The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Surveillance is Power

"When inmates believe they are being watched, they conform to what they believe to be the norms of the prison and the expectations of their jailors. Surveillance is a mechanism by which powerful entities assert their power over less powerful individuals." (74)

This immediately reminds me of the panopticon, a completely surveilled prison design of Jeremy Bentham's. Powerful individuals often assert themselves as tyrannical rulers, and in every single example, the society they create is devoid of privacy, full of spies and surveillance. Privacy is a degree of freedom that can be very detrimental. If the nature of any action is hidden from any authority, then any action could theoretically be allowed. Almost always authority is powerful for a reason, and defying outright is not an option. This means that should the subjects under the authority wish to act in defiance, they must do so in secret. In the panopticon another extremely important element of the design is the lack of communication between inmates. Extreme surveillance accomplishes this effect, as the inmates are unable to speak without being listened to and are thus unable to step outside of the norms set by the authority. In George Orwell's 1984, the protagonist Winston lives in a dystopian future world where everyone is constantly under the watchful gaze of "Big Brother." Above all else Winston's very alone, and feels like he has no actual friends. The threat of punishment from authority is oftentimes more powerful than any physical restraint. The threat that someone might be watching creates enough pressure to follow the rules set out.



No, the Fact I Don't Want You To Read My Texts Doesn't Mean I'm Obviously Breaking The Law

They want the right to be ignored by the people who they see as being “in their business.” Teens are not particularly concerned about organizational actors; rather, they wish to avoid paternalistic adults who use safety and protection as an excuse to monitor their everyday sociality. (Boyd, 56)

This chapter, and in particular this section, reminded me of a disagreement I've had with my parents time and time again - If I've got nothing to hide, then I should have nothing to fear, and therefore my parents should be allowed to access my digital communications without me protesting.

Parents often assume that if teens are being secretive, it means they're doing something illicit, and by monitoring communications, they are protecting their child from harm. Sure, it's true that teens do things that break house or school rules, or even laws, but if that's the case, it would make sense that they would use forms of communication that minimize the chance of later incrimination, meaning their messages would still be difficult to access even if their phone was confiscated. And of course, many teens are innocent in all these respects, and yet still want to maintain their privacy.

Kids (usually) don't want to keep their texts secret out of fear of punishment for illicit activities from their families, schools, or governments. As Boyd mentions throughout the chapter, it's simply because there's a certain level of privacy expected from what is essentially the digital form of a private conversation. Even if it takes place on social media- such as a comments section of a post - its still considered to be the equivalent of a private space, in which only certain members are allowed. If you had a group of friends over in one room, it would be considered rude for someone to eavesdrop on your conversation even if they can technically access that space or a space adjacent to it.

This leads me to the second flaw in many parents logic - when a parents reads their child's texts, or looks through their social media interactions, they aren't invading just their own child's privacy. My parents, for example, often argued that as my parents, they were entitled to the right to invade my privacy. However, by looking at my texts without my permission, they are also invading the privacy of the other party in the conversation. Even if the information being shared isn't illicit or even that sensitive, it's awkward and socially odd for someone to have knowledge of the private conversations of people they only indirectly know. The discomfort in these situations doesn't arise from fear of punishment - rather, it's the fuzzy boundaries and awkward relationships that can result from such surveillance.

Teenagers should possess their privacy

Whether privacy is a “right” that children can or cannot have, or a privilege that teens must earn, adult surveillance shapes teens’ understanding of—and experience with—privacy.

Our parents are the earliest teachers of us and their actions and way of teaching really shape us the understanding of the world of privacy. Parents as the people who love us most, they really want to ensure our safety in our daily life, so they will ask what have you done today in school and questions like this. Their purpose of surveillance their children is good, but sometimes interference with their children a lot is bad for their development. Children will rely too much on their parents and tell them all the problems that they have. By doing this, their parents will intervene in their children’s lives a lot and this will result in their children lacking being independent. When we grow up and finally need to handle all the stuff by ourselves, we become less confident in finishing it by ourselves. Without parents’ surveillance, we are more likely making mistakes since we may have never learned from our own mistakes. If parents provide their children with more freedom and give them more privacy, they can explore and learn from their own experiences. With this, children will learn to handle their own privacy and their own life. Besides parents, society also should create a private environment for teenagers to live in as general.

Ineffective but Accurate

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham introduced a design he called a panopticon (“all seeing”) to be used in prisons or institutions such that all inmates can be watched by a single guard. Although there aren’t any structures of this model in existence, the concept can be viewed as a symbol for modern government surveillance. Benjamin Walker argues that this metaphor is weak, but I would argue that the panopticon, although not the most effective model, actually offers an accurate representation of our current system of surveillance.

The key feature of the panopticon is that each participant is unable to know whether he or she is being watched. The assumption, therefore, is that each inmate is inclined to behave as if they were in fact being monitored all the time. However, a single guard cannot watch a large number of people individually at the same time. Any informed inmate who knows the concept of the model understands that it is impossible that they are actually being watched all the time, realizing they  can get away with misbehaviors some of the time. For this reason, the panopticon is conceptually flawed.

Although the panopticon may not be the most efficient model, I think it actually offers a pretty accurate description of what we understand about the current system of surveillance. It is impossible for a single individual or organization to monitor all the online activity of everyone. If participants understand the system, they know that they can’t possibly be monitored all the time. People believe they can and still do get away with shady online activities.

We in Fact Know

The argument that Benjamen Walker presents is one that claims that the analogy of the Panopticon does not correlate with the surveillance of our conversations and our actions. For the most part, I believe that Benjamin Walker has every right to say this simply because of the fundamental basis for both of these concepts.

The Panopticon, in essence, is a building that serves as a "surveillance machine". It was a structure that Jeremy Bentham advocated for and mainly thought of its use as a prison, where the prisoners sat in their respective cells in the open circular building, while the guards stood in the illuminated tower, having the ability to watch the prisoners at any given moment. Due to the illumination of the center tower, the prisoners could not see outside their cell, which means that they do not know if they are being watched at any point in time. And while this analogy can be generally acceptable, understanding what surveillance is in our context can help us understand the flaws of this comparison.

One noticeable hole is that in terms of surveillance, we do in fact know that we are being watched. In fact, we have come to accept the fact that we are being watched practically all the time. Yet many a time, we don't let that thought affect what we decide to see or what we decide to say in our daily conversations. The comparison to the prison would be accurate if the government was hindering our every word, our every Google search, etc. But because this is not the case, the Panopticon cannot be an effective way to describe the surveillance that happens today.

The Panopticon as a Faulty Metaphor

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham came up with the idea of the Panopticon: a prison where a guard is located in a tower. He can see all the prisoners, but the prisoners can not see him. In addition, the prisoners are not aware if they are being watched or not. As a result, prisoners act on their best behavior. Some have equated the idea of the Panopticon to Internet surveillance. I agree with Walker's argument that you can not compare the two.

The main fault in this analogy is the fact that citizens are unaware of the fact that the government can look at their Internet data. We are mostly ignorant to the exact magnitude of the government's surveillance abilities. As a result, people do not try to make their search history particularly clean or innocent. In addition, I believe that if people were aware that the government was watching their online activity, most individuals would not alter their actions much as the average person is not doing anything illegal online.

Another issue with the Panopticon metaphor is that the prisoners are completely isolated from one another. The Internet has the complete opposite effect on its users, actually bringing people together and connecting individuals on a level never seen before in history. Because of this connection, individuals are able to share their ideas of surveillance. If someone becomes suspicious of their privacy, they would be able to share their sentiments with other Internet users.

We Don't Care That We're Being Watched

The principle problem of the Panopticon metaphor is rooted in Bentham's original purpose for the structure: behavioral modification. As Walker puts it, Bentham believed that the mere act of being being watched constantly would alter a person's behavior, adding a layer of accountability and therefore pushing the person in question towards a more moral or sociably acceptable course of action.

As Walker points out, however, modern surveillance is completely incompatible with this idea. He uses the example of digital watchers overstepping their boundaries, but it is apparent that even in everyday, mundane examples of surveillance, people simply don't change their behavior. For example, consider Facebook. It's no secret that Facebook tracks and stores almost every bit of information its users will provide it (how else will Zuckerberg learn what it means to be human). Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, that knowledge became headline news; everyone knew Facebook was effectively spying on them. Since then, Facebook has gained almost 100 million users.

If people know they're being watched, why do they opt into the system?

Simply put, it's because it's impossible to live without the system. The Panopticon may have been a prison, but technology is so integral to modern life that opting out simply isn't an option. Beyond just Facebook, social media provides a fast and efficient communication system, and Google is the premiere tool to find information in the blink of an eye. These systems are unlike prison in that we want and need to be a part of them to survive the modern world. They've made life easy and convenient enough that the expectation is that we use them to augment our abilities to both work and play. For that reason, the Panopticon is a defunct metaphor that cannot encapsulate the complexity of modern surveillance. It's not just that there are too many actors that watch us from the watchtower, but that we have to remain in the prison if we want to maintain a standard of living that we're used to; we've collectively decided that the opportunity cost of opting out of the system is too great, even if we maintain some semblance of privacy. Yet, we don't begrudgingly use these apps, either. People still love to browse using Google, wish their friends 'happy birthday' on Facebook, and post their latest fire selfie on Instagram.

Altogether, we just really don't care that we're being watched.

Too Many Eyes to Fit in the Panopticon's Tower

I would agree with Walker’s claim that the Panopticon is not an accurate metaphor for the average human’s interaction with surveillance today. While it could be argued that the government does watch over us and large corporations do silently collect our data, most people are not aware of this and thus it does not enact behavioral changes like it was supposed to do in the Panopticon. Additionally, Walker argues that the Panopticon metaphor limits its idea of surveillance solely to the “big brother” in the tower—the NSA or government, in our case—while today there exists so many other forms of surveillance such as the “self-surveillance” present on so many social media sites, or the ability of companies like Facebook to collect and sell your data, or Amazon’s Alexa to listen in on your conversations to find out what you might want to buy next. I would argue, however, that our increasingly socially connected world allows for the “self-surveillance” of another nature, however. Not only do social media sites allow so much scrutiny by the court of public opinion that it might feel like someone is always watching you online, but many social media outlets now have means of physical surveillance by one’s own peers. Apps like “Find my Friends” allow those who you “add” to track your location, while the widely used social media app Snapchat has now created a map that shows you where all of your Snapchat friends are at any given time, provided that they are not on “ghost mode.” Services like these allow for so much more surveillance from many sources, not just the man in the Panopticon’s tower.

The Walls Are Very Porous

Jeremy Bentham’s great theory was the Panopticon: a hypothetical prison design in which all inmates could be seen and observed by those in charge, but the inmates themselves could not see the observers, nor could they see any other inmates. It’s an interesting concept to think about in theory, but it is not useful as a metaphor in our conversations about surveillance, and, as time goes on, its effectiveness will only diminish.

There are two key features to the Panopticon that make it unique: the observer sees all, but is not observed, and those being observed are isolated from one another. The first feature fits fairly well as a metaphor into our conversations about surveillance. The observer (in this case, probably the government) takes information from the internet, from travel history, from any official record of our existence in the world, without our knowledge. We are observed, but we never see it happen.

Where the Panopticon metaphor breaks down is in the second feature: those being observed are isolated from each other. In the conversation of surveillance, it’s unclear exactly what this part would stand as a metaphor for. People are more connected now than at any point in human history, and that is made possible by the same technology that makes modern surveillance possible. Instead of building metaphorical walls between us, the internet gives us access to each other like nothing ever has. It’s called the information superhighway for a reason: it instantaneously connects us from across the world.

For the Panopticon to be a more useful metaphor, I would suggest a tweak to the design: make the walls between inmates out of glass. Better yet, remove them entirely.

We Live in a Panopticon, Here's Why

The concept of the panopticon in a practical sense seems inefficient, as the whole idea of it builds of the power on the individuality of the worker. The idea that without collaboration, there is no workplace interference that would slow workers down. In principle, leading to increased productivity. However without workers collaborating on projects and sharing information on how to maximize time and space, the quality of finished products would be inconsistent as each individual worker would create a piece that varies from one colleague to the next. Leading certain pieces of a project or product to become incompatible because of these slight individualities creating a faulty product and thus a flawed system.

Metaphorically, I do not agree with his thesis. I believe that the metaphor of the panopticon is accurate regarding our conversations about surveillance. From how I understood it, the panopticon metaphor is about an authority watching us but we cannot see them like the government or an internet company watching over us regular people and collecting data from our online habits. The metaphor makes sense to me because we don’t know who has access to our online information like our passwords or emails much like people working in a panopticon have no idea who’s in the tower watching them or if they are even being watched in the first place.

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