Someone’s looking at you: Welcome to the surveillance economy

July 26, 2013

One of my favourite Boomtown Rats tracks is “Someone’s looking at you”, written by Bob Geldoff and released as the third single from The Fine Art of Surfacing. I wanted to include the lyric as a chapter header in my 2007 book Communication and New Media: From broadcast to narrowcast, but it was too expensive to secure the rights. It is so much easier on here, and free.

I wrote two chapters on media and surveillance in that book and always wanted to return to the theme because I think we all need to be concerned about how much surveillance there is of all of us in our daily lives.

The paranoia of Thatcher’s Britain comes through in the song and I like this verse and chorus because it is about resistance:

You may as well
Shout it from the roof
Scream it from your lungs
Spit it from your mouth
It could fall on deaf ears to indulge in your fears
There’s a spy in the sky
There’s a noise on the wire
There’s a tap on the line
And for every paranoid’s desire…

There’s always Someone looking at you.
S-s-s-s-someone looking at you…
They’re always looking at you. [Bob Geldoff, 1979]

We take it for granted today, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried.

I have returned to the theme of surveillance to kick-start some more thinking and writing on the subject. It begins with this piece written for The Conversation.

The surveillance society

Everything that fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden has revealed about America’s global espionage network PRISM should make you alert and alarmed. His exposé shows that we are clearly living in a well-established surveillance society. But it also reveals more than that: surveillance is at the heart of the global digital economy too.

One document revealed that in 2001 the Australian telco, Telstra, signed an agreement to allow US spy agencies access to data about its American customers. However, according to the agreement, Telstra is not permitted to let other governments access the same data.

In response, Telstra issued a brief statement only saying that the agreement reflected its contractual obligations at the time and the revelation has received only limited media coverage.

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