restricted access The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Surveillance by Robin Tudge (review)
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Reviewed by
Robin Tudge, The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Surveillance (Ottawa and Toronto: New Internationalist Publications and Between the Lines 2011)

This short book is an excellent and useful guide to the rising tide of surveillance that affects us all. The expansion has occurred chiefly through technological means over the last century and into the current one, particularly but not exclusively in liberal-democratic states. The book thus serves as a catalogue of the multifaceted forms of surveillance that are out there but also as a warning of the implications of the expansion of surveillance by the state and private interests in both the present and the future.

Early on Tudge usefully offers a chapter that provides historical context to the development and expansion of surveillance [End Page 325] over the last two centuries. From the late 19th century on, an element of professionalization developed around the use of surveillance by states as state agencies with this as a primary component of their agenda came into being, as did the file that would allow for the systematic application of surveillance. Other chapters look at key issues around surveillance, such as identity cards, the implications of surveillance for privacy, and the use of surveillance as a Foucaultian instrument of control. In one of the book’s most powerful chapters, Tudge establishes a clear link between the expansion of surveillance and the involvement of private companies in the pursuit of ever greater profits by encouraging states to resort to new and increased forms of surveillance. This “security-industrial complex,” as Tudge accurately labels it, plays upon numerous fears – fear of terrorism, fear of crime, fear of immigrants, fear of disease – with the solution to fear being assurance through surveillance that targets not just specific groups but the populace as a whole.

The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Surveillance is not without its weaknesses. With such a broad overview around surveillance in a short book, not surprisingly the work comes across at times as unfocused. Despite proclaiming the book a study of “global surveillance,” there is a heavy western emphasis, primarily on the United Kingdom, which undoubtedly reflects the author’s background, and, to a lesser extent, on the United States. The implications of this prominence are never fully explored in the drive to catalogue the extent of surveillance. Nor does the book distinguish in any meaningful way between types of surveillance. The stress clearly is on the use of technology to watch and not on the use of human surveillance through spies or informers. This emphasis in itself is not surprising; it merely reflects wider trends in society but it does not acknowledge the reality that certain groups may disproportionately experience certain types of surveillance. Finally, there is a sense of Orwellian 1984-style hopelessness to the book in the lack of agency on the part of the wider populace who are all real or potential targets of surveillance. Is it possible to resist this overwhelming momentum toward peering into what at one time was outside of the realm of the state and other interests?

Tudge’s indirect answer to this question is arguably this useful book. In a sense its creation while perhaps not in itself an act of resistance is a potential spark to encourage others to resist before privacy is completely swept away. [End Page 326]

Steve Hewitt
University of Birmingham