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How Fear of Government Surveillance Influences Our Behavior

Literary Hub: “If surveillance doesn’t make us act differently, explain this: The psychology department’s coffee room at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom offers coffee and tea on the honor system: users put their money in a box. The department decided to rotate different price list signs as part of a research study. One week a picture of flowers was featured at the top of the list; the next week a photocopied picture of human eyes aimed directly at patrons reading the sign. On the weeks in which the eyes were displayed, people paid nearly three times as much for their caffeine fix as weeks when the flowers were shown. According to researchers in this and several other studies, the gaze of staring eyes—even a drawing or photograph—changes people’s behavior. Feeling watched is a powerful tool for social control, causing people to censor their behavior and conform to what they take to be the desired outcome. security expert Bruce Schneier says the function of omnipresent surveillance is to control a population. “The fact that you won’t do things, that you will self-censor, are the worst effects of pervasive surveillance.”…

Jonathan Penney of Oxford University offers empirical evidence supporting the premise that the existence of a surveillance state results in self-censorship, fostering fear and conformity, so that we refrain from acting in ways or saying things that may arouse suspicion…”

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