Telesurveillance (Private and public spaces) – Bac d’anglais

Voici un article qui résume tout ce qu’il faut savoir pour le bac d’anglais sur la télésurveillance, dans l’axe d’étude “Private and public spaces”. En effet avec les révolutions technologiques, la ligne entre les espaces privés et publiques s’amincit.

Le thème de la télésurveillance englobe de nombreux sujets et enjeux : la frontière entre vie publique et vie privée, l’essor des nouvelles technologies et la main mise des géants de la tech sur nos données personnelles, le rôle de l’Etat dans la surveillance, les lanceurs d’alerte… Cette fiche te permettra d’avoir une compréhension globale de cette notion et des exemples concrets pour l’illustrer. 

Definition of telesurveillance

Telesurveillance, telemonitoring or remote surveillance are equal terms and refer to the careful watching of a person, a group, a place or ongoing activity to gather information. Telesurveillance is especially used over a suspect or a prisoner, because of a crime that has happened or is expected. 

But especially doesn’t mean only. Indeed, telesurveillance is also used by actors other than the police or the army and this questions the frontier between public and private space. For the matter, we can wonder is there is still private information in this context of globalisation and booming of new technologies. 

The main actors of telesurveillance and their tools

Dans ce paragraphe, tu vas (re)découvrir les principaux acteurs de la télésurveillance du monde anglophone et les outils utilisés. 

The main actors of telesurveillance are the intelligence services which work for national security and have now expertise in cybersecurity. 

  • CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the USA
  • The NSA (National Security Agency) in the USA
  • The SIS or MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) collects Britain’s foreign intelligence to defend national security
  • The GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in the UK specialised in electronic intelligence
  • The police
  • The army
  • And therefore the State

Examples of surveillance tools: security cameras, alarms, facial recognition, artificial intelligence…

The different uses of telesurveillance

To solve a crime or prevent one

This is surely the main positive aspect of telemonitoring. 

There are often cameras and alarms in our streets and shops. These devices can either prevent a crime from happening (the individual do not commit a crime because he knows he is been watched) or provide a proof to solve a crime (footage can help identify the person responsible for a crime for instance). Some people even install cameras inside their home to prevent burglary or detect an intrusion and identify the culprit. 

Therefore, telesurveillance is here used both in the public and private sector to solve a crime or prevent one and more generally to make our environment safer. 

To gather data : the case of Edward Snowden and the NSA

Edward Snowden is a whistleblower who used to work at the NSA and had access to confidential documents. In 2013, he revealed the existence of massive surveillance programs directed by the US and the UK governments. For instance, he disclosed that all the data gathered by the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) were in fact intercepted and collected by the PRISM Program, a top-secret program created by the NSA to carry out surveillance and security operations. After his statement, Edward Snowden escaped in Hong Kong and was accused of spying (ironic, isn’t it ?). 

This scandal uncovered a disturbing truth : the apps created by US tech giants had become uncontrollable : the personal and private data people entrusted to them were (and are) in fact exploited by these firms and used by US intelligence services. People are tracked without even knowing it. 

telesurveillance-snowden

Edward Snowden during an interview

To implement an ideology : 2 examples of mass surveillance

Mass surveillance in China

La Chine est sûrement le pays où la télésurveillance est la plus généralisée. Voici quelques éléments pour comprendre l’ampleur du phénomène dans le pays. 

In China, the proportion of cameras and facial recognition tools are beyond compare. As Xi Jinping’s government prioritises national security, it has encouraged advances in AI (artificial intelligence) technologies to track the daily moves of its 1.3 billion citizens thanks to a giant network of cameras (more than 600 million cameras).

In 2014, the Chinese government announced its ambition to implement a social credit system. Basically, it will be a way for Chinese authorities to judge citizens’ behaviour and trustworthiness by gathering personal data and tracking their daily activities.

An example of mass surveillance in science-fiction: 1984 by George Orwell

In his novel 1984, the British writer depicts a totalitarian society ruled by Big Brother, a stalinian figure and an allegory to the unique political party which holds power. In the streets, propaganda posters read “Big Brother is watching you”. This character, which never appears in person in the novel, embodies the European totalitarian leaders of the XXth century. 

Here, mass surveillance is used to implement the ideology of the totalitarian leader in power. People are constantly under surveillance and their every movement is tracked : the opponents to the party are arrested, those who are reluctant to agree with the government are brainwashed… 

Therefore, mass surveillance becomes synonymous with violation of liberties and invasion of privacy. Nowadays, the expression “Big Brother” refers to the practices that invade our privacy or violate our liberties and China is often caricatured like this. You can read more about 1984 in this article which deals with dystopias.

How to use these examples during your exam?

Pour bien assimiler la notion de télésurveillance, tu peux te rendre sur le site de la banque nationale de sujets qui regroupe plus d’une soixantaine de sujets d’évaluations communes de première en anglais. Attardons-nous sur l’exemple suivant :

Example of a subject : Espace privé et Espace public

Let’s talk about subject B. Discuss the following statement : “We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from governments.” 

Here, you can easily make a parallel from this statement to the PRISM Program created by the NSA (and therefore the US government) and the situation of

China where the government has put in place mass surveillance. 

The term “rapidly” can be explained by the digital age. With it came technological advances which accelerated thanks to (or because of ?) the globalisation of knowledge and the competition between tech giants. There is also the fact that technologies like cameras are more and more accessible because they are cheap so practically anybody can buy one, which generalises the process. 

To qualify your comments, you can precise that the situation of massive surveillance in China is compared to the situation in other countries where there are laws which forbid you to install cameras wherever you want for instance. 

Telesurveillance – Some useful vocabulary 

  • telesurveillance / telemonitoring / remote surveillance : télésurveillance
  • intelligence service : service de renseignement
  • secret service : service secret / service de renseignement 
  • to spy on someone : espionner quelqu’un 
  • line of sight : ligne de mire 
  • a whistleblower : un lanceur d’alerte
  • a burglary : un cambriolage
  • a footage : une image 
  • facial recognition : la reconnaissance faciale
  • artificial intelligence : l’intelligence artificielle
  • to quality my comments : nuancer mes propos
  • a culprit : un coupable
  • to gather data : récolter des données
  • to solve a crime : résoudre un crime 
  • to disclose : révéler 
  • to uncover sth : découvrir / mettre à jour quelque chose (dans le cadre d’une investigation)

N’hésitez pas à consulter nos autres fiches pour bien préparer l’oral d’anglais comme notre fiche sur la méthodologie de l’oral d’anglais