Innerview: Mark Andrejevic

The Vision Machine sought out Dr. Mark Andrejevic for his thoughts regarding surveillance, datamining, and the recent NSA revelations.  His 2013 book, Infoglut: How Too Much Information is Changing the Way We Think and Know, is a timely confrontation with the recent shift toward this new mode of control.  What makes this book particularly powerful is not simply its documentation of how the big data apparatus works, but also its discussion of the philosophical and cultural undercurrents that accompany the big data world – everything from precog crime and signature strikes to the externalizing of subjectivity and the proliferation of conspiracy rhetoric in public life.   In the innerview, he draws both from the book and events that have transpired since its publication.

Dr. Andrejevic is media scholar at the Center for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland.  Here, we present two versions of the innerview: a condensed video and a nearly unabridged hour-long audio segment that goes into greater depth and detail.

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6 thoughts on “Innerview: Mark Andrejevic

  1. The surveillance apparatus that is available in our society is one that has vast capabilities for governments to survey its citizens. This idea of data mining has been around for a while but has rapidly been adopted for security purposes by governments. Revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013 made the world aware of the surveillance capabilities by governments and how much data they collect from its citizens. Mark Andrejevic gave a very insightful interview on the Vision Machine about the state of surveillance in the world and chronicles how this process of mass surveillance and data mining came to play a part in our society. The interview Andrejevic gives is very precise as he explains in great detail the reasoning behind mass surveillance, how and why the process of data mining takes place and also the societal factors that made this surveillance possible and in some regards accepted.

    Andrejevic’s begins by explaining the context on how surveillance became available through the advances of technology and how the business and corporate sectors were the pioneers in using this technology. This comes to the crux of Andrejevic’s piece and that while most of the academic literature is on surveillance and its relation to security it is the business sector that has been at the forefront of this shift and the consumerism aspect of society that allowed surveillance to be so accepted. The business sector pioneered the idea of collecting information on its customers as they believed that this information could aid them in making decisions that could suit the customer and create more revenue (Maheshwari, 2015). This argument is very effective and insightful and gives a crucial history of data mining before governments realised the capabilities it would have in regards to surveillance. Andrejevic goes on to explain that this idea was co-opted by the US government to fit the recent paradigm shift of governments switching to internal factors and the need to survey all citizens as potential terrorist threats.

    Andrejevic then explains the process of data mining and what it is and isn’t capable of doing as a result of the technological shifts that made it all possible. He explains that there is a distinction between the old targeted surveillance and todays mass surveillance of all citizens. The argument he makes which is heavily regarded in the wider circles of scholars is that this form of targeted surveillance would not work on following mass populations because listening into content is far too time consuming. There is such a vast amount of data and to be properly analysed and processed would be far too difficult for humans to process so algorithms are far easier and cost effective (Fayyad, Piatetsky-Shapiro, Smyth, 1996) . This is why Andrejevic believes data mining has been so heavily adopted because it is so convenient for governments to have the automated collection of data. The convenience of being able to collect so much data automatically and the ability to have algorithms find patterns of behaviour made an almost irresistible combination for governments to ignore at the expense of peoples freedom and liberty.

    All these elements are largely well known and commonly seen in the general academic discussion regarding what is surveillance. Where Andrejevic really makes his argument is that to frame the surveillance in terms of solely policing is very limiting and that it covers a much broader spectrum. Andrejevics speaks about how consumerism in our society drove this technology and how that it acted as a constant driver which allowed governments to easily harness this information for their own agenda. The idea that the same principles of surveillance is to know as much about all, is very convincing and that those principles can be framed to many different aspects of society. For consumerism he says it is to provide constant satisfaction and to drive profit for better ways to consume, while security sectors take this idea to mean we need to constantly survey the population as there are constant threats in society (Fienberg, 2008). It is a good point and one that I wish was more delved into is the process in which states realised and developed the programs that the business sector had and adapted to fit the security sector. The strength of his argument lies in the way he argues that our involvement in consumerism has provided the perfect environment for the governments to ‘piggyback’ onto and take all of this data for their own security purposes. Andrejevic argues that we willingly contribute to this society by involving ourselves in products and services that haemorrhage data and in a way that seems attractive and also passive.

    The argument that Andrejevic gives about the way consumerism has infiltrated our society is given within the changing attitudes of surveillance from the fear of a ‘1984’ dystopian society to where we are now. As Seb Kaemf the interviewer explains there was quite a fear before 1984 and after of a governmental surveillance agency that monitors citizens consistently and tracks their every move. This fictional world was seen as dystopian and should be avoided at all costs yet the Snowden revelations revealed to the world that in fact we are living in a world where this idea is very much real and is happening. Andrejevic states that the anxiety of surveillance has been reduced through different mechanisms of surveillance cameras, technologies and the media in particular the rise of reality TV shows that glamorise the idea of surveillance. The rise of surveillance in society through cameras was accepted readily as a safety precautions means but the mass surveillance and collection of personal data was for many people an outrageous notion and was a major shock for many in western societies. Andrejevic believes that this society occurred because of western society’s embrace of consumerism and involvement in buying products and using services that have data and government agencies being able to so easily take this data with no tangible legal safeguards existing providing companies options to resist. The threat of a dark and oppressive surveillance system has been wrapped up in the shiny and new technologies and has been sold in a very attractive manor using the products and associated uses to make these surveillance systems available to work.

    The information that Andrejevic provides is generally accepted to be the prominent narrative in the history of data collection and surveillance societies so there is nothing that really challenges or is opposition to the mainstream view of surveillance. However, there are a few things that I wish were explained further such as when Andrejevic mentions the dangers of algorithms predicting behaviour in permanent pre-emption and grouping any form of resistance as a threat, how these algorithms work and also the process in which they are interpreted by the security agencies to enforce them. Andrejevic also briefly mentions the lack of accountability measures for governments in relation to data mining and I think given the time period that has passed from this innerview another review could be made discussing the changes and what needs to change in the two years where data mining has been in the public discourse and more advances have been made.

    Overall, Andrejevic creates an argument with substantial examples and thoroughly explains through technological and societal changes how the state of surveillance has become entrenched in our life. This Innerview was conducted in October of 2013 and Andrejevic gives a comprehensive overview of the narrative of data mining and surveillance in societies and how importantly through consumerism data mining has been so accepted and entrenched into our lives. That being said two years later and where we are now in Australian society Andrejevic could definitely do an update on society and data mining as much has changed and been adapted in relation to data mining and surveillance.


    Andrejevic, M. 2013. Innerview: Mark Andrejevic. The Vision Machine

    Fayyad.U, Piatestky-Shapiro.G, Smyth. P. 1996. From Data Mining to Knowledge Discovery in Databases. AI Magazine. Volume 17, Number 3. Pg 38.

    Fienberg, S. 2008. Terrorism informatics: Knowledge management and data mining for homeland security. Chapter 10: Homeland Security. (1. Aufl. ed.). New York; London;: Springer. Pg 197-218.

    Maheshwari, A. K. 2015. Business intelligence and data mining. New York: Business Expert Press. Ebooks Corporation. Chapter 1.

  2. In his interview for the Vision Machine, Dr Mark Andrejevic explains the technological and attitudinal shift in the way the intelligence community carries out surveillance operations and gives a brief overview of data mining. He analyses the socio-cultural forces that are “habituating us” to these new comprehensive forms of surveillance, and identifies the commercial and market sectors as preliminary actors behind the change to big data, algorithms and data mining. Andrejevic argues that populations have become receptive to the current paradigm of surveillance because it is so difficult to extricate from the operations of consumer capitalism. In this way, the surveillance state we know today is very different to the traditional idea of a bleak authoritarian state portrayed in George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

    The ‘shift’ Andrejevic talks about is the change from traditional surveillance methods to the use of big data and data mining. Previously, intelligence agencies would “filter and discard” data to identify a target, then impose surveillance mechanisms upon that person/company specifically (Andrejevic 2013). Today, all data is considered to have potential use and is collected and retained to create a comprehensive data image of a population. Andrejevic explains that, from this overabundance of information, computers are able to generate patterns that point to potential targets with unusual algorithms (e.g. suspicious travel patterns). By this new logic of surveillance, the ‘suspect’ is no longer identified before surveillance begins. Its position is essentially inverted as the outcome of surveillance and so surveillance operations are no longer discreet, exceptional events. As Andrejevic says in the interview, surveillance is now ubiquitous and constant as every person is “raw material” that can help identify the suspect.

    Andrejevic’s synopsis of the shift in the logic of surveillance is both substantiated and illustrative. Without explicitly saying so, the search method he describes is known as a “pattern-based query” and is considered to be ‘true’ data mining by law enforcement (Isles 2012, 281). In introducing us to the concept of big data and data mining, Andrejevic could have gone further and delved into how this kind of surveillance mechanism is flawed in reaching its own intelligence imperatives. For example, in one of his own articles, Andrejevic has explained that the predictive powers of pattern-based queries do not necessarily provide explanatory power (Andrejevic & Gates 2014, 186). There is also substantial evidence that suggests this predictive data does not necessarily prevent terrorist attacks – an especially important matter to consider, given the reliance placed upon this justification for data collection by intelligence agencies (Andrejevic & Gates 2014, 192).

    While Andrejevic does provide brief explanations of the rationalising rhetoric used by intelligence agencies, I appreciate that he did not linger on the justifications or flaws of the data mining process as they are thoroughly covered in academic discourse – especially since the Snowden revelations on activities such as PRISM surfaced. Andrejevic has also largely stayed away from analysing 9/11’s impact on the shift in surveillance methods. This allows him to instead focus our attention on the general populations’ reception to this new surveillance and the origins of the technologies that have made us so complacent towards such omnipresent data collection and observation.

    The unique value of Andrejevic’s interview is that he examines the surveillance paradigm from a more holistic view that locates its cultural context in the 21st century. Andrejevic identifies intelligence agencies as another ‘service’ utilising big data technologies in the consumer capitalist age. He believes “the security agenda has to be seen within the broader scope of ubiquitous surveillance of our lives that we’ve become normalized to”; as technology developed, service providers were primary drivers in seeking to advance their imperatives through the uses of big data, prediction markets and algorithms (Andrejevic 2013). He identifies a transformation that has occurred in the public, private and commercial sectors, as different industries streamlined their processes into databases. Today, we have reached the point where populations willingly trade over information and privacy to these third parties for the convenience (and often necessity) of securing better products, services and deals (Haggerty & Ericson 2000, 616). Andrejevic posits that within this context, the security sector has essentially piggybacked onto the platform built by consumerist capitalism as ‘one more service’. In this way, we have become “habituated” to data collection, as we have already been voluntarily pooling details of our lives into databases under a rubric of convenience.

    Andrejevic’s analysis appears to harbor some contempt for the consumer capitalist system, exemplified in his brief reference to the Marxian cultural critic Slavoj Žižek. Indeed, one could akin his analysis of the technological-capitalistic world as exercising a form of cultural hegemony over society. While this political persuasion may influence his opinion, it does not overwhelm the logic of his argument taken as a whole – which is concrete and convincing. His analysis of the surveillance mechanism’s cultural location as aligned with consumer and market imperatives is supported others who have more or less identified the same relationship. There is a resounding agreement that the current assemblage of surveillance is intertwined with consumerism. For example, Kevin Robins and Frank Webster coined it ‘cybernetic capitalism’ and Rita Raley similarly agrees that “[t]he syncing of browser history with personal and application data has successfully and for the most part uncontroversially been situated under the rubric of “enhanced user experience” (Raley 2013, 125). Ultimately, it becomes chilling to recognise that among all these third-party and government data captures, detailed replicas of population behaviour have been assembled. Haggerty and Ericson call these ‘data doubles’.

    After identifying the entangled relationship between consumerism and big data mining, Andrejevic explains that surveillance’s “glittery” exterior of convenience has seen privacy anxieties change and the face of ‘Big Brother’ be re-imagined (Andrejevic 2013). It leaves us with another challenging question as to how far our entertainment is entangled with forms of control. For example, television shows such as border security “helps us identify with the insiders [of intelligence] and embrace their imperatives” (Andrejevic 2011, 172). Such programs help justify and normalise controls. Surveillance in today’s sense is hard to extract because it “is not a neat pyramid like structure of control, such as the classic bureaucracy, but something much more like a creeping plant that sends out shoots here and there, growing rhizomically” (Lyon 2003, 162). As Andrejevic points out, surveillance in this sense is perhaps more powerful and diffusive. In some ways the whole system is the ultimate panopticon “capable of rendering us as both subjects of and subjects to that particular assemblage of corporacy” (Raley 2016, 126). It is worth noting that Roger Clarke postulated this new world of ‘dataveillence’ 25 years ago, considering it to be “technically and economically superior” to the totalitarian top-up structure of George Orwell’s 1984. Indeed, the surveillance State differs significantly from what people were fed during the Cold War era or in ‘1984’. In ‘1984’, the world was totalitarian, monotonous and unentertaining. Today, it is packaged in our socializations and interactions.

    Perhaps the only gap in Andrejevic’s interview his that he did not emphasise what kind of invasion of privacy is occurring. As the interview then questions why we, as a population, are so forthcoming to this kind of intrusion, it could have been valuable to explain the risks of privacy to viewers without the background knowledge. For example, Edward Snowden offered a striking comparison, explaining that one’s metadata tells the same story as if a private investigator followed you all day (Vice 2016). So essentially, in this new surveillance paradigm, the degree of surveillance that would have been employed on a traditional suspect (after obtaining a warrant from the Courts) is now ever-present and ever active. This kind of comparison could have strengthened Andrejevic’s initial points.

    Nevertheless, Mark Andrejevic’s interview is enlightening, articulate and exceptional. His distinct perspective sees him make a broader socio-cultural analysis that is less self-evident than many of the arguments currently circulating through literature on this topic. It would be interesting to see him re-cap this discussion three years on as his own work published since this interview has elaborated on some of his own ideas.


    Andrejevic, M. & Gates, K. 2014. Editorial. Big Data Surveillance: Introduction. Surveillance & Society 12(2): 185-196.

    Andrejevic, M. 2011. ‘Securitainment’ in the post-9/11 era. Continuum 25(9): 165-175.

    Andrejevic, M. 2013. Interview: Mark Andrejevic. The Vision Machine

    Andrejevic, M. 2014. The Big Data Divide. International Journal of Communication. 8: 1673-1689.

    Clarke, R. 1988. Information Technology and Dataveillance. Communications of the ACM 31(5): 498-512.

    Haggerty, K. D. & Ericson, R. V. 2000. The Surveillant Assemblage. British Journal of Sociology 51(4): 605-622.

    Isles, A. 2012. Data Mining: A Primer, 279-298. In National Security Law in the News: A Guide for Journalists, Scholars and Policymakers, ed Paul Rosenzweig, Timothy McNulty and Ellen Shearer. Chicago: American Bar Association.

    Lyon, D. 2003. Surveillance Technology and Surveillance Society, 161-183. In Modernity and Technology, ed Thomas J. Misa, Philip Brey, and Andrew Feenberg. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

    Raley, R. 2013. ‘Dataveillance and Countervailance’, 121-145. In “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron, ed. Lisa Gitelman. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

    Robins, K. & Webster, F. 1988. Cybernetic Capitalism: Information, Technology, Everyday Life, ed. Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasko. The Political Economy of Information 44–75.

    Vice, 2016. ‘State of Surveillance’ with Edward Snowden and Shane Smith. Vice News. Retrieved from

  3. Mark Andrejevic’s innerview on The Vision Machine provides an insightful discussion into the characteristics of the modern surveillance apparatus following Edward Snowden’s 2013 NSA revelations. Focusing on big data mining and the connection to the corporate sector, Andrejevic argues that the security agenda cannot be viewed alone; rather the ties between marketing and the state must be viewed as integrated. He further argues that although data collection by commercial entities is not new, the post-9/11 security environment has allowed the state to ‘piggyback’ onto the data retained by corporations. Finally, he proposes that there are issues related to accountability as the power relations between the state and the population become asymmetrical. Although the points Andrejevic makes are not new, this critical blog will reference the existing literature to argue that he is extremely convincing and accurate, albeit further sub arguments could have been included in order to enhance his claims.

    In his studies, Andrejevic has explored the relationship between media and surveillance and how this impacts society and politics. This focus is definitely apparent during the innerview through the emphasis on big data mining. He firstly explains the process of ‘dataveillance’ and the shift from content to metadata to argue that the modern surveillance apparatus is characterised by generating patterns and probabilities. Thus, Andrejevic highlights a shift from targeted surveillance, to current day mass surveillance of the whole population (Andrejevic and Gates 2014: 185). In this sense, although not explicitly stated in the innerview, data surveillance transcends hierarchies and is a continuous, ongoing process for all. As Andrejevic and Gates explain, it has become an imperative of the state to collect and keep data for an unspecified period of time in order to predict threats (2014: 187). Haggerty and Ericson propose that big data mining can be labelled and characterised as a “surveillant assemblage,” (2000: 606). Operating by “abstracting human bodies from their territorial settings and separating them into a series of discrete flows,” assemblages monitor entire populations through the combination of technologies (Haggerty and Ericson 2000: 606; Keiber 2015: 170). Furthermore, Andrejevic raises a key concern in the era of big data mining that the algorithms used are becoming increasingly complex to the point that humans cannot understand the logic behind them, thus decisions are made on the basis of a machine and not as a product of years of social tradition. He argues that this has caused concerns regarding the asymmetrical nature of surveillance and the one-sided relationship between the monitor and the monitored (Andrejevic 2013: 21). Therefore, it is clear that although not explicitly discussing the concept of surveillance as an assemblage, Andrejevic is supported by existing literature.

    Secondly, Andrejevic argues that the state has been able to ‘piggyback’ onto the collection of data by the corporate sector. He explains that big data collection was pioneered by the commercial sector, designed to boost production and drive profit. This has transformed the view of ‘dataveillance’ from grim and totalitarian, seen in Orwell’s 1984, to one associated with marketing, money and entertainment. Governments have been able to gather data already collected by the commercial sector, such as through social media. This concept has been termed ‘liquid surveillance’, where the public participates in Web 2.0 and willingly hands over private information (Giroux 2015: 110). Consequently, surveillance is being used as a form of social control in a more integrated and invisible manner, making it difficult to separate from entertainment. This is not a new argument and is strengthened by the support of existing literature. It is generally agreed by surveillance scholars that state surveillance has become directly and indirectly connected to the corporate sector (Lyon and Haggerty 2012: 292; Gandy 1989: 65). Thus, the modern surveillance apparatus transcends the public and private divide (Richards 2013: 1935). In supporting Andrejevic’s argument, Webb highlights that through their agreements with private corporations, government agencies now have access to large databases of information and are able to bypass privacy laws, raising a concern about transparency (2007: 195).

    The third key aspect of Andrejevic’s innerview concerns accountability. He takes the controversial view that the modern surveillance apparatus, where there are multiple agendas in play, is challenging democracy. This situation is dangerous for the public who has little or no access to those who monitor and thus one sees unaccountable surveillance and unequal power relations in play. This argument is corroborated by Richards who foregrounds that these power dimensions pose further risks to the monitored, such as coercion where resistance to government can be classified as a terrorist threat (2013: 1935). Although not included in his discussion, it would have been interesting to hear Andrejevic’s views on Sousveillance and how this may help alleviate accountability concerns. In the innerview, Andrejevic emphasizes that the lack of liability is partly due to the ubiquitous threat discourse in the post-9/11 security environment, the ability of the state to bypass legal check and balance systems and the secretive nature of the apparatus. Using the example of the USA’s Patriot Act, Haggerty gives credibility to Andrejevic’s argument, demonstrating that the legislation has changed the equality of rights between the state and its citizens (2005: 179). Due to the speed with which the Act was passed, very few citizens were aware of its existence and politicians were asked to pass the legislation without having read it. Therefore, drawing on surveillance scholars Lyon and Haggerty the post-9/11 world is paradoxical because, “while we have become more transparent to organisations they have become less transparent to us,” (2012: 294).

    Referring to the post-9/11 security discourse, Andrejevic maintains that the nature of threat nowadays is ubiquitous and ongoing. Thus, threats are no longer discrete, and this is one way the government has been able to justify the shift to mass surveillance, as a way to alleviate public anxiety regarding the perpetual War on Terror. Thus the USA (and other Western countries) seek “total information awareness” as depicted through their big data mining strategies (Lyon and Haggerty 2012: 294). Similarly, Head explains that the War on Terror served to authorise “unprecedented state surveillance,” not solely in the United States, on the contrary other Western nations such as Australia have adopted similar practices (2005: 208). Andrejevic does not explore this in great depth and thus his innerview primarily refers to the United States is from a Western perspective.

    Therefore, only implicitly mentioned, Andrejevic does refer to the global and open nature of modern surveillance through global data sharing. He argues that this can be characterised by “function creep” where data that is collected can be used for multiple purposes and is saved in order to not undermine its potential future relevance (Andrejevic and Gates 2014: 189). Haggerty states that global data sharing can be viewed as the centralization of surveillance where “powerful agencies work to combine and align dispersed systems” (2005: 174). It would have been interesting to hear further on this topic and the Five Eyes data sharing alliance given that Andrejevic was speaking in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations. Given that he views surveillance as a challenge to democratic governance, it would have been fascinating to hear his view on global sharing and the connection to sovereignty. Thus it can be argued that global, deterritorialised surveillance, blurs the boundaries of foreign and domestic, and challenges the notion of sovereignty on which international relations is based.

    To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed the innerview by Mark Andrejevic which was extremely insightful and informative. It is clear that he had three central points – that big data mining is designed to generate behavioural patterns that humans are finding increasingly difficult to understand, that state surveillance cannot be discussed without reference to the corporate sector as the two are inherently linked, and finally that surveillance operates asymmetrically where there are definite issues about accountability. Therefore, he has characterised the modern surveillance apparatus as open, global and having shifted to mass monitoring. Overall, in light of the existing literature, I believe that Andrejevic is convincing and conveys an academically correct message, albeit from a predominantly Western viewpoint. Having not discovered any damaging counter evidence, my final observation is that more depth may have been useful and I would be interested to discover if his views have altered three years on from Snowden.

    Reference List:

    Andrejevic, Mark. 2013. ‘Intelligence Glut: Policing, Security and Predictive Analytics’. In Infoglut: How Too Much Information Is Changing the Way We Think and Know. New York: Routledge.

    Andrejevic, Mark and Kelly Gates. 2014. ‘Big Data Surveillance: Introduction. In Surveillance and Society 12(2): 185-196.

    Ericson, Richard V. and Kevin D. Haggerty. 2000. ‘The Surveillant Assemblage’. In The British Journal of Sociology 51(4). 605-622.

    Gandy, Oscar H Jr. 1989. ‘The Surveillance Society: Information Technology and Bureaucratic Social Control’. In Journal of Communication 39(3): 61-74.

    Giroux, Henry A. 2015. ‘Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State’. In Cultural Studies 29(2): 108-140.

    Haggerty, Kevin. 2005. ‘Seeing Beyond the Ruins: Surveillance as a Response to Terrorist Threats’. In The Canadian Journal of Sociology 30(2): 169-187.

    Head, Michael. 2005. ‘Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four 20 Years On: ‘The war on terrorism, ‘doublethink’ and ‘Big Brother’. In Alternative Law Journal 30(5): 208-218.

    Keiber, Jason. 2015. ‘Surveillance Hegemony’. In Surveillance and Society 13(2): 168-181.

    Lyon, David and Kevin D. Haggerty. 2012. ‘Surveillance Legacies of 9/11: Recalling, Reflecting on and Rethinking Surveillance in the Security Era’. In Journal of Law and Society 27(3): 291-300.

    Richards, Neil M. 2013. ‘The Dangers of Surveillance’. In Harvard Law Review 126(1): 1934-1965.

    Webb, Maureen. 2007. ‘The End of Democracy?’. In Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

  4. In this interview for The Vision Machine, Mark Andrejevic provides an engaging and thoughtful account of the nature of the modern surveillance state and its use of data mining as a surveillance tool. In the discussion he covers a number of topics, beginning with how the capabilities and attitudes of the intelligence community have shifted from what he calls a “search and windowing” to a “comprehensive and ongoing” mode of surveillance. He then explains a number of socio-political factors that ‘habituate’ the populace to comprehensive and ongoing data mining. In his argument, Andrejevic claims that contemporary largescale data mining as performed by the government finds it technological and ideological roots in the commercial sector, so it is difficult to separate this surveillance from the process of consumption and this means that it does not adhere to generally accepted idea of surveillance as grey and bleak. I find his arguments to be generally convincing, though I think considering them in a context larger than that of the western hemisphere may call some of his claims into doubt.

    The first topic of discussion is the development of surveillance over time. Historically, according to Andrejevic, surveillance was conducted in a “search and windowing” process in which data was collected, sorted and discarded to find targets that would then be subject to greater surveillance. This has shifted to what we currently experience, where surveillance is conducted using probabilistic determination and pattern recognition (Andrejevic 2013). This necessarily entails the comprehensive and ongoing collection of data from the entire population and is known as ‘dataveillance.’ The patternistic analysis of this data means that the government must retain the data indefinitely, as each point of information is only useful as a predictive tool in relation to the rest of the data (Andrejevic & Gates 2014). Being a historical and practical point, this is largely backed up by the literature.

    Turning now to the main arguments of the Innerview. Andrejevic’s central argument pertains to the historical and political basis of data mining – he claims that governmental surveillance and data mining as we know it today has largely been empowered, technologically and ideologically, by the commercial sector. This, according to Andrejevic and Lyon (2014), is due to confluence of interests between commerce and government surveillance. The commercial sector was the first to collect internet data, usually under the motivation of providing a better service and even as a necessity for use of a product. This allowed government surveillance agencies the technological ability to collect large amounts of data about the citizenry. Additionally, he argues that the inability to separate surveillance and the convenience of commercial data mining ‘habituates’ the population to surveillance (Andrejevic 2013). To many scholars, the linkage of surveillance and consumption has indeed normalised largescale surveillance – Giroux (2014) contends that the information given over to social media platforms serves to “acculturate the public” into accepting by enjoying the benefits of surveillance. Therefore, entertainment and service are the catalysts that accelerate the disintegration of privacy rights via data mining. To illustrate this, Giroux (2015) further adds that a very act as ubiquitous and accepted of taking a photo of oneself (i.e. a selfie) is “less about entertainment and vanity than it is symptomatic of a retreat from privacy rights.” This too is expressed by Haggerty & Ericson (2000), who state that privacy has become a “shifting space of negotiation,” in which it is traded for products and services. In this way, the point that Andrejevic makes about the habituation and interlinking of commercial and surveillance practices is quite convincing.

    Although I find his arguments about the relationship between consumption and surveillance and the positive effects this has on how surveillance is perceived convincing, they are somewhat lacking when considered in a global context. Understandably, Andrejevic is referring to data mining and surveillance as conducted in the western world, focusing mainly on the US after 9/11 and in the context of the Snowden revelations as this is his field of interest. This does, however, limit the applicability of what he says. Though the surveillance may be seen as somewhat benign in the western world, the ubiquitous and unavoidable (in any practical sense) nature of it means that it is used in many countries to control and intimidate their populations (Schneier 2014: 84). One such example is China. In 2009, the Chinese government shut off internet for an entire province (Xinjiang) for over a year after riots (The Economist 2013). Chinese authorities regularly censor websites to the point that China is known as a ‘networked authoritarian society’ (Mackinnon 2011). It is not the only state that employs authoritarian practices in regards to the internet – there are currently 19 ‘Enemy of the Internet’ states – countries that censor information online and systematically repress internet users (Reporters Without Borders 2014). Clearly, the perception and habituation of the citizens of these countries must be different than those of their western counterparts. Andrejevic argues that the surveillance state is no longer regarded and imagined during the Cold War and in George Orwell’s 1894, that by coupling consumerism and surveillance, anxieties over the surveillance state have faded (Andrejevic 2013). This is clearly not the case for a large part of the world; as one Chinese commentator stated, in regards to internet censorship and control, if they “learn about our situation, they would feel sorry for us a million times.” (MacKinnon 2011). In many countries, the internet is used as an extension of authoritarian government control. Although his failure to discuss this is not a major flaw in his argument, it would have been interesting and strengthened his argument if it were placed in the context of and contrasted to the internet globally, especially considering it is the ultimate catalyst for globalisation.

    This relates to another point I think he could have covered. In this Innerview, Andrejevic discusses how big data mining became linked with consumption and that is one way in which we are habituated to it. I think his argument may have been stronger if he gave something of an alternative history. It would be of interest to know what he believes would have occurred if there wasn’t a historical convergence of interests between commerce and government – would the government have developed such surveillance technology themselves? Would it want to? Would such a pervasive surveillance system be able to be enacted without such commercial forces habituating us? Perhaps this is what has occurred in many of the current Enemy of the Internet States. Again, although not necessarily a flaw in his argument, it would have made it stronger to consider it in this way; to know, is the linkage between the commercial and surveillance sectors an inherent necessity of surveillance at such a wide scale or was it a convergence of interests out of pure luck and opportunism.

    Andrejevic provides a thought provoking and clear account of big data mining today. I find his argument that the rise of big data surveillance is intrinsically linked to the role that consumption and commercial interests play in our lives incredibly persuasive and quite rational. I do, however, believe that it lacks explanatory power in some contexts. By discussing how the role of surveillance is perceived globally and what a surveillance state would look like without this deep-seated connection to the commercial sector, his points would have perhaps become more applicable in different social contexts.

    Andrejevik, M. & Gates, K. (2014). Big Data Surveillance: Introduction. Surveillance & Society, 12(2), 185-196.

    Giroux, H. (2014). Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State. Cultural Studies, 29(2), 108-140.

    Giroux, H. (2015). Selfie Culture in the Age of Corporate and State Surveillance. Third Text, 29(3), 155-164.

    Haggerty, K. & Ericson, R. (2000). The surveillant assemblage. British Journal Of Sociology, 51(4), 605-622.

    Lyon, D. (2014). Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique. Big Data & Society, 1(2).

    MacKinnon, R. (2011). China’s “Networked Authoritarianism”. Journal Of Democracy, 22(2), 32-46.

    Reporters Without Borders,. (2014). Enemies of the Internet.

    Schneier, B. (2014). Metadata = Surveillance. IEEE Security & Privacy, 12(2), 84-84. The Economist,. (2013). China’s Internet: A giant cage.

  5. In his innerview for The Vision Machine, Mark Andrejevic discusses the change in surveillance philosophy revealed by the Snowden revelations in 2013 and provides an insightful introduction into the character of modern surveillance practices. He asserts that development of internet technologies in the post-9/11 security environment has brought about a paradigm shift in the surveillance apparatus. No longer do intelligence communities use the old “search and winnow” approach where surveillance was resource intensive and once data was filtered it was discarded. Modern surveillance is based on gathering and storing as much data as possible about the entire population to create a “data image of the world”. Andrejevic goes on to explain how modern surveillance for security and policing has been transformed from the bleak, totalitarian surveillance depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 into a surveillance that cannot be disentangled from today’s consumer culture. He closes the innerview with a cautionary message that the paradigm shift in surveillance represents an example of the increasing inequalities being exploited by states through asymmetric forms of power.

    According to Andrejevic, the roots of modern security surveillance are found in the commercial sector with its pioneering work in big data. Data mining and predictive analytics allow for efficient analysis of huge volumes of data and the generation of patterns from which patterns of interest can be extracted (Varian 2014:28). Andrejevic touches briefly on the efficiencies of big data but does not delve into its technical aspects in great detail and nor does he need to, instead he focusses his attention on the social and political implications of big data surveillance.
    Andrejevic asserts that we become “habituated” into accepting that continuous surveillance will fulfil our consumption desires faster and better. To this end, people will trade their personal information if they receive something in return (Deibert 2013; Varian 2014:30) – health services, a new mobile phone or even simply information from a google search on the internet. The personal information generated through these transactions originating from many different sources is collected and repurposed into a new asset class known as “surveillance assets” (Zuboff 2015:81) which are reassembled into “data doubles” through the process “surveillant assemblage” (Haggerty and Ericson 2000:606). The commercial sector then pursues its imperative of producing revenue and obtaining market control by using patterns found in our “data doubles” to habituate us into seeing surveillance as something to be embraced (Zuboff 2015:75), or as Andrejevic puts it, something that offers the promise of enriching our lives. Surveillance itself has even become entertainment in the form of reality television (Haggerty and Ericson 2000:616) and in the process has rebranded the dystopian totalitarian Big Brother in 1984 to be an entertaining form of escapism (Andrejevic 2013).

    When surveillance is understood in these terms it becomes easy for governments to “piggy back” onto this logic with the promise of faster and better security services (Andrejevic 2013). Governments no longer need to establish a separate surveillance apparatus, they simply acquire corporate surveillant assets from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, the financial industry, health industry … and the list goes on. Converging interests for “control, governance, security, profit and entertainment” create the conditions for a new information economy in which corporate entities profit from our “data doubles” (Haggerty and Ericson 2000:609). Internet and new media tools have become essential to fully participate in society, though the general population are offered little to protect their privacy (Haggerty and Ericson 2000:616; Zuboff 2015:85). Bureaucratic surveillance is part of all modern institutions, and the greater your participation, the greater the level of surveillance to which you are subjected (Haggerty and Ericson 2000:618). Consequently, surveillance spreads in rhizomic fashion inhabiting everyday activities such that it has become normalised (Giroux 2015:113, Haggerty and Ericson 2000:617).

    Modern surveillance practices have implications for political and social relations (Zuboff 2015:85). This is not fully explored in either the main innerview or its extended version but a topic I think worth pursuing. Andrejevic argues that the internet was introduced with the promise of democratising information so that everyone would be able to avail themselves of the educational opportunities of the internet. However, he explains that big data itself has created a new digital divide in that surveillance technology is only available to those who control, or have access to the database. Andrejevic expands on the increasing asymmetries of the internet in later work where he argues the “forms of knowledge [big data] generates are necessarily opaque … crafted to serve the imperatives … of those who control the databases” (Andrejevic and Gates 2014:192; Deibert 2013). Greenwald supports this line of thought arguing that when the internet becomes a “system of surveillance” it becomes a “tool of repression” and reconfigures the power structure (Greenwald 2014:6).

    Greenwald’s assertion that the internet is a tool of repression is challenged by Haggerty and Ericson who argue rather than a tool of repression, surveillance is designed to “seduce [consumers] into the market economy” (2000:615). This latter approach is substantiated by Zuboff for whom power “is now identified with ownership of the means of behavioural modification (2015:82). It is clear from the existing literature that modern surveillance has implications for political and social relations. Power has changed its identity (Zuboff 2015:82) and yet, almost 70 years after George Orwell penned 1984, Big Brother remains the point of reference for today’s surveillance apparatus (Andrejevic 2013; Bauman and Lyon 2013:53; Haggerty and Ericson 2000:618).

    I think the innerview may have benefited from allowing Andrejevic the time to locate the modern surveillance apparatus within a theory of power. Haggerty and Ericson suggest a comparison to Orwell’s Big Brother is too narrow a framework for today’s surveillant assemblage and look to Foucault for a theory of power (2000:606-7). This theory of power based on Bentham’s panopticon has the primary goal of strengthening social forces through relations of discipline (Foucault 1975:207). Power is used to increase economic production which can only be achieved when exercised continuously, in the subtlest way possible, and is not constrained by sovereignty (Foucault 1975:207). These conditions are consistent with Andrejevic’s description of today’s surveillance technologies suggesting the modern surveillance apparatus is a form of contemporary panopticon. However, Foucault’s theory diverges from the modern surveillance apparatus in two significant ways. Firstly, the panopticon model uses only a single observation point from which one could escape after leaving the prison cell, factory or workshop whereas our “data doubles” are unable to escape the modern surveillance apparatus which intrudes into our everyday (Zuboff 2015:82). Secondly, the original panopticon is designed to be democratic and it was intended for anyone from outside to enter and inspect it (Foucault 1975:207). In contrast, modern surveillance operations remain shrouded in secrecy on the insistence of both state and corporate actors (Andrejevic and Gates 2014:192). While Foucault’s theory contributes to our understanding of power in a range of social situations, it has been confined to the “unmanageable parts of society” (Bauman and Lyon 2013:55).

    The modern surveillance apparatus is more akin to the future depicted by Orwell even though there was no way for him to know the form of future technologies (Haggerty and Ericson 2000:612). However, Mathiesen argues that Orwell’s Big Brother was a surveillance apparatus in which panopticism and synopticism merged into one – “you saw Big Brother, just as Big Brother saw you” (1997:223). I found the innerview provided an engaging introduction into the modern surveillance apparatus, however the references to Big Brother raised questions about asymmetric forms of power, and social and political relations which were not sufficiently covered.


    Andrejevic, Mark 2013, Innerview: Mark Andrejevic, 23 October. Accessed 6 May 2017. Available at

    Andrejevic, Mark and Kelly Gates 2014, ‘Big Data Surveillance: Introduction’, Surveillance & Society 12(2): 185-196.

    Bauman, Zygmunt and David Lyon 2013 Liquid Surveillance, Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Deibert, Ron 2015, Innerview: Ron Deibert, 25 April. Accessed 20 April 2017. Available at

    Foucault, Michel 1975 Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison (trans. Alan Sheridan), UK: Penguin Books.

    Giroux, Henry A 2015 ‘Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwelllian Surveillance State’, Cultural Studies 29(2): 108-140.

    Greenwald, Glenn 2014 No Place to Hide New York: Metropolitan Books.

    Haggerty, Kevin D and Richard V Ericson 2000 ‘The surveillant assemblage’, British Journal of Sociology 51(4): 605-622.

    Mathiesen, Thomas 1997 ‘The view society: Michele Foucault’s ‘Panopticon’ revisited’, Theoretical Criminology 1(2): 215-234.

    Varian, Hal R 2014 ‘Beyond Big Data’, Business Economics 49(1): 27-31.

    Zuboff, Shoshana 2015 ‘Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization’, Journal of Information Technology 30: 75-89.

  6. This 2013 Innerview with Mark Andrejevic is an enlightening discussion concerning the synergistic effects of big data mining, commercial imperatives and the comprehensive surveillance apparatus. The main focus of this episode was the holistic nature of state and commercial activities, and the ways in which they ‘piggyback’ on one another resulting in diffuse, continuous structures of data collection. Many implications are explored, most notably the effects on our democratic societies, as “profoundly undemocratic” (Andrejevic 2013: 21) values are promoted in pursuit of the datafication of our lives.

    My aim through this critique is to address some of the gaps left from this discussion pertaining explicitly to the detriment of democracy through privacy invasion and the targeting of dissent. Andrejevic does well to canvas a wide variety of issues through this discussion, though understandably there are some nuances which have been left out. Firstly, I will explore the concept of metadata and outline some underlying logics that have contributed to the shifts mentioned throughout the discussion. Then, I will interrogate privacy as being essential to agency and the development of individually held ideas and beliefs. Finally, I will tie these ideas together to give a more comprehensive articulation of how the practice of data mining and collection poses a fundamental threat to democratic values insofar as it inhibits agency and dissent.


    Andrejevic’s discussion of the logic underpinning the collection of metadata reflects the surveillant imperative. That is to say, that to find the needle within the haystack, one must collect the entire haystack. The underlying mentality being that one strand of hay could be the key to finding the needle and without it, the needle can never be found. In other words, “you can’t connect dots you don’t have” (Hunt, cited in Sledge 2013). The shift to this mentality is no coincidence. It is a reflection of the key logic behind working with big data: that bigger data sets offer more comprehensive understanding (Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier 2014: 27). In contrast, where the surveillant imperative points to one needle amongst a stack of hay, big data logic depicts a tapestry of interwoven patterns and meaning. Collecting only a section of this tapestry restricts understanding and results in a myopic view.

    Another key aspect of big data mining is its abandonment of the question ‘why’. Big data is merely concerned with the ‘what’ (Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier 2014: 4). Thus, data need not be ‘clean’ (accurate), only telling. Its utility lies in its ability to generate predictable patterns of behaviour. Granted, this idea is fleshed out during the Innerview and Andrejevic makes many salient points to the issue of inaccuracy in algorithmic decision-making. He further articulates that the acceptance, or trust, in the data without questioning ‘why’ exhibits a reversal of enlightenment philosophy.


    My key critique of this Innerview is that the description of the synergistic processes of big data mining and collection has not been linked more strongly to the detriment of democratic freedoms. Democracy is discussed and Andrejevic makes the point that these processes oppose democracy in the dynamics of power distribution. He elaborates in Infoglut that these processes are undemocratic by virtue of promoting inequality in regards to access to, and utilisation of, the database (Andrejevic, 2013: 21). This is merely one aspect and I think it misses a salient argument within the literature: that processes of surveillance and control limit privacy; thereby agency; thereby free speech, public discourse and dissent – which are essential to democracy. I should qualify here that the issue of dissent is discussed, and will be returned to.

    I present the issues of free speech, public discourse and dissent as being rooted in agency and privacy as the latter two spaces allow individual opinions and ideas to develop. Without the exploration of ideas, individuals cannot articulate their concerns nor contribute to public discourse. The effect of surveillance negates agency (Los, 2011: 76). Herein lies my concern: that without privacy (ie. the freedom to explore ideas), dissenting views are not allowed to flourish in the first instance. The ‘Chilling Effect’ need not be a concern as there are no outspoken views to be impeded upon.

    To be fair, this issue of agency was touched on during the discussion about ‘alienation’. The process of alienation is one in which an individual’s ‘finite spirit’ is externalised, reflected back and seen as something unrecognisable (Sayers 2011: 3). The implication here is that by participating in these processes (either willingly, indifferently or unknowingly) we are forwarding imperatives that are not our own. Andrejevic explains this process succinctly, and addresses it as a (general) concern, but does not link it to an explanation of exactly why our unquestioning participation is problematic. My view is that alienation is the process of learning about agency reflexively, and may be a trigger for exploration of ideas and later articulation and communication. However, until it is recognised, agency cannot be exercised.

    Andrejevic expresses concern for the targeting of dissent and relates this specific issue back to democracy. His point is that protesters are targeted as being a ‘threat’. This idea is developed from Andrejevic’s previous point of governments being in a state of ‘permanent preemption’ in which threat is ubiquitous and diffuse. I would add here that an apparatus tackling ubiquitous risk with ubiquitous surveillance will eventually seek to suppress any and all opposing views (Arendt 1958, cited in Los 2011: 71). As metadata becomes increasingly rich, the ability to target dissent in its first instance is also extended. There is a dual effect of privacy invasion on dissent: either it is inhibited from existing in the first place, or it is suppressed in its infancy. I share Andrejevic’s concern for the future of democracy without dissent.

    Overall, Andrejevic provides a clear and cohesive overview of the synergistic effects of big data mining and collection. He outlines explicitly that actors such as the commercial sector and the state ‘piggyback’ on one another and that their activities are inextricably linked, diffuse and continuous. Also, as I have drawn further here, that our unquestioning participation in furthering these activities contribute to the invisible dismantlement of democracy as we know it. Until we acknowledge the importance of privacy in developing agency and articulating ideas, dissent will be scarce. Not only will dissent be inhibited from developing in the first place, but the structures in place have been known to directly target dissent as it is considered ‘threat’. The essential implication of this aversion to discourse and dissent entails a subversion of democracy. Which, of these, poses the greater threat to our society?

    Andrejevic, Mark 2013 Infoglut Florence: Taylor and Francis.

    Los, Maria 2011 ‘Looking into the Future: Surveillance, Globalization and the Totalitarian Potential’ in D Lyon ed. Theorizing Surveillance Uffculme: Taylor and Francis.

    Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Cukier, Kenneth 2014 Big Data New York: First Mariner Books.

    Sledge, Matt 2013 ‘CIA’s Gus Hunt on Big Data: We ‘Try to Collect Everything and Hang Onto it Forever’ Huffington Post 21 March. Accessed 10 May 2017. Available at

    Sayers, Sean 2012 Marx and Alienation UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

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