Security systems and trust

Sometimes, little local stories give us the best insight into what living in a surveillance society is really like. This one is from a school in Virginia, USA. According to the local newspaper (via BoingBoing) a middle school student was suspended from school for opening the main door for a women who they knew who was unable to press the entry button because they had their hands full. The reason given by the school auhtorities is that the school has a secure entry system, in which people are supposed to press the entry button, look into a camera, and request entry. The student was suspended on the grounds that they were all supposed to know the rules, and that these rules were potentially of vital importance.

However this security-bureaucratic reasoning misses the key point that the child knew the adult concerned. Whilst security and surveillance systems are at least in part designed to respond to a supposed decline in social trust and an inceased ‘threat’ (which is very poorly supported by evidence anyway), there is good reason to suppose that placing what were previously matters of social negotiation into the hands of such ‘systems’, ‘rules’ and ‘technology’ further damages social trust.

Many questions then arise: what is this school, through this action and these systems, teaching kids about society? That security comes above all else? That no-one can be trusted? And that individual decision-making or social interaction is better replaced by impersonal systems? Surely, if education is the basis of the future of society, then what should be taught are the opposite lessons. This kind of subordination to systems is a form of training, of disciplinary control, not learning and education.


Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

2 thoughts on “Security systems and trust”

  1. I think that is the thinking they want to foster on students, that we are living in a society of mistrust which is sad since they are the educators and educating the students this way about their society will either make them distrust people altogether.

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