Pain and pleasure are the great springs of human action. When a man perceives or supposes pain to be the consequence of an act, he is acted upon in such a manner as tends, with a certain force, to withdraw him, as it were, from the commission of that act. If the apparent magnitude, or rather value of that pain be greater than the apparent magnitude or value of the pleasure or good he expects to be the consequence of the act, he will be absolutely prevented from performing it….

With respect to a given individual, the recurrence of an offense may be provided against in three ways:
  1. By taking from him the physical power of offending.
  2. By taking away the desire of offending.
  3. By making him afraid of offending.

In the first case, the individual can no more commit the offense; in the second, he no longer desires to commit it; in the third, he may still wish to commit it, but he no longer dares to do it. In the first case, there is a physical incapacity; in the second, a moral reformation; in the third, there is intimidation or terror of the law.

The English prisons of the eighteenth century were devoted to one thing: holding prisoners. Crime, even violent crime, continued unabated inside the prison walls. At the time, justice was somewhat arbitrary to begin with; the fact that wealthy prisoners could buy better accomodations while poor ones were given worse food and lodging (and died more often) makes it even more so to modern eyes. Utilitiarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham thought he could do better. He wanted to rationalize punishment.

Pain and pleasure are the great springs of human action. When a man perceives or supposes pain to be the consequence of an act, he is acted upon in such a manner as tends, with a certain force, to withdraw him, as it were, from the commission of that act. If the apparent magnitude, or rather value of that pain be greater than the apparent magnitude or value of the pleasure or good he expects to be the consequence of the act, he will be absolutely prevented from performing it….

With respect to a given individual, the recurrence of an offense may be provided against in three ways:
  1. By taking from him the physical power of offending.
  2. By taking away the desire of offending.
  3. By making him afraid of offending.

In the first case, the individual can no more commit the offense; in the second, he no longer desires to commit it; in the third, he may still wish to commit it, but he no longer dares to do it. In the first case, there is a physical incapacity; in the second, a moral reformation; in the third, there is intimidation or terror of the law.

A rational prison, Bentham reasoned, would have a few simple rules. The prisoners would be kept in humane cells, but prevented from interacting with (or even seeing) one another. Every cell would be arranged around a central guard tower; guards could see into the cells, but the prisoners couldn’t see the guards. They’d never know if they were being watched and would, therefore, have to be on their best behavior all the time. Bentham had dreamed up the Panopticon, "applicable to any sort of establishment in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection." At least one building in the panopticon style was built, but Bentham’s idea languished as a footnote until Michel Foucault seized upon it in his Discipline and Punish. Other academics followed, and eventually a thousand undergraduate term papers bloomed.

And that was that for the panopticon. Except that video cameras quietly developed until the panopticist vision of never being out of sight (if not of cutting the viewed away from their support) could become a reality. It’s not private efforts that lead to the surveillance state. Even if every voyeur who saw one of the ludicrously prurient ads for X-10 webcams had installed one, the major threat to privacy would still be government actions. Mayor Richard Daley has proposed installing police observation towers throughout Chicago. In Britain, the most-surveilled country in the world, the cameras remain surprisingly popular despite studies that have shown cameras yield mixed results in combatting crime (and smoking in the bog). Perhaps Britons balance privacy and safety concerns a bit differently in America. Perhaps they’re convinced by a few high-profile successes, such as in the James Bulger child murder case. Or perhaps they’re happy about being caught on camera hundreds of times a day. Someday, we’ll all be Surveillance Camera Players. A few of us will be doing it on purpose and most of us won’t, but in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen seconds of grainy video.