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Dawn of the Surveillance Dead

September 23, 2010

My second zombie story today may be (at least for anti-surveillance advocates) a more positive one. Every since the global credit crunch hit, I have been wondering about its effects on the expansion of the surveillance industry (see here, here, here and here). On the one hand, it could be hit as hard as any other sector, but on the other, security tends to be the one sector that thrives in recessions as crime, or at least fear of crime, rises in these periods. I saw on the UK industry site, Surveillance Park, a story about a report by Plimsoll Analysis, conducted over the summer this year, saying that of 960 companies surveyed in the surveillance field in the UK, 143 have been left in a ‘zombie’ state by the recession. Essentially these companies are the living dead: they look like active companies, they have an offficial existence, but in reality there is nothing alive inside – they stumble on merely to pay off existing debts.

However, whilst this may seem like a significant blow to the ongoing expansion of the surveillance industry – that’s 21% of the companies in the sector in trouble – the industry analysts argue that in fact this provides a further opportunity for market consolidation. They say that 79 of these companies are in fact ripe for take-over.

This is part of a trend we have also been witnessing in the research we are doing currently for the Canadian Federal Privacy Commissioner on the involvement of private companies in border control – see e.g. this story. In my view, what is emerging from the recession is a global surveillance and security industry that will be composed of bigger, more diversified companies – a ‘rationalization’ of the proliferation of small start-ups and spin-offs that started in the 1990s but really took off after the US (and international) response to the 9/11 attacks, which made it clear that there would be long-term state investment in and purchasing of high-tech surveillance and security ‘solutions’. The thing is that for those interested in challenging the onward march of surveillance, this may not be such good news after all – bigger companies with their own institutional structures and cultures, and lucrative guaranteed state contracts, are likely to be far less amenable to influence from the outside.

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