Telematic Surveillance (2003)

by nungu

The willingness to watch and to be watched is perpetuated by capital. The intersection of spectacle and surveillance evident in contemporary postmodern phenomena like the cult of the celebrity and reality TV is not a new idea.

Surveillance has already been sold. The events of September 11 and December 13 (attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi) merely clinched the deal. Within hours of the attacks the surveillance industry had mobilized itself. Cloaked behind vague global security rhetoric, it set out with the aim of profiting from a new and improved anxiety economy.

The surveillance industry sees India as one of its most lucrative potential markets, with a growth potential of 25% in an industry that already has a turnover of close to US $120 million per annum. On an everday level, CCTVs are cropping up in all the usual places. There is growing excitement about electronic security ...

Full Description

The willingness to watch and to be watched is perpetuated by capital. The intersection of spectacle and surveillance evident in contemporary postmodern phenomena like the cult of the celebrity and reality TV is not a new idea.

Surveillance has already been sold. The events of September 11 and December 13 (attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi) merely clinched the deal. Within hours of the attacks the surveillance industry had mobilized itself. Cloaked behind vague global security rhetoric, it set out with the aim of profiting from a new and improved anxiety economy.

The surveillance industry sees India as one of its most lucrative potential markets, with a growth potential of 25% in an industry that already has a turnover of close to US $120 million per annum. On an everday level, CCTVs are cropping up in all the usual places. There is growing excitement about electronic security devices. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta observes, modernising elites in the so-called Third World are often better placed (due to lack of constitutional safeguards to privacy or lack of awareness at the public level of privacy issues) to put in place technologies of mass surveillance. It comes as no surprise then when www.tradeport.org states on its website that "installation of security devices has gained popularity among the upper segment of Indian society, including the very rich and celebrities who experience security threats. It has become a status symbol to install high-tech safety equipment in homes and residential complexes."

Surveillance is creeping into India almost invisibly, with little discussion and an alarming lack of public awareness. Telematic Surveillance as a project is operating in the context of a country on the periphery of late capitalism. As such, its reach is numerically limited but the significance of those numbers is incredibly wide ranging. Technologies are always, to some extent, linked with capitalist interests and often function as tools of oppression. This makes it increasingly crucial to expose the wired Indian consumer to the underlying power relations inherent in new technologies--in short, to a politics of information.

GaiSecurity.com is an intelligent surveillance solutions provider (cum tactical entity) based in Mumbai, India. By offering surveillance as a commodity, Gai attempts to satirise the banalization or popularization of global surveillance. Gai wants to demonstrate the sheer strangeness of this emerging global tele-surveillance market in the public (market) domain and the mechanisms of power that lie behind it by playing it back to itself in a distorted and exaggerated remix. Gai attempts to adopt a pedagogical role, informing its customers of exactly what they might be buying into, by subliminally(?) linking surveillance industry jingle to contesting voices in the network.

In subscribing to Gai's Service, Gai's customers implicitly turn from tele-spectators to tele-actors. They become voyeuristic electronic agents and their PC--a personal domestic device--is turned into an apparatus of behaviour control. They may gain permanent direct access and thus control over events, but at a price. They simultaneously become subject to control, and are willingly(?) entered into a spectacular, viral, surveilling loop.

Gai, then, is also about digitized subjectivity. Being watched in the information age means more than simply screen. It means database. Both screen and database or digital profile are part of a larger genre of vision technologies that essentially operate by abstracting bodies and/or spaces from their territorial settings and transforming them into abstract flows of data. These flows of data, these images, become the locus of social control; identity becomes locked in reductive, repressive data systems more real than their fleshy referent. People are classified primarily in terms of potential risk, the most obvious being the profiling of those with Arab or Islamic backgrounds.

Gai wants to function as a subtle tactical entity exposing the skewed agenda of the continued and uncontested transformation of public bodies into scanned and controlled grids. Technology is not ahistorical; it has dubious modes of power inscribed within its nodes and questionable values encoded in its software. Gai tries to make visible to its customers the collective loss of sight perpetuated by the surveillance society.

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