Chapter 9. Countersurveillance
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128 Chapter 9 Countersurveillance Resistance to surveillance, especially to dominating forms of surveillance, is a vital dimension of power negotiations. As Michel Foucault observes, “Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.”1 Put differently, resistance is not reactive or in dialectical relationship to power; rather, it is co-constitutive of it. There are clearly many forms that resistance to surveillance can take; they range from civil society organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union challenging government spying programs in courts, on one end of the spectrum, to individuals not complying with marketers’ requests for personal information like zip codes and e-mail addresses, on the other. People are not simply passive subjects compliantly succumbing to demands for their behaviors, preferences, and beliefs to become more transparent to and controllable by others. Nevertheless, when the field for social action and identity construction is radically constricted, opportunities for effective resistance—at least effective resistance without great personal risk—are diminished. One dominant argument of this book, for instance, is that neoliberal policies and practices have transformed public spaces and rights into private ones and have individualized what might be thought of as collective problems. Demands for people to become insecurity subjects fit neatly within this neoliberal framework because these demands push responsibility onto individuals to meet security needs through consumption, regardless of the veracity of security threats or their probability of actualizing. Resistance to surveillance can also function within and therefore unintentionally reinforce these security cultures if it does not also challenge the rules that govern possibilities for resistance. To make this case, this chapter analyzes practices of countersurveillance by activists and media artists—particularly against video and closed circuit television (CCTV) systems in urban areas—and theorizes their political implications. Countersurveillance activism can include disabling or destroying surveillance cameras, mapping paths of least surveillance and disseminating that information over the Internet, employing video cameras to monitor sanctioned surveillance systems and their personnel, or staging public plays to draw Countersurveillance 129 attention to the prevalence of surveillance in society. In some cases, marginal groups selectively appropriate technologies that they might otherwise oppose when used by those with institutional power.2 These examples illustrate the underdetermination of technologies and suggest further avenues for political intervention through countersurveillance. However, because surveillance systems evolve through social conflict, countersurveillance practices may implicate opposition groups in the further development of global systems of control. Countersurveillance operates within and in reaction to ongoing global transformations of public spaces and resources. According to social theorists, a crisis in capital accumulation in the 1970s precipitated a shift from mass production to flexible production regimes, catalyzing organizational decentralization , labor outsourcing, computerized automation, just-in-time production , and, increasingly, the privatization of that which has historically been considered “public.”3 These structural transformations aggravated conditions of social inequality, leading to the development of new mechanisms of social control to regulate bodies in this unstable terrain. Some of the most effective forms of social control are those that naturalize the exclusion of economically or culturally marginalized groups through architecture or infrastructure. Mass incarceration of over 2.3 million individuals in the United States alone is one extreme measure of such postindustrial exclusion.4 Less dramatically, but perhaps more pervasively, fortified enclaves such as gated communities, shopping malls, and business centers have multiplied exponentially over the past decade and seem to be as prevalent in “developing” as in “developed” countries.5 Additionally, privatized streets, parks, and security services effectively sacrifice civic accountability and civil rights while increasing affordances for the monitoring of public life.6 Finally, telecommunications and other infrastructures unevenly distribute access to the goods and services necessary for modern life while facilitating data collection on and control of the public.7 Against this backdrop, the embedding of technological surveillance into spaces and infrastructures serves to augment not only existing social control functions but also capital accumulation imperatives, which are readily seen with the sharing of surveillance operations and data between public and private sectors.8 Through a range of interventions into the logic and institutions of global capitalism, countersurveillance tacticians seek to disrupt these trends in the privatization, sanitation, and elimination of public spaces, resources, and rights. While the ideologies and intentions of those engaging in countersurveillance are manifold and disparate, they are unified in the mission of safeguarding— or creating—the necessary spaces for meaningful participation in determining the social, environmental, and...



Subject Headings

  • National security -- United States
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- United States.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
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