Philosophers have long opined on the inextricable nature of incarceration and surveillance. Prisons have historically been the testing ground for new surveillance technologies. Bentham’s panopticon with it’s single guard tower overseeing a circular cell block eventually evolved into a lone guard monitoring an entire prison’s CCTV which eventually evolved into police departments surveilling entire cities via fusion centers and spy planes.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many prison officials saw their chance to ramp up their surveillance and test new technologies. This new push for surveillance has been fueled by prisons officials intent on more tightly controlling the flow of information in and out of their prisons, especially surrounding COVID outbreaks, and security system contractors knowing they could score lucrative ground-floor contracts in a new and growing field. Unsurprisingly, this has not been good for prisoners and their families and is a bad omen for Fourth Amendment rights in general. It has limited prisoners’ contact with their families, especially in person contact. It has forced them to utilize expensive digital communication platforms that not only retain both prisoners’ and their families’ private information but also monitor every conversation that they have.
At Restore the Fourth we believe people do not give up their right to privacy when they are incarcerated. It is inhumane to expect otherwise. That’s why we’ve written an issue brief detailing increasing forms of prison and carceral surveillance and what can be done about it. You can read this brief on our issues page here.