Gen Z wants government surveillance cameras in their home

by George Lovell | | 0 comments

Does that shock you?

In George Orwell's infamous dystopian novel, 1984, citizens are placed under constant surveillance, enabling the government to monitor people at all times, even in their homes. The story offers an extreme example of what can happen when a government gains too much power, and we would assume that most people would be strongly opposed to such surveillance in the real world.

But that assumption is unravelling.

In a new study, 2000 Americans were asked whether they “favour or oppose the government installing surveillance cameras in every household to reduce domestic violence, abuse, and other illegal activity.”

It wasn't too surprising to see that most participants (75%) opposed the intervention.

However, 3 in 10 of 18-29 year-olds were in favour!

The authors suggest that young people today are less exposed to examples of expansive government power, and are therefore less aware of its dangers. Those over 45 are significantly less open to the idea of in-home surveillance. These Americans would have been old enough to remember the Cold War, during which they would have seen many news reports on the Soviet Union surveilling their own people and the dire consequences that ensued.

They tie this into Jonathan Haidt's theory that the younger generation generally prioritises safety (from possible violence or hurtful words) over ensuring robust freedom (from government surveillance or to speak freely).

I suspect that this difference is largely due to the fact that the younger generations have grown up with the internet and social media. Early exposure to these platforms has made it normal (required) to forego privacy in exchange for access to digital services. A significant chunk of our social lives is drip-fed to us by online platforms, and we accept that they will track our behaviours, habits and preferences as a result.

Perhaps also the pandemic expedited this process, with people becoming more accustomed to government, employers, and tech companies exercising authoritarian control over their personal lives.

On the other hand, I have, in recent years, observed an increase in the use of privacy tools such as VPNs, and an overall growing distrust in big tech and governments alike. It's difficult to integrate this observation into these findings.

I found the other demographic factors quite interesting also. African Americans and Hispanic Americans were more likely to support in‐home government surveillance; Democrats and liberals were more likely than Republicans and conservatives. Men and women were roughly equal.

Here's the study report.

I'd be very interested to see this study replicated in the UK. Do you think the results would be different?

Whilst the rather creepy scenario in the study was hypothetical, it does give pause for thought. Why are people becoming more open to the idea of government surveillance - and is it a bad thing?

It's near-impossible to live a "normal" life in a country like the UK or the US without a degree of compliance; and without surrendering a degree of privacy. To an extent and applied appropriately, this probably does make our lives better and safer. But where should we draw the line; pinpoint the equilibrium between sovereignty and autonomy in such a way that maximises our collective welfare? It's a long, convoluted social experiment. We are all participants, whether we like it or not, and the consequences are real.

Thanks for reading!

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