Technologies have always created societal concerns about privacy, surveillance and sousveillance. It is not simply an issue that affected society in the past as Baran (1967) suggested, but it will continue to have implications for society, the government and the individual. While Baran’s vision of a “centralised computing system” such as cloud computing did emerge in the next decade, he realises that privacy of the individual with regards to this technology is fragile and that “nothing more than trust…stands in the way of a would-be eavesdropper”. Morozov (2013) acknowledges that the global spread of digital networks has decreased communication costs and increased the efficiency of communication, yet he realises that this has created affordances for government “surveillance”, triggered by world events such as the 9/11 attacks and the rise of data-collecting corporations, such as Google and Facebook. When individuals as a collective initially embraced these new technologies, particularly Facebook and other data-collecting websites, there was little knowledge of the capacity of the same to use an individual’s personal information for marketing and other purposes. Baran notes that government agencies can co-operate with these data-collecting companies to acquire personal data for “security purposes”. Further, technologies which hold a large amount of personal data can monitor an individual so much that they can actively prevent or encourage individual action. For instance, in the lecture Andrew Murphie spoke about a program installed in Google Glass that will warn the individual if they are about to eat a chocolate bar and exceed their prescribed dietary intake. Similarly, Morozov gives the example of Google Glass “pinging” an individual if they are about to “stupid, unhealthy or unsound”.
Conversely, technology and data allows the government to be distant from its citizens. O’Reilly coins this issue “algorithmic regulation” whereby information-rich democracies use technology to solve public problems without having to explain or justify their decisions to individuals, but by using data to create an “irresistible nudge” which appeals to its citizens. However, this means that individuals are unaware of the process involved and how social institutions work. I do not agree with O’Reilly’s notion of algorithmic regulation because it omits any accountability from government and there are such mechanisms in place such as question time in parliament, and the fourth estate, particularly journalists and programs like Media Watch.
Furthermore, data-collecting technologies such as shopping websites, online surveys and credit cards are integrated into society so much that it normalises surveillance, weaving it into our everyday life. We do not consciously notice that data is being collected when we decide to buy items online, yet our digital footprint may mean similar items will be marketed to us through ads when we are browsing on the internet, as the browser collects our data. However, modern institutions have used the collection of personal data for the benefit of society. For instance, police can browse through an individuals digital tracks with online history to incriminate a potential suspect, or insurance companies can tailor cost-saving programs to benefit individuals.
Nevertheless, technology and its privacy implications can both support and undermine democracy. It supports democracy in that it makes the government accountable through mechanisms such as online forums, the leaking of government failures which was originally not under public spotlight, and journalistic investigations. Yet it also undermines democracy by revealing personal data of the individual through programs such as Facebook and web browsers which government can acquire, and also the implementation of “algorithmic regulation” where the government can hide its political motivations by creating an impersonal barrier between the State and the individual.