Watching You Watching Me: The Art of Playing the Panopticon

Lizzie Coles-Kemp, Alf Zugenmaier, Makayla Lewis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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As governments increasingly deliver services over the Internet, the opportunities for monitoring and surveillance of society increase. In public services to support the vulnerable, such as welfare, monitoring and surveillance functionality is often regarded by system designers as important components in defences against fraud and system misuse. However, the responses from the participants in this study demonstrate the potential difficulty of deploying such approaches when the systems themselves are perceived as working against not with the communities and indicate that supportive social networks are a prerequisite for these the technological systems to be secure. We explored the case of the use of the Internet to deliver parts of the UK welfare system from the perspective of an economically and socially deprived community in the North East of England. The findings show that, in the views of the research participants, reliance on technological security mechanisms makes the underlying administrative processes less rather than more secure. The findings also show that a focus on system security and monitoring rather than benevolence and user empathy is a barrier to the successful delivery of ‘digital by default’ services and can increase the overall feelings of insecurity in everyday life for service users. Our conclusion is that rather than being regarded as a technical system, such a service is better conceptualised as a social system with technological elements embedded within it. We therefore also argue that if such technological systems are to be secure, then the service design must also support the social networks that interact with these systems. We further argue that service providers must work with individual communities to develop and support the social networks in order for the technological security controls to be effective.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Enlightenment Yearbook 2014
Subtitle of host publicationSocial Networks and Social Machines, Surveillance and Empowerment
EditorsKieron O'Hara, Carolyn Nguyen, Peter Haynes
PublisherIOS Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-61499-450-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-61499-449-7
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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