SEED: Fastidious Inquiry
HOST: Jessica Foley
MEETING-PLACE: Microsoft Teams
DATE: 30th September 2020
In 1967, the poet Richard Brautigan imagined a cybernetic world where people would be watched over by “machines of loving grace”. Half a century later, in the midst of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, governments around the world are leveraging an existing “cybernetic ecology” of networked digital technologies to monitor and mitigate against the spread of the novel coronavirus, as well as announcing new social/physical restrictions and laws for citizens to abide by.
Many believe that the swift deployment of surveillance technologies by governments is justified if they help to limit the spread of the virus and thereby save lives, regardless of concerns relating to privacy or social engineering. Others argue that this narrative sets up a “false trade” between public health and civil liberties (Kitchin 2020). Civil Liberties groups feel that those who wield the political power to implement surveillance technologies are cavalier and unaccountable, demonstrating an institutionalised carelessness that leaves the public vulnerable, mistrustful and exposed to uncertain personal threat.
Such are the conditions out of which figures of Fastidious Inquiry emerge. And when representative state powers beseech the public to “Trust Us, We Respect Your Privacy!”, these figures of excessive care begin surveilling the surveillants guided by their motto: No one is free of the inquiry.
In this session of Engineering Fictions we explore the significance of inquiry in relation to online surveillance by state powers. We will do this through the figure of the fastidious inquirer, a figure who cares excessively when others care not. We will reflect on the language and meaning of inquiry and surveillance in relation to governance, policing, civil liberties and technology. The session will open with a seeded conversation around the concept of Fastidious Inquiry, followed by conversation and writing.
This session of Engineering Fictions has been devised as part of the Scottish Universities Insight Institute Programme on Embedding Ethics by Design in the Policing of Digital Futures in Scotland.