Cyber Control and Cyber Crime: From Panopticon of 18th Century to Imprisonment in Technology Age

“Cyber Control and Cyber Crime : Big Brother is Watching Us” was presented at FPCCI Seminar on Media Security and Cyber Crime on August 17, 2016 at Federation House, Karachi.

Modern Times (1936) CEO monitoring washrooms

This presentation focused on the problems introduced by the pervasive cyber world of today at a higher philosophical level where the existence of human being and the concept of being human is being questioned by the “Internet of Things”, and where people are willingly ceding their privacy and the personal control of their lives to external social networking platforms represented by googles and facebooks of today. This cessation of our relationships, our thoughts and feelings and what constitutes our personality to external agencies and allowing them to define who we are and what do we represent is much more sinister and a much greater concern than the issues of Cyber Crime and Cyber Bill that we are discussing today.

Panopticon: A Structure for Ultimate Total Control

It was in 1783 that English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham first proposed a type of institutional structure that will allow for the total control of inmates that would drastically reduce their ability to resist and free themselves from the structure. Panopticon was based on three basic structural features:

  1. Can’t see the watcher: An inmate should not be able to see the watcher. Should not be able to tell whether he is being watched or not. 
  2. Inmates should know that he is being watched, but not when. So that he must assume that he is being watched all the time. 
  3. All alone within a crowd of people: Inmates should not be able to directly converse or meet with other people face to face. 

The name Panopticon is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman.

Prisons had been designed using Bentham’s panopticon as seen in the picture, where the design had a watch tower in the middle with all the cells facing the tower but not allowing the cellmates to see each other.

See for instance this prison in Cuba which was designed on this philosophy:

Presidio Modelo prison, Cuba, 2005
Presidio Modelo prison, inside one of the buildings, 2005

This concept again became more and more relevant with the advent of post-modernist philosophers like Foucault and other writers such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley who could envision even in the early 20th century the advent of an age where all the people would be living in a panopticon word. This world is often called Orwellian World or the Dystopian future and has been put in fiction through such remarkable books like Brave New World by Huxley and Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

Panopticon, Yesterday

Envisioning of the Panopticon has been captured by several writers and even in movies. Big Brother is watching you is also brought in sharp perspective in Modern Times by Charlie Chaplain in which the company’s president is seen as monitoring everything on the shop floors and even in the rest rooms. 

The old picture of a panopticon where subjects were to be connected through wires hanging from a central control gave way to the cameras that will spy on the inmates. This is now old technology.

Linking the subjects through wires and then through cameras:
Panopticon from 19th to 20th century

The technology of watching the subjects through hundreds of television screens is now also outdated. The advent of intelligent software, smart devices, image recognition, image interpretation has made all these mechanisms obsolete.

Panopticon of 1980s-1990s

In the 1990s it became possible to imprison the subject with a computer on which he would willingly work. He will not be able to see the watcher, he knows he is being watched. But, the subject will lose contact with the fellow beings.

Panopticon of 1990s-2000s
In comes the age of smart phones, ubiquitous computing, Internet of Things, and pervasive computing, globally connected systems and networks, convergence of technolgies and we finally have the dream of the Panopticon envisioners come true. The subjects are no longer forced to become inmate. They would willingly become the inmates of a technology which would make them “Alone Together”. They will be with their fellows and comrades, but they will be alone. They will be in a social get together, at a common dinner table, in front of a speaker, with their families but each one would be alone with the device. Each interaction, thought, and feeling would not be expressed directly with the people around but through a device. The devices is now capturing the emotions and feelings and writings and is storing them for posterity. 

Alone Together at a Dinner
Seeing the world through devices

Panopticon Today: Prison of Internet

Big Brother is Watching You, recording you and tracking you and storing all of your information. Recording, storing, collating, profiling making an analysis of your personality and thoughts and better than what you know about yourself. Munkar-nakeer responsibilities are now a reality. This is beyond the wildest dream of Jeremy Bentham in eighteenth century. All the following is being tracked and much, much more:

IoT: Dream of Panopticon Designers Comes True
  • Whom you meet; friend, family, colleague, acquaintance, passerby is all being tracked and stored. 
  • What you like, dislike; where these are books, people, posts, news, jokes, all is being recorded. The comments that you make on which kinds of posts and which kinds of pictures are recorded. 
  • Where you live, work, go, socialize, eat, meet and do. All the places that you go to with what frequency with time stamps and even pictures. 
  • Your personal and official routines; When you go to washroom, when you open the lights in your bedroom, when you close the lights, when you go to sleep, what you read before going to sleep, when you wake up, how many times you open the tap or flush the toilet. When you drink tea, coffee, eat and drink is all there. 
  • What you type, write, read. What spelling mistakes you make, what you edit, what you can’t, what you leave out without editing gives insight of how your mind works and what stores of knowledge and representations it contains. 
  • Which pages you like and read, how much time you spend on that type of items in terms of how long, how much and how extensively you spend time on what. 
  • What you talk, what you hear, what you view, what you want to see, what you would like to see repeatedly, what you ignore, what you register, what you save, what you recollect, what words and thoughts you can express and what you are unable to.
This is such a pervasive profiling that no KGB, and no agency could have ever dreamed of being able to do a few decades ago. 

What is Reality? What is your Existence?

We should now be asking the fundamental of all the questions. What is reality and what is our existence.

 You exist if Google search reveals that you do!

The time has come where the certification of your existence will have to be obtained from a Domain Name Server that will authenticate you in the Internet of Things. It is important to note that a man is now no longer a man, he is no more than a thing; a thing similar to a computer, a faucet or a flush in your home that are all connected through the internet of things.

You and your company’s existence will be certified if you are returned through a search on google. Your hard luck if you don’t. You can’t complain, contact anyone or rectify any mistake, any aspersion, any comment, any posting by anyone. Every thing lives on the internet for ever.

Whether your country exists or not, whether it is part of this country or that country will all be determined by the googles or facebooks of this world.

The case of whether Palestine is an independent country or part of Israel (see this report), whether Kashmir is part of India or Pakistan or an independent company (see this report) will depend on what googles and facebooks would tell.

What is knowledge would be determined by wikipedias. Knowledge is not what you know and tell others. Knowledge is what the devices will be telling you.

You are only alive if facebooks will tell you that you do. Even dead people can remain alive for ever on the internet through proxy intelligent robots. Having understand your behavior, emotions, personality and your likes and dislikes and the entire progression of your life, it is possible for intelligent devices to maintain your existence on facebooks for ever. [Living Dead on Facebook].

Your world is your social network!

All world is now virtual, and your world is your internet social network. Google presents the world as it has determined what you want; the world that you see in Google has been configured and customized for you and you alone. What you see on google about a particular word search is not what others see. You are only presented the pages that you like, the new that you like or most probably would like. You are only given the options to make friends with people whom facebooks and googles determine would likely be your friends, your are fed news that you are likely to be interested in, you are only shown the places, movies, books, things, videos, talks, that these intelligent devices have determined are likely to be your preference.

Who you are is now being determined by these devices.

Cyber Crime vs Cyber Bill

The debate seems to be immaterial. The state will get what it wants. It already has gotten what it wants; irrespective of what the world or human rights or laws or constitutions expect or not. If even in USA, the land of freedom and equality, the rights of the people can be violated through the Patriot Act using what the Big Brother determines about propriety, third world countries like Pakistan do not have much hope to resist.

The state wants Panopticon-like control. It wants to see, hear, and control people. It has the power and the devices to do that. It would do that. NSA and other organizations are now more powerful than the states to alter the reality. They have already gotten it. Bill or no bill.

Individuals who want liberty, freedom, and privacy have lost the battle with technology. What is better than becoming enamored of a prison. Where you want yourself to be imprisoned. You are addicted with prison and you can’t let it go.

Enemies of the state are no longer enemies, they are just competitors in getting the most control to make the most money. They want to wrest control from the state. But even state has already lost the control, the control is no in the hand of big foreign countries, big corporations like Google or Facebook, who own the infrastructure devices and the networks through which the data is whizzing past. Criminals and hostile countries are just a blip. Inconsequential irritants. Fringe irritants. Occupational hazards that need to be controlled.

The Reality of Threat with this technology seems to be the redefinition of the existence of human being and his ability to feel and think independently. 

See the following movies to appreciate the world we are living in. This is not future. This is the world we are currently living in: 

Eagle Eye: When the machines start controlling your every future action
Surrogates: Vision of the future when every interaction with a fellow human being happens through robotic machines.
Actual Reality: When the life in the virtual world meets the real world
Equilibrium: When you can be arrested and killed for showing emotions and feelings even to your wives and children.
Minority Report: When you can be arrested for your intentions

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  1. Good one Dr Sahab.
    I have always emphasized…. Social media or "unsocial" media? Social network or "unsocial" network?
    Very evident.
    Thanks for letting us ponder on the ways we can be arrested!

  2. Sir, I total agree with you. Now nothing is private … maybe after sometime even our deepest thoughts will also be intruded. The science fiction of yester-years is now a reality in front of us and its for sure that this is just the beginning.

  3. Always learn from you Sir, God bless you!

  4. Just saw Jason Bourne 2016 highlighting these concerns.

  5. Good to see you reading this stuff

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