Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018

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Professor's book examines unmanned aerial vehicles in a surveillance society

Just as the dialogue on border security and immigration heats up and as police departments bring unmanned aerial vehicles from the battlefield to the neighborhood, Ohio University's John Gilliom and co-author Torin Monahan of the University of North Carolina take a close look at the surveillance society in their new book, "SuperVision: an Introduction to the Surveillance Society."
Among their topics: the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles, now bringing their Superman-like vision from the battlefield and the border to the backyard.
"A few years back, the big excitement was about police cruiser cameras … and red-light cameras," write the authors. Now, "it might sound like science fiction, but 'smart surveillance' and 'automated prediction' are upon us."

The book was published by the University of Chicago Press. Gilliom is a professor of political science and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University.
"For those who take comfort in the idea that your phone calls, Facebook posts, and Google searches are safely separated from the prying eyes of government agents, think again. The public-private partnership in surveillance is strong, will continue to grow, and is very well-hidden from any meaningful accountability," write Gilliom and Manahan.
On border surveillance, the authors describe:

  • A massive human surveillance force, "with video cameras, drug-sniffing dogs, RFID scanners for pre-cleared vehicles, and even unmanned aerial vehicles."
  • A high-tech system of thermal sensors, motion detectors and video cameras that covers only 53 miles instead of the planned 2,000.
  • Citizens watching the border via passive webcams or active surveillance, with the ACLU and humanitarian organizations watching the watchers.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles that "have become a staple of border security."

"People want to be protected from harm," note the authors. "Violent crime and terrorism rank high on the list of things we'd all like to avoid. So it makes sense on one level that the promise of protection through surveillance would be appealing. Unfortunately, study after study shows that technological surveillance is not very good at preventing crime and is probably even less effective at preventing terrorism."
Several online media have been writing about the workplace surveillance issues discussed in the book:

  • The article "Work becomes more like prison" at Salon on Feb. 19 notes: "In 'SuperVision: An Introduction to the Surveillance Society,' John Gilliom and Torin Monahan talk about encountering a frantic hotel maid who told them she had to alert management every time she cleaned a room, so they could track how many she finished and how fast. A new phone app can be used to constantly measure speed and location. 'If workers stand still or sit down for even a few seconds, management knows,' write Gilliom and Monahan."