Ben Engle

Democracy is a governing system in which the power and authority of the state is drawn from the people. Democracy is often a driving force for the implementation of surveillance. Most modern states, including the United States, employ a form of a representative democracy, where citizens vote for representatives to run the government and make legislation, rather than a direct democracy, where the citizens themselves vote on legislation (Kessler, 2005).
Democracy and surveillance share an intrinsic relationship together. Democracy uses surveillance to fulfill its duties to the people, but also can be at the risk of letting exceptionally intrusive surveillance destroy itself (Bigo, 2014). In order for a democracy to satisfy its requirements to provide fair elections, law enforcement, and protection of individual liberties, an infrastructure must exist to collect data. As populations and the addition of civil duties of government grew, “bureaucratic organization [to evolve] as a means of coordinating activities,” (Lyon, 1994, pp.33). The organization required for a democracy to maintain services can also inhibit its role to protect the rights of citizens when, “[security] forms exceptional measures beyond the realm of normal politics and rule of law,” destroying democratic ideals (Bigo, 2014, pp. 277).
An example of this paradox exists in Turkey’s criminal justice system. In an attempt to decrease the usage of confessions and testimonies, the Turkish criminal justice system is pushing to rely on DNA forensics for evidence-based investigations, in addition to creating a national DNA database. This would make investigations simpler and produce more reliable evidence while also increasing the investigation capabilities of the government over people and cause the collection of sensitive personal data (Bahçecik, 2015). People, rather than being safeguarded by government tyranny, are deprived of sensitive and private information and placed under increasing social control by the government.


Bahçecik, Şerif O. (2015). The power effects of human rights reforms in Turkey: Enhanced surveillance and depoliticization. Third World Quarterly, 36(6), 1227. doi: 10/1018/01436597.2015.1047204

Bigo, Didier. (2014). Security, surveillance, and democracy. In K. Ball, K. Haggerty, & D. Lyon (Eds). Routledge handbook of surveillance studies (277-284). New York, NY: Routledge.

Elements of democracy. (2007). Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education.

Kessler, A. S. (2005). Representative versus direct democracy: The role of informational asymmetries. Public Choice, 122(1), 10.

Lyon, D. (1994). Electronic eye: The rise of surveillance society. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.


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Key Concepts in Surveillance Studies Copyright © 2019 by Ben Engle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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