#see power tuesdays: Surveillance technology


Trevor Paglen Untitled (2010) – Reaper Drone in the Californian sky (that tiny dot just on the right of the frame)

This week on “The nature of power in the 21st century”, I am pondering the question of technological change and power. As today is Tuesday, let’s see if the link between new technology and power can be made visible.

One of the major shifts in the last decade is the hugely increased possibility of governments to collect, evaluate and store gigantic amounts of data on their citizens and non-citizens. State-building in the 19th century and beyond went hand in hand with centralisation and bureaucratic control. Such state power – to control its subjects via information it possessed about them – got a huge shot in the arm thanks to ICT and surveillance technology, at a time when state power is generally supposed to be on the wane. World leader in this domain is no doubt the United States, so at least in this department, its “imperial moment” shows no sign of passing.

The 1843 Magazine (ex Intelligent Life of The Economist) brings us a beautiful and fittingly haunting photo reportage on the subject. The pictures the photographer Trevor Paglen
takes of objects and infrastructure used for spying on us are both
deeply troubling and absolutely beautiful. If you have a chance, run to
see them. They are on show in London at the Photographers’ Gallery

It is too early to tell what democratic countries will do with this technology. Authoritarian countries use it the old fashioned way – to control and to repress. For all intents and purposes, the system the US has put into place has all the hallmarks of a machine for totalitarian control. We can only hope it stays dormant.

Johanna M

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