Logic of surveillance and problems of the enforcer class

Ian Welsh's piece on the "logic of surveillance" makes several good points, but this one really smacked me in the face: "The enforcer class...is paid in large part by practical immunity to many laws and a license to abuse ordinary people."

Surveillance is part of the system of control. The more surveillance the more control, is the majority belief amongst the ruling elites. Automated surveillance requires fewer “watchers”, and since the watchers cannot watch all the surveillance, long term storage increases the ability to find some “crime” anyone is guilty of. When you add in recognition systems based on face, gait or other procedures, you have the theoretical ability to track a person from the moment they leave their home till they return to it. Other measures make it possible to see what people are doing in their own homes (IR heat maps, for example.) A world in which everyone is tracked all the time is very possible.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

This is one of the biggest problems the current elites face: they want the smallest enforcer class possible, so as to spend surplus on other things. The enforcer class is also insular, primarily concerned with itself (see Dorner) and is paid in large part by practical immunity to many laws and a license to abuse ordinary people. Not being driven primarily by justice and a desire to serve the public and with a code of honor which appears to largely center around self-protection and fraternity within the enforcer class, the enforcers reliability of the enforcers is in question: they are blunt tools and their fear for themselves makes them remarkably inefficient.

The Logic of Surveillance (via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Surveillance, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jonathanmcintosh's photostream)


  1. While there’s a natural impetus by capitalist elites to want the smallest number of employees possible on payroll, in this case it might be worth re-defining the “enforcer class” described by Welsh as a privileged subset of what Samuel Bowles calls “guard labour.” 

    Cory posted on Bowles back in 2010, but it’s just as relevant now:


    Oligarchs need more and more watchers to protect them from the results of income inequality, but some watchers are more equal (and hence more dangerous) than others. Inefficiencies within inefficiencies.

    1. The watchers are made to feel separate from the rest of us.  An “us vs them” mentality that makes it easier to justify their actions.  The military relies on this.

      1. Absolutely. And the military as a large guard labour organisation also relies on granting different privileges based on rank. Which is why I would define “enforcer class” Welsh is particularly and rightly worried about as a privileged sub-set of guard labour (which, I’ll agree, is usually inculcated across the board with the “us vs them” mentality). Possibly the worst combination is that mentality combined with a level of privilege that’s ripe for abuse.

        The difference between the American military and general guard labour in America is that the former is a relatively monolithic institution that is also *very* highly regulated by the state (for obvious reasons) while the latter is far more diverse and diffuse and is often in thrall to private whim or unreliable or corrupt local jurisdiction. Remove controls and you start to get abuses and security apparatuses hat overtake or even envelop that which they were ostensibly meant to secure.

        This is a real problem if Bowles is correct his and his colleague’s estimate that one quarter of working Americans are employed in diverse guard labour jobs that “range from ‘imposing work discipline’—think of the corporate IT spies who keep desk jockeys from slacking off online—to enforcing laws, like the officers in the Santa Fe Police Department”

        [direct link to article on Bowles: http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/print-article-5188-print.html ]

    1. Only sometimes? 

      A cabin in the woods sounds more appealing all the time.. except for the fact that all the woods are owned by someone these days.

      1. The cabin-in-the-woods approach doesn’t work if you wind up having to drive to town once a week (or dumpster diving like some fugitives.) Doing it for real is well past the abilities of most of us.  There is no substitute to fighting back against the cameras.

        1. Why bother fighting the cameras? They’re total rubbish and will probably end up in a land-fill some day soon.

          Of course, fighting that waste of time and money also has it’s merits. Even the most conservative folks would join that fight.

          1. THey are rubbish for enabling prompt police response and investigations. But now that they  are archiving their feeds, they are very useful for malicious datamining against targetted individuals. 

          2.  That’s a good point. There should be built-in privacy protections. Deletion after a certain amount of time, a clear set of standards on how people can be tracked, etc.

  2. All that will do is make the cameras smaller.

    I’d really like to see people read David Brin’s “The Transparent Society”. It came out back in 1998, and is a very though look at what real end games we have. The cameras are coming, we are headed into what Charley Stross calls “Total History”, where everything will be recorded, and accessible, forever.

    Privacy is dead (well, mortally wounded), get over it. And think about what kind of choices we DO have, because we do have choices, and they really do matter. 

    Read Brin!

  3. I don’t associate the “surveillance state” with the oligarchy. The oligarchy have their own camera systems, their own security forces, and their own special relationship with power.

    I’d say the reality is far more mundane and depressing. People are paid to tell politicians that cameras everywhere is a great idea. These people are paid to say this by people who make cameras. In reality, these systems are a net loss to effective policing. Money down the drain and fuck all extra convictions, where traditional methods would work better.

    To say, as some do, that cctv is part of some authoritarian system of population control, is to greatly over-estimate the capabilities of those in power, whatever about their motives.

    The cameras are a joke.

    1. When the state increasingly serves the oligarchy, as it tends to do under neoliberalism, then there’s little choice but to associate the two. Whether cameras are inefficient money drains when it comes to fulfilling the ostensible purpose of “public safety” is almost beside the point to those who put them in place.

      The problem Welsh is describing is that cameras and the other mechanisms create a skilled sub-class of guard labour who are given extra privilege (in order to avoid their turning on their masters) and who — given the nature of their organisations — have a tendency to abuse their privileges with impunity (again, as long as the abuse isn’t aimed at their masters).

      So while you’re correct that the cameras aren’t part of some grand totalitarian panopticon scheme executed with frightening efficiency, it doesn’t mean they can be dismissed as a joke.

      1.  I get you.

        For me, the question of abuse of privelige, etc, is purely academic until I see a convincing motive for, or evidence of, such abuse.

        I could propose that cops manning cctv will perv out looking down girls tops with the cameras and spend the day pleasing themselves, but it doesn’t make it true.

        I do find mass surveillance disagreeable, but we can’t arm ourselves with bad arguments.

  4. I would take issue with the assertion “The enforcer class is… Not being driven primarily by justice and a desire to serve the public ”

    Like almost all statements about people as a group, it is not true for all the individuals.  Many law enforcement officers do have a desire for justice and to serve the public.

    Unfortunately, what happens to a lot of them is they get driven out by the ones who do not.  I’d suggest reading “Serpico” for some background on that.  Last I heard, Frank Serpico was living in France.

    Law enforcement brass is composed of some of the most conservative, if not backwards, people you will meet.  Hidebound traditionalists.

    When I was a Deputy Sheriff, I maintained an EMT certification so that I could better serve the public (I often beat the rescue personnel to trauma calls).  However, I was not allowed to wear a small “Star of Life” EMT pin on my uniform.  I could wear a marksmanship medal proclaiming what a great shot I was (said tongue-in-cheek), but not a pin proclaiming that I took extra effort to try to save injured people.

    I also carried a list of referral agencies to send people to for help with various problems.  Officers who do this are denigrated by other officers as being “social workers”.

    I’m sure you get the idea, no need for me to go on at novel length with examples.  It is a bit of a sore point with me.

    1. Well, without sarcasm or false patriotism or any of that, I thank you for the effort and time you put into doing your job the best you possibly can.

      We need more people who think beyond ‘this is problem. I will restrain and or beat problem in the face until it isn’t’ and instead think along your lines. I honestly thought police had to have some kind of EMT training due to being a first responder to many situations.

      1. Thank you, I appreciate it.

        The level of medical training varies from department to department.  Most give Basic First Aid in the Academy.  Many have no requirement after that.

        I never wanted to do just the minimum and collect a paycheck.  So I took the 80-hour EMT course on my own time at my own expense.  And the refreshers, and State Certification, etc.

        Same reason I got a B.S. in Criminology, on my dime and my time.  Not for promotion, I never applied for it.  All I ever wanted to do was work patrol on Swing Shift.  Tue/Wed off was fine with me.

        The brass treated me like I had three heads and ate babies.  If you don’t understand something, apparently you should fear it.

    2. Good points.  

      I think the term “enforce class” doesn’t obviously cover every single person that works in some kind of enforcement field.  As someone who also worked in law enforcement at one point, I can attest to the fact there are some great people out there that really want to make a difference and have no wish to abuse the authority given to them.

      However, there is a sizeable population of people who work in law enforcement or corrections, both public and private, that take a fair amount of glee in their use of authority and believe, with every fibre of their being, that putting the hammer down not only will solve society’s problems, but they can enjoy inflicting a little pain along the way.  The power trip one can experience is quite large, and it is abused on a regular basis.

      I knew folks like you.  You were the good ones, and usually the ones that didn’t last.  It can be a thankless, mentally exhausting job, especially for those that truly want to make a difference.

      There is certainly an entire industry, from the private security contractors, to private prisons, to corporations paying for the ability to monitor and access your information in order to keep an eye on you.  Those positions attract a certain kind of person, and that person is what I would refer to as part of the “enforcer class”, not necessarily local law enforcement.

          1. It is really nice to have the luxury of not having to own and learn to use some form of lethal force myself. I really hate both exercise and the outdoors, which would make all forms of combat training prolonged misery.

      1. Actually, I think Jon Stuart had the best take on your attitude.  From his standup routine, before he got the Daily Show.  Something like “Yeah, we were all marching, and demonstrating, and yelling ‘Fuck the Police!’.  Then a riot broke out and people started throwing bottles and rocks and stuff, and I was like ‘Where the fuck are the Police?'”

        But I do take heed of this observation: The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

        Which is tempered by this:  No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it. Theodore Roosevelt

        So far, I score this exchange 3-0 in my favor.Can’t wait to hear from the Russian judge.  8)

        1. The funny thing to me about that quote from Stewart, is that in all the coalitions of liberals and radicals for organizing demonstrations I’ve been in, the radicals usually favored organizing our own security teams to defuse that sort of situation, while the liberals generally wanted to leave it entirely to the police.

          Liberals seemed to see it as a question of whether to trust an imperfect state, or collapse into absolute chaos, whereas we saw it as a question of how to achieve a just social order on our own terms.

    3. I’m sure that a lot of people go into guard labour with perfectly good and noble intentions. But when the leadership (what I would make distinct as the “enforcer class”) and organisational culture is as corrupt as you describe, the institution itself twists them. To use an extreme current example, look at Joe Arpaio’s sheriff’s department: deputies like yourself would either leave the organisation quickly or turn into what they despise.

      And police and sheriff departments are publicly funded organisations subject to some oversight. Imagine what goes on in for-profit prisons, corporate security outfits, debt collection agencies, etc. (heck, you don’t even to have to imagine — plenty of stories on BoingBoing alone). 

  5. Surveillance can be part of a system of control, but it’s really just observation and a way of sharing observations.  Ultimately it moves control of, eg, law enforcement away from a designated group (police) and into the hands of the people at large.  

    1. Til one group is told it’s illegal to record the other group (IE getting your camera/phone/etc snatched out of your hand and smashed because you pointed it at a cop.)

      1. Our cameras are getting smaller too.   

        We will know we are in serious trouble when video evidence of malfeasance is ignored or openly mocked, at which point we will no longer live in anything recognizable as a democracy.

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