Futuribles Journal n° 353

Recherche, sciences, techniques

Society under Surveillance, an Academic Fear?


The rise and ever greater sophistication of information and communications technologies in recent decades offers modern societies some very ambivalent possibilities. These technologies have, for example, provided individuals with unrivalled capacities to contact and communicate with each other - and to do so almost instantaneously. On the other hand, they also afford unprecedented powers of oversight to those (public authorities or other powerful bodies) who would like to use them for that purpose. There is, as a result, a recurrent debate in France between those who take the view that we are moving towards an excess of surveillance and control in the style of the "Big Brother" of Orwell's novel 1984 and those who see these surveillance capacities as an opportunity for enhancing individual security. Which of these is really the case? Are we running a risk of generalized surveillance to the detriment of individual freedom? And if so, to what extent?
In Olivier Hassid's view, the cries of alarm from the "anti-Big Brother brigade" in France are, for the moment, highly exaggerated. Though there has been a major increase in violence in recent decades, this has not produced a development of corresponding proportions in the instruments of surveillance and control. Moreover, the existing surveillance technologies are far from capable of generalized surveillance of everyone's actions (on account of insufficient processing power, the "drowning" of data in the flood of information, and general complexity). Lastly, society itself does not seem to be calling for such an intensification of security, either public or private, since social relations still seem sufficiently robust to provide reassurance.

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