Government surveillance is nothing new. Espionage of all forms and frames by powerful groups is woven throughout the fabric of the history of civilizations. Today, in the context of 21st century technological reliance, it is increasingly easy to track, monitor, and log data on the attitudes and behaviors of any American citizen with a cell phone or personal computer. American citizens are being monitored all the time as a means of social control. Foucault called this the panopticon, an “all seeing eye” that once internalized, controls our behaviors for fear of consequences, real or imagined. Infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed how the American government invested in infrastructure to monitor and track (virtually) every American citizen in their online life, cautions that the fallout from the current push for monitoring in the context of COVID-19, will allow these ever encroaching eyes to become even more probing, and potentially lasting in our private lives. This week we examine government surveillance from the three dominant sociological perspectives, and include discussion of criminalization of deviance, and privacy vs. safety.
Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Government Surveillance of a Crisis
LO1: Explain how powerful groups use times of anomie to facilitate changes to the social order that inevitably add more mechanisms of social control for citizens.
LO2: Explain how functionalist, conflict, and interactionist theorists might approach the topic of government surveillance in the time of a pandemic.
LO3: Discuss how the social construction of privacy and safety are questioned and why it is important for them to be more critically assessed during times of global crises.
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What are the intended functions of government surveillance, according to most neoliberal governments? What opportunities are there for dysfunction to occur, such as breaches of security and exposing private data? Why are we likely to sacrifice our privacy for security? What narrative is compelling this acquiescence?
How might C. Wright Mills view the issue of government surveillance through his lens of the power elite? What opportunities for oppression and exploitation are being exposed that the power elite can take advantage of? How might the revelation of these deep flaws in the systems of American culture drive social change? In your view, how likely is this to occur? Why?
How does the social construction of social control change during times of crisis? What attitudes and behaviors that were at one time impermissible, and today are a regular occurrence? What already stigmatized labels are being heightened during this crisis? What populations are likely to experience the most increased supervision as a result of this crisis? Why?
What is the relationship between safety and privacy? How secure and private do you believe your personal information is at this moment? Who controls the access to your personal information? Who is using your personal information, and for what purposes? Why don’t we talk about ideas such as these on a regular basis, and instead opt to take our safety and privacy for granted?
What implications for amendments to social interaction norms do you foresee in the future? How will enforcement of these norms be monitored? What are acceptable consequences to violating these norms, both mores and folkways? How might this shift lead to greater scrutiny of certain populations and more relaxed supervision of others? Are you comfortable with our government having a record of (potentially) every social interaction you engage in? Why or why not?
- COVID-19, surveillance and the threat to your rights
- Use of surveillance to fight coronavirus raises concerns about government power after pandemic ends
- How EFF Evaluates Government Demands for New Surveillance Powers
- The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Set Off A Massive Expansion Of Government Surveillance. Civil Libertarians Aren’t Sure What To Do.
- U.K. Government Is Using Coronavirus As Excuse To Ramp Up Surveillance
- Snowden Warns Governments Are Using Coronavirus to Build ‘the Architecture of Oppression’
- Edward Snowden: Why Does Online Privacy Matter?
- Watch: Are We Vesting Too Much Power in Governments and Corporations in the Name of Covid-19? With Edward Snowden.
A _______ theorist would likely be interested in researching how the monitoring of people who are exposed to COVID-19 will be used by officials in government, the economy, and healthcare to facilitate an opportunity for stability in society on the other side of shelter in place.
b. Social Conflict
A _______ theorist would likely question how the monitoring of citizens who are said to have been exposed to COVID-19 would create opportunities for already marginalized populations to be pushed further to the fringes of social order and more closely scrutinized and reprimanded for violations of social mores.
b. Social Conflict
A _______ theorist would likely be curious to learn how increased awareness of the invasive tactics our government is using to monitor the wellness of citizens being used beyond the outbreak would influence the interactions between neighbors in communities.
b. Social Conflict
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