Thursday, June 09, 2005

Inside the Panopticon

As you probably know, President Bush is currently calling on Congress to reauthorize 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of this year.

The Patriot Act is a blatant affront on civil liberties as the selectively edited excerpt from the Constitution demonstrates...
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted...

The biggest concerns about the new act invovle the expanded powers of the FBI to subpoena
records without the approval of a judge or grand jury and without exhibiting any evidence that the person is actually involved in any type of terrorist activity. Although the law limits the kind of information subject to this authority, the judgment as to whether the legal standard has been met is entirely that of the FBI official — no judge is ever involved. The recipient of a request for is required to comply, is bound to secrecy, and has no clear recourse to any court.

California senator Diane Feinstein and others have said that although the argument for using such subpoenas in terrorism investigations sounded reasonable -- they're already used in criminal and regulatory cases -- the secret, open-ended nature of intelligence work was very different.

What's more the senate discussions of the proposed provisions are being held behind closed doors, away from the watchful eyes of voting citizens and civil liberties groups.

This type of clandestine information gathering without just cause conjures up the Michel Fouault's image of the Panopticon, the ideal prison suggested by
by Jeremy Bentham at the end of the eighteenth century. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The Panopticon thus allows seeing without being seen. This assemtry of knowledge is for Foucault the very essence of power.. "[T]he external power may throw off its weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects; it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance."


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