemed obsolete because of the structure. Imposing such power by an individual or a certain group of a society is panopticism. Some government agencies like NSA are actually in full control of surveillance to prevent terrorism in the whole United States (Foucault).
Surveillance doesn’t end to monitoring it but the head or acting representative of government will take action in order to address the need of certain terrorism. It is being used by disciplinary power in order to prevent further damage to the state. For example, if there’s any suspicious activity caught in a suspicious place, then the authority will take action in order to prevent further terroristic acts. Giving many surveillance cameras to almost everywhere give full control to these enforcers. However, if this surveillance programs are being used excessively though unnecessary, it might cause some violations in human rights.
The 9/11 attack was the most, so far, tragic terrorist attack in the US. A series of legal changes had accelerated because of this attack. Because of the changes, police have acquired unprecedented surveillance, search, and seizure authority (Bloss 210). To maximize the prevention of terrorism inside the country, government reassesses the needs of its nation’s security by widening the surveillance globally. US government used the idea of Foucault in Panopticon by using US as the center tower and the world as the cells. They are continually gathering information inside and outside the nation in effort to avert future terrorists’ attacks by using the latest technologies today (Bloss 211).
The global surveillance was actually a theory from other researches but it has been proven when a whistleblower, an employee of NSA itself, talked about the NSA’s surveillance activity worldwide in partnership with Central Intelligence Agency. Edward Snowden did speak in 2013 regarding the privacy rights of all the people. He said that internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world is being monitored with their massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building (Greenwald, MacAskill and Poitras).
The application surveillance program is actually for peace but in some cases if it can’t be controlled and if power is being emphasized, the freedom will be taken away from us. However, in return, we must cooperate or collaborate with the authorities in order to prevent crime within our nation. It is difficult to trust invisible law enforcers leaving us to fear them but we must know how to sustain our leaders in this nation in order to have a fluent relationship and to become a crime-free country. Surveillance might be a symbol of power but it can be replaced by cooperative reports from us, civilians, rather than them to force us for them to take the information they need.
Bloss, William. Escalating U.S. Police Surveillance after 9/11: an Examination of Causes and Effects. Surveillance & Society. n.d. Print.
Covaleskie, John F. Power Goes to School: Teachers, Students, and Discipline. Northern Michigan University, MI, 2005. Web. 17 December, 2014. <http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/covaleski01.htm>
European Graduate School. Michel Foucault – Biography. n.d. Web. 17 December, 2014. <http://www.egs.edu/library/michel-foucault/biography/>
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, Panopticism. Ed. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. Web. 17 December, 2014. <http://foucault.info/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault.disciplineandpunish.panopticism.html>
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. A. Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1977. Web. 17 December, 2014. <http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~felluga/punish.html>
Greenwald, Glenn, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras. Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations. Hong Kong. The Guardian, 10 June 2013. Web. 17 December, 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance>