[FOUNTAIN]Society’s watchmen should be watched

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[FOUNTAIN]Society’s watchmen should be watched

The English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is famous for advocating “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Mr. Bentham believed that happiness comes from pleasure. He considered pleasure to be a virtue and pain to be an evil. He believed that alleviating a prisoner’s pain, if it were possible to do so, would be a social good.
That is why Mr. Bentham argued that society should build prisons with better environments and facilities. This was the basic idea behind his design for an ideal prison, which he called the Panopticon. It name suggested that within its walls, everything (“pan”) would be observed (“optic”).
The Panopticon was a cylindrical prison. In Mr. Bentham’s blueprint, the cells were arranged in a circular pattern around a central tower, from which the guards observed the prisoners. The cells were always kept lit, but the tower was always dark. In this way, the guards could always keep an eye on the prisoners, but the prisoners could never know when they were being watched. Just as Adam Smith had discovered the “invisible hand” of the free market, Mr. Bentham designed the “invisible eye.”
The Panopticon was not built during Mr. Bentham’s lifetime. Society’s leaders of the time were unable to understand Mr. Bentham’s concept. These days, the principle behind the Panopticon can be seen in action, but in a different form.
Today’s Panopticon does not observe prisoners, but citizens. An example can be seen in London. Someone walking through central London can expected to be caught on camera by closed-circuit television, or CCTV, every 30 seconds. London residents can appear on CCTV as many as 300 times a day. And British authorities say they plan to increase the number of CCTVs in the city.
In New York, there are 604 CCTVs just in Times Square, one of America’s busiest districts. In 2000, a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, there were 131 CCTVs in the area. It has taken only a few years for a noticable increase in public monitoring. Likewise, the “hidden eyes” in Seoul are proliferating too.
Of course we cannot say that these changes are all bad. The London subway bombers were caught on CCTV. We cannot overlook the effect CCTV can have on preventing terrorism and crime. The problem arises when it is put to bad use. The tapes recorded by these hidden cameras could roam around, just like the audiotapes that caused a furor in Korea last week. This is why it is necessary for citizens to keep an eye on who is in charge of the cameras. The modern Panopticon must be transparent if we want to prevent the greatest misfortune from happening to the greatest number.


by Lee Sang-il

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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