Recently, I received in the post a copy of the book ‘The Surveillance Industrial Complex – A political economy of surveillance’, edited by Kirstie Ball and Laureen Snider.
In this book, long term collaborators, Kirstie Ball and Lauren Snider examine the nature of today’s surveillance structures. They note that not only is surveillance conducted at a mass scale, but also it has assumed ‘legitimacy’ as part of the discourse of national security. Moreover, it is noted that commercial organisations play a key role in enabling that surveillance.
The book’s description is as follows:
Today’s ‘surveillance society’ emerged from a complex of military and corporate priorities that were nourished through the active and ‘cold’ wars that marked the twentieth century. Two massive configurations of power – state and corporate – have become the dominant players. Mass targeted surveillance deep within corporate, governmental and social structures is now both normal and legitimate.
The Surveillance-Industrial Complex examines the intersections of capital and the neo-liberal state in promoting the emergence and growth of the surveillance society. The chapters in this volume, written by internationally-known surveillance scholars from a number of disciplines, trace the connections between the massive multinational conglomerates that manufacture, distribute and promote technologies of ‘surveillance’, and the institutions of social control and civil society. In three parts, this collection investigates:
- how the surveillance-industrial complex spans international boundaries through the workings of global capital and its interaction with agencies of the state
- surveillance as an organizational control process, perpetuating the interests and voices of certain actors and weakening or silencing others
- how local political economies shape the deployment and distribution of the massive interactions of global capital/military that comprise surveillance systems today.
This volume will be useful for students and scholars of sociology, management, business, criminology, geography and international studies.
I contributed one chapter to this book. My chapter is entitled ‘Critical examination of the role of private actors in the fight against money laundering: the case of the UK retail banking industry’.
As the gatekeepers of the movement of money across the world, retail banks have been drafted by governments worldwide to help in crime detection and prevention. In this chapter I discuss the tensions that such requirements present to the day to day customer management activities. I draw on principal-agent theory to show that:
- There is substantial conflict between the surveillance goals of the government and the commercial goals of the banks;
- It is very difficult to measure the outcomes of commercial surveillance initiatives;
- The process is characterised by uncertainty and ambiguity.
This book has been several years in development. Yet, I think that it is more relevant than never, as shown by recent revelations of the US government’s extensive surveillance programme.
It is not an easy read, but it is still an important one.