The E.U. as a surveillance society

The EU is developing a full spectrum dominance system of surveillance combing domestic and military, according to a new report
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
23 November 2009

For the first time the EU-wide moves towards a surveillance society and a database state are set out in all their appalling glory. A major report has recently been published, NeoConOpticon. It has its own webpage . The authors, with Ban Hayes of Statewatch in the lead, have put together the military and the domestic aspects of the European Security Research Programme. Full Spectrum Dominance was originally a term developed in the Pentagon to describe what they needed to ensure Star Wars would work so that they could track and target anything they wished without disruption. For a relatively early mention of full spectrum doninance in 2003 see Paul Rogers here and for his earlier analysis of laser warfare in 2002, here

Now Statewatch and the Transnational Institute, who have published the well produced colour booklet of 82 pages, have set out how the domestic, corporate and military aspects are fused into a single, over-arching security strategy. They say in their conclusion:

  The idea behind the ‘NeoConOpticon’ is to emphasise both the central role played by the private sector in ‘delivering’ surveillance-based security policies and the inherently neo-conservative appeal to the ‘defence of the homeland’ against threats to the ‘Western way of life’. The convergence of these ideologies is accelerating the development of a  ‘surveillance society’ in Europe, enhancing the potential for governments to subject the lives of their citizens and non-citizens to incredible scrutiny, transforming the relationship between them and undermining fundamental principles of  democracy.

Whereas the ideal of democracy holds that governments are accountable to the people, surveillance-based techniques of governance are transforming this relationship: making people accountable to governments while widening the gap  (the so-called ‘democratic deficit’) between political elites and those they have been elected or, in this case, appointed to serve. Instead of enhancing the EU’s political legitimacy, these types of policies can only fuel the sense of alienation that many people now feel from law-makers in Brussels. 

Paradoxically, while the overarching concerns of the likes of George Orwell and Michel Foucault about all-seeing and all-powerful states are further entrenching themselves in EU policy with every passing year, their concerns are increasingly dismissed as paranoid or groundless, and mean little to new generations. Yet how else can we conceive of a world characterised by mandatory surveillance and wholesale risk profiling; a world policed by computer systems, combat robots and drone planes; and populations, or certain sections of them, subject to full spectrum dominance.

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