More and better surveillance seems to be the immediate response to challenging situations. Action of this form may not be named as such but any system for gathering and analysing data with a view to modifying behaviour counts as surveillance. Identification of people, goods, animals or equipment occurs at borders whether these be the entrance/exit to offices, store rooms, farms or airports. Bodies are scanned for weapons, identifying features and life-signs at, for example, travel hubs, schools, medical facilities and corporate workplaces. In a culture of compliance auditable trails of activity demand the attention of teachers, doctors, social workers and other public officials.
It appears that at almost every turn professionals are being watched and watching others – often both. Risks to bodies, minds, investments, plant and the environment require to be quantified and managed. Sorting of people into categories aids the estimate of future harm and provides considerable opportunity for governance by risk. Criminal justice, mental health services and educational authorities face political as well as professional demands to take pre-emptive and not only precautionary steps to handle ‘risky persons’.
Surveillance studies engages with crucial questions of power residing in the hands of those experts who are positioned to name risks. At the same time, the discipline opens discussion of people’s responses to regimes of surveillance not only in terms of civil liberties but responsible resistance, subversion and non-compliance.