Rhetoric of protection, safety and ‘early intervention’ may be politically expedient, and indeed demanded by those seeking (re-)election in climates of fear towards the strange and threatening ‘other’. Considering policy innovations through the lens of surveillance reveals agenda that are not otherwise immediately apparent. The wellbeing of children and young people is a laudable aim but where fulfilling such objectives is to be rendered auditable the surveillance implications of the concomitant data infrastructures should not be downplayed.
Whilst identifying legitimate claimants of welfare may be necessary, regard for the impact upon those caught in the gaze of the state (or its privatized monitors) is incumbent upon policy-makers at every stage. It is easy to surrender to the technical expertise of database developers who will designate fields which are to be populated with data. Little attention might be paid to the occluded political decisions of software coding – deciding on what information is collected is never an innocent activity. Given the political sensitivities around census data-gathering, information that is not gathered can be more important than that which is. Not knowing the effect of social policy upon particular ethnic minorities in a region may be politically advantageous to the majority in government.
Scrutinizing policy in any domain for its surveillance, not just its broader civil liberties, implications is a task that can be advanced by projects such as mine. My critical method gives particular attention to those disadvantaged by surveillance. A critical ethic of care questions the effect of policy upon human relationships – not just individuals. Furthermore, it is an approach that probes the institutions and social systems that support surveillance – asking whose moral framework is being presented as universal and for what advantage to some but disadvantage to others.
Coming from a theological standpoint I am interested in far more than the history or ‘validity’ of Christian doctrines. My avowedly particular stance enables me to be critically aware of from where I am coming. In a spiral of mutual listening and speaking, what Michael Walzer calls an iterative method, we may find common concerns – perhaps from very different starting places and religious or philosophical assumptions. It is our particularity, rather than an attempt to step aside into a ‘neutral’ space that proffers us all the most enriching possibilities for social critique.