Europe’s Surveillance State

The Open Europe report

I have just got hold of a new report by UK-eurosceptic think-tank, Open Europe, called How the EU is Watching You: the Rise of Europe’s Surveillance State, which whilst it isn’t as startling as the NeoConPanopticon report from the Trilateral Institute and Statewatch, does some to collect some useful information together in one place. Crucially the report points out the same thing as Will Webster and I did in our paper in JCER a couple of months ago, that this isn’t just a case of ‘European’ bad practice being imposed on the UK, but just as much UK bad practice being exported and generalised throughout Europe.

One interesting footnote is how the discourse of opposition and analysis is changing. A few years ago, and still in academia, the idea of the ‘surveillance society’ was the dominant way of describing the situation, but now there is once again an increasing focus on the ‘surveillance state’ or the ‘database state’.  This is partly, I think because there are an increasing number of right-libertarian and anti-state or small-state groupings openly opposing increasing surveillance – for example, the new Big Brother Watch in the UK, and they tend to emphasise the state’s role (or in this case, the role of an organisation they regard as an unaccountable superstate). This also reflects the growing opposition from the UK in particular. This is particularly interesting because in the past, the idea of the ‘surveillance state’ was mainly a historical term to do with the development of repressive political policing, especially that involved in colonial counter-insurgency – see, for example, Alfred McCoy’s new book, Policing America’s Empire, on the role of the US occupation of the Philippines in the co-evolution of US and Filipino state surveillance practices – or in the totalitarian regimes of the former Eastern Bloc.

The landscape today is much less obviously one of state control. Indeed one could see these developments as a result of the retreat of the power of the individual state and an attempted reconfiguration of state-power of a new kind at a supranational level. And, this power is crucially dependent, as it has been since the end of WW2 on the private sector. The military-industrial complex is now a security-industrial complex and security is no longer anywhere near being simply state business.