In an article at MIT Technology Review, Ethan Zuckerman makes an interesting point on how years of police body cams and bystander cellphone video has not stopped police violence. He recalls how these kinds of surveillance are linked to the ideas of the panopticon. But that one aspect of Jeremy Bentham’s hope for a completely transparent system has not been achieved.
Bentham’s panopticon works because the warden of the prison has the power to punish you if he witnesses your misbehavior. But Bentham’s other hope for the panopticon—that the behavior of the warden would be transparent and evaluated by all who saw him—has never come to pass. Over 10 years, from 2005 to 2014, only 48 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter for use of lethal force, though more than 1,000 people a year are killed by police in the United States.
This how Michel Foucault, in his book “Discipline and Punish” describes Bentham’s vision:
This Panopticon, subtly arranged so that an observer may observe, at a glance, so many different individuals, also enables everyone to come and observe any of the observers. The seeing machine was once a sort of dark room into which individuals spied; it has become a transparent building in which the exercise of power may be supervised by society as a whole.