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Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life

Rowman & Littlefield;; 251 pages; $80.

William G. Staples has authored an impressive, well-written, and exhaustive historical analysis of what he terms society’s ever-increasing “culture of surveillance” and “postmodern surveillance practices.” While extremely readable and eye opening, Everyday Surveillance should not be considered a guide to or an overview of contemporary surveillance techniques and methodologies. Instead, it is a wide-ranging historical overview of the progression of surveillance and control tactics beginning in the 1700s and continuing all the way to the controversial surveillance tactics employed by government agencies today. The book frames techniques and technology from the post-Renaissance period to contemporary issues raised by smart technologies, RFID, and the Google Street View Project.

The author succeeds in charting a relevant and intriguing historical study of the evolution of techniques and technologies that society has used to control citizens from a law enforcement perspective all the way to invasive corporate marketing and societal control. The author argues effectively that technology is used at all levels of society to obscure, monitor, and ultimately control individual citizens. The author argues that we exert self-control through technological advances that obscure the borderlines between countries and the fences between neighbors. Specifically, he addresses the differences, or lack thereof, between our public and private lives and how those differences are becoming increasingly obscured.

Ultimately, this book clearly and effectively challenges the reader to consider how technology has benefited or damaged society. Staples does not pass judgment or offer personal opinion on the techniques described throughout the book; however, he challenges the reader in the hope of creating public discourse regarding concepts of justice, transparency, societal control, and voyeurism.

This book should be viewed as an advanced sociological, historical, analytical, and at times philosophical discourse on a topic relevant to all security practitioners and society as a whole. The discussions raised are better suited for educational settings than the workplace, and the book should be required reading for master’s programs in criminal justice.

Reviewer: Don Aviv, CPP, PSP, PCI, is the chief operating officer of Interfor Inc., an international investigative and security consulting firm, and advisor to security technology start-up He is a member of the ASIS Security Services Council and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland University College, where he teaches homeland security-related courses and terrorism studies.