Surveillance

Surveillance literally means “watching over” and has  a string of related associations—monitoring, tracking, observing, examining, regulating, controlling, gathering data, and invading privacy. The word is derived from the French term veiller and the Latin vigilare. It probably first appeared in the early nineteenth century in administrative reports, such as an 1807 document “Draft decree containing regulation for the maintenance and surveillance of the banks of the Rhine,” and an 1812 document “Draft decree on surveillance, organization, administration, accounting, police and discipline of French Theatre” (both French-language documents located using the Google Books search engine). Google Books Ngram Viewer, an imperfect tool that measures the appearance of words and phrases in books printed since 1500, shows a sharp increase in the use of the word “surveillance” in English-language texts beginning in the 1960s. Writing in the early 1970s, a prominent sociologist of bureaucracy defined surveillance as “any form of systematic …

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