Kafka, IT, surveillance and democracy
av Fernando Flores
Based on: Solove, Daniel J. The Digital Person.
Technology and privacy in the Information Age. New
York University Press, 2004.
Society has always had
control over its members; in
old times family, the farm or
the village or Church
managed this control
because life was constricted
to a physic place.
When during the 19th
century the Modern city grew
faster with millions of
peasants moving in to work
in factories, the need for
individual information grew
To manage the administration of
Modern states in Europe,
governments needed information
about their citizens, their family
conditions, their education, their
health, their dwelling, etc.
Under this period began the
development of public records,
recollecting information through
general census of the population in
the country. The first census in
USA is from 1790, but already in
1860, 142 questions were asked.
The use of massive information,
about the citizens of the state,
became increasingly a problem
when, during the 19th century,
individual rights entrained in the
collective consciousness of
After 1950, with the development of powerful
computers, the paradox “social control” versus
“individual freedom” became urgent as the most
powerful threat against individual privacy.
Many of the problems that confuses us when
we try to understand the threats of the Digital
Age, arises because we insist in using
definitions of privacy that belong to another era.
Some of these old definitions lead us to
confound e.g. the private with secrecy.
This identification leads to the conclusion that
anything that is not secret, is necessary
public (that is, not private and therefore open
• That means:
• that it is the individual person
who determines the grade of
secrecy of personal
Another misunderstanding is the identification of surveillance
with the act of collecting information.
This leads to the conclusion that databases are some variant of
surveillance and because surveillance supposes control,
databases exercise some kind of control upon us.
However, databases are in fact, the Digital Era’s consequence of
bureaucracy that affects the individual not to control him, but to
manage information about him that is out of context.
As we see it, the real threat of collected information in databases
arises first when that information is used as knowledge.
(Observe: there is a difference between information and knowledge).
• That means:
• While surveillance implies some kind of
control of the individual person…
• Collecting information does not necessary
imply a control of the individual person.
Traditionally privacy has been understood as the lost of
freedom in a closed-society in which the state controls every
moment of the life of the citizens. In this case, the dominant
ideas are those of control and lost of freedom.
“The dominant metaphor for Modern invasions of privacy is Big
Brother, the ruthless totalitarian government in George Orwell’s
The threat of the digital dossier consists on the threat
of an increasingly large bureaucracy in which
information about individuals are used to produce
beliefs about them.
Kafka's novel chronicles the surreal nightmare of a
person who is unexpectedly informed that he is under
arrest but given no reason why.
Kafka’s metaphor in The Trial illustrates “an individual's
sense of helplessness, frustration, and vulnerability
when a large bureaucratic organization has control over
a vast dossier of details about one's life.” (Solove, Daniel J. Op.cit., p.9).
Differences between information and belief
The invasion of privacy that bureaucracy conveys, has more to
do with the nature of information and its difference with belief
than with direct political control.
The discrepancies and coincidences between “belief” and
“information” reveal a hidden ontological problem.
Because information is fragmented, the fragmentation of
intentionality in small and disconnected parts (information) can
be reconnected producing different and always unexpected
Unexpectedness of meaning depends on the vanishing of
intentionality. When the bureaucrat use information to produce
beliefs, he creates unexpected meaning that may not be
connected to reality at all.
The digital database in the private sector
The problems, that the management of databases convey, increased
dramatically when even the private sector of society, began to
collect information of their customers.
In this new situation, it is not the interest of planning society
matters or to guaranty the well functioning of services, which lies
behind this massive collection of information.
The private sector collects information to make money through
increasingly efficient marketing.
Introducing databases and information’s strategies, the companies
increased the profit in direct proportion to their knowledge about
their customers and their preferences.
In the 1920s, the sales
department of General Motors
Corporation began an early
experiment with targeted
GM discovered that owners
of Ford vehicles frequently
didn't purchase a Ford as
their next vehicle- so it
targeted owners of two-year-
old Fords and sent them a
brochure on GM vehicles (Solove,
Daniel J. Op.cit., p.16).
The usefulness of databases has to do with the technical properties
of the storing of data, in separate fields that can be combined in
many ways depending on the property targeted.
Because of this, companies organize people depending e.g. on
their buying capacity and personal interests.
Databases’ structure, constructs also following
cultural and racial patterns,
organizing customers by age,
political ideas, etc. .
The storage of large amount of information
in databases is significant for banks and
The effectiveness of this business relies on
the predictability of the conduct of their
Predictability decides the rate of the interest
that they will charge to each transaction.
However, because databases are
disconnected from reality, the effectiveness
of this business has very little to do with the
rights of their customers, that more than
often, become victims of the bureaucracy
naturally involved in this kind of operations.
• The traditional idea of
surveillance is material
and not digital.
• It has been explained
remarkably clear by
Jeremy Bentham in his
project on a building
usable as prison,
hospital, or school.
• The Panopticon designed
by English philosopher
Jeremy Bentham (1748-
1832) in the late
• The concept of the design
is to allow an observer to
observe (-opticon) all
(pan-) prisoners without
the prisoners being able to
tell if they are being
observed or not, thus
conveying a "sentiment of
an invisible omniscience.“
• In his own words,
Bentham described the
Panopticon as "a new
mode of obtaining power
of mind over mind, in a
quantity hitherto without
example." (Wikipedia, June 27, 2007).
• Bentham’s Panopticon is an
extraordinary example of the
growing Modernity of the
capitalist society in 18th
century Britain and has
inspired George Orwell’s
dystopian societies as they
were presented in his novels.
• Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950),
better known by the pen
name George Orwell, was an
English author and
journalist. Noted as a
novelist, critic, political and
• Orwell is best known for two
novels critical of
totalitarianism in general,
and Stalinism in particular:
Animal Farm and 1984.
(Wikipedia, June 27, 2007).
• The totalitarian world of Orwell, as
it refers in the novel “1984”,
reminds the Panopticon-world.
• In the novel “1984”, Big Brother is
the all-seeing leader of the
dystopian Oceania and it has
inspired the authors of the well-
known reality television show with
• The picture of this leader shows in
posters with the text: “BIG
BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”.
• Everything the people do is
targeted by the telescreens.
However, nobody has seen Big
Brother in person.
• There is some kinship between the
telescreen in Orwell’s novel and the
Internet. To surf the Internet means
also to be watched and registered.
Dataveillance and the gathering of information in Internet
• Internet has become the most powerful medium of
communication in history, it is also, a natural place to
exercise marketing and for gathering personal
• The methods to do this are many and more or less
sincere. Sometimes the user has to register and answer
questions, to access to some sites.
• Sometimes the company uses “cookies” (a short
identification code that installs onto the user's computer
when a web page is entered).
• This situation has let researchers to redefine
surveillance in the era of Internet as dataveillance or the
“systematic use of personal data systems in the
investigation or monitoring of the actions or
communications of one or more persons.”
In dataveillance the act of observation is indirect
• Dataveillance differs from traditional surveillance in the
act of observation –human who watches other humans–
is indirect and appear after the wished information has
• Dataveillance consists principally in computer’s
surveillance, that is, a collection of information that is
harmless for the individual as long as other humans do
not process it.
• Being observed by an insect on the wall is not invasive
of privacy; rather, privacy is threatened by being subject
to human observation, which involves judgments that
can affect one's life and reputation.
• Since marketers generally are
interested in aggregate data, they
do not care about snooping into
particular people's private lives.
• Much personal information is
amassed and processed by
computers; we are being watched
not by other humans, but by
machines, which gather
information, compute profiles, and
generate lists for mailing,
emailing, or calling.
• This impersonality makes the
surveillance less invasive.
• The real problem with dataveillance arises with
the empowerment of the completely
bureaucratic organization of Modern society.
• Bureaucracy is as old as civilisation, and it is
Bureaucracy expressly important for Modernity .
• It is with the rise of the Modern society, when
the administration of the state became
“bureaucratic”, meaning with it, the situation of
empowerment of the class of officials and
clerks and the mechanization of their working
• This group of people are not being
democratically chosen, however, they have
often more power than the politicians do.
• “Bureaucratic” is the public or private
administration that decides over individuals
lives with the support of information collected
mechanically and without regard to context.
• Weber observes that bureaucracy can
become “dehumanised” by striving to
eliminate “love, hatred, and all purely
personal, irrational, and emotional elements
which escape calculation.”
• Bureaucracy often cannot adequately attend
to the needs of particular individuals not
because bureaucrats are malicious, but
because they must act within strict time
constraints, have limited training, and are
frequently not able to respond to unusual
situations in unique or creative way. (Solove, Daniel
• Michel Foucault föddes i en läkarfamilj den 15 oktober 1926 i Poitiers. År 1945 kom
han till Paris och lärde känna Hegel genom Jean Hyppolites undervisning.
• Han blir medlem av det kommunistiska partiet år 1950 och stannar i partiet fram till
1955. Han blir dock aldrig “militant“ och det sociala engagemanget kommer först
under sjuttio– och åttiotalet.
• Foucault tänkte bli psykiater och kom i fortsättningen att arbeta mycket nära
psykiatrin och dess historia.
• Under sina första akademiska år undervisade och forskade han i psykologiska ämnen
vid École Normale. År 1954 skrev han Maladie mentale et personnalité, som kan
beskrivas som en vetenskapshistorisk bok om psykiatrin och den tidigaste
föregångare till hans Vansinnets historia (Folie et déraison.
• Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, 1961) och Klinikens födelse (Naissance de la
clinique, 1963). När Foucault börjar undervisa får han en elev med vilken han senare
i livet kommer att konfronteras: Jacques Derrida.
Foucault i Uppsala
• Den 29 augusti 1955 kommer Foucault till Uppsala som utländsk lektor i franska. Till tjänsten
hör att undervisa sex timmar per vecka. Han arbetar också som föreståndare för Maison de
France och förutom administrationen måste han planera hela husets kulturella verksamhet.
• Under denna period besöks Uppsala i olika omgångar av bl.a. Jean Hyppolite, Albert Camus
och Roland Barthes.
• I Uppsala arbetar han på sin doktorsavhandling som han vill disputera med i Sverige. Han finner
en bibliografisk skatt på Carolina Rediviva.
• En samlare med namnet Erik Waller har donerat 21 000 dokument från perioden 1500-1900
rörande bland annat läkekonstens historia. En katalog om denna samling gavs ut just år1955,
det år då Foucault kommer till Uppsala.
• Han skriver intensivt på sin avhandling och visar så småningom manuskripten för Sten Lindroth.
Lindroth tycker inte att den passar in och säger till Foucault att den inte kan vara grund för en
• Foucault insisterar men utan resultat. När han lämnar Sverige 1958 är avhandlingen nästan
färdig. Under sin Uppsalavistelse har Foucault forskat och skrivit mycket om Linné. Det är
mycket möjligt att några av de sidor som förekommer om Linné i Les mots et les choses har
skrivits i Uppsala.
• För Foucault är ’makt’ den sociala verkan över den mänskliga
kroppen, en verkan som kommer från alla möjliga håll och som inte
kan förbindas med en speciell plats eller funktion i samhället.
• Alan Sheridan skriver: “As Foucault demonstrated at length in
Surveiller et punir, it is these micro-mechanisms of power that, since
the late eighteenth century, have played an increasing part in the
management of people’s lives through direct action on their bodies:
• they operate not through a code of law, but through a technology of
normalization, not by punishment, but by control, at levels and in
forms that go beyond the state and its machinery.
• Med Foucaults egna ord:
• Power is everywhere: not because it
embraces everything, but because it
comes from everywhere.
• …power is not an institution, nor a
structure, nor a possession.
• It is the name we give to a complex
strategic situation in a particular society.
• Foucault sätter kroppen i maktens centrum. I kroppens
kärna finner man könet.
• The key to the technology of the selves is the belief that
one can, with the help of experts, tell the truth about
• It is a central tenet not only in psychiatric sciences and
medicine, but also in the law, in education, in love.
• The conviction that truth can be discovered through
the self-examination of consciousness and the
confession of one’s thoughts and acts now appears so
natural, so compelling, indeed so self-evident, that it
seems unreasonable to posit that such self-examination
is a central component in a strategy of power.
• Enligt Foucault det råder en direkt relation mellan
makten och vetandet.
• Att veta betyder att bestämma reglerna som styr makten
• Att t.ex. ”veta” vad som är sjuk eller frisk är att utöva en
• Denna makt redan inbäddad i den vetenskapliga
The idea of the Panopticon is central also for
Michel Foucault’s critic of the concentration of
power in Modern society.
The Panopticon is not only an architectural
solution; it is also a new technology of power.
Foucault’s critics discover the existing relation
between power and architecture in general.