Dr. John Sullivan, Associate Professor of Media & Communication, published an essay, “Uncovering the Data Panopticon: The Urgent Need for Critical Scholarship in an Era of Corporate and Government Surveillance,” in the academic journal The Political Economy of Communication. From the article:
While these revelations about domestic digital wiretapping without court orders have caused a stir in the American and global press, the privacy dangers associated with this type of data surveillance are not new to the scholarly community. Exactly 20 years ago, communication scholar Oscar H Gandy Jr (1993) meticulously outlined the growing threat to individual privacy posed by the cooperation between corporate and government data gathering in a book called The Panoptic Sort. At a time when the internet was in its infancy, when desktop computer processing was a fraction of what it is today, and five years before the founding of Google, Gandy warned that organizations like Equifax, TRW, and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) were amassing huge repositories of consumer data that were gathered passively whenever individuals made purchases via credit cards. When these data are combined with sophisticated matching algorithms and sorted against huge government databases like the census, he argued, they enabled precise tracking of individuals’ behaviors, political views, and other sensitive private information. The precision of such discrimination transforms the routine sorting of personal data into a powerful form of institutional power. Building upon Foucault’s (1995) seminal analysis of disciplinary systems in society, Gandy argued that the scale of the data collection and analysis performed by government and corporate institutions created a panopticon wherein citizen actions would eventually become circumscribed within an ever-widening net of personal data surveillance. The end result, he observed, is “an antidemocratic system of control that cannot be transformed because it can serve no purpose other than that for which it was designed—the rationalization and control of human existence” (Gandy, 1993: 227).
The article is open access and available for free online .