When we started this project, once we realized that we were going ahead with creating a tracker, all of us at IFF started thinking about what to call it. Some of the names that we thought of were funny like ‘Chashme Baddoor’, others simply outrageous and not worth mentioning.
However, finally (thankfully) we decided to call it Project Panoptic. The name, as some of you might be aware of, originates from the term ‘panopticon’. In the 18th century, Jeremy Bentham, building on work done by his brother Samuel, created the panopticon as an institutional building which allowed a single security guard in a central tower to observe all prisoners of an institution without the prisoners being aware of whether they were being watched or not. While it was physically impossible for the single guard to observe them at all times, the prisoners were motivated to behave as though they were being observed at all times due to the uncertainty of not knowing whether they were being observed at that moment. The panopticon, thus, was designed, as an effective tool of self-regulation of behaviour.
While the Bentham brothers are credited for its origin, the idea of the panopticon as a tool of social control was expanded by Michel Foucault in his 1975 book, ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’. Foucault argued that the panopticon was an illustration of how a modern disciplinary society regulates its citizens through ‘asymmetrical surveillance’. “He is seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication.” As a result, citizens, who are given to internalize authority, regulate their behaviour preemptively as a result of being in a state of conscious visibility. The constant surveillance, or the idea of constant surveillance, permeates into the everyday lives of citizens.
The question that also arises is “Who will watch the watchmen?”. Here, comes the theory of the constitutional panopticon (discussed in Jeremy Bentham’s 1830 book ‘Constitutional Code’), which essentially inverts the panopticon with the citizens observing those who observe/govern them. “The focus is on governing functionaries, who are monitored through the use of more or less panoptic methods, to ensure they act in a way to maximise pleasure and minimise pain, or in other words, to prevent misrule.”
Join us tomorrow as we launch Project Panoptic hoping to bring accountability to government authorities launching facial recognition technology systems across the country. Register now!