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The Snowden Panopticon Theory

Imagine a regular prison. Built like a normal building: floors, corridors, and guards walking by the cells every once in a while, watching the prisoners as they pass by.

An old panopticon prison.

An old panopticon prison. source

The problem: most of the time, the guards are not walking by. If they do, their coming is announced by all kinds of noises, footsteps, doors… The prisoner knows when to behave.

The solution: the Panopticon, a special way to construct prison buildings.

The building circular—A cage, glazed—a glass lantern [...]—The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference—The officers in the centre. (Jeremy Bentham)

The prison cells form a large circle, their openings pointing inside, and in the middle of that circle stands a watch tower, with dark, tainted windows on every side. This architecture allows the guard, standing inside the tower, to watch look into whatever cell he desires, without having to move, while the prisoners cannot see what the guard is looking at.

But the most important aspect of the Panopticon is hidden: its psychological effect on the prisoners. It is logistically impossible for the guards to look at all the cells at once. The prisoners know that. However, the guard could look at every cell that he wanted to see, without the prisoners knowing is his cell is being watched.

This is the most important part of the Panopticon:

  • it is impossible for the guards to look at all the cells at all times (for logistical reasons); but
  • they could look at any single one at any given time.

This puts the prisoners in a constant state of fear of being watched. He does not know for sure if he’s being watched, but he knows that he could be watched.

Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden. source

Let’s apply this to the current events surrounding the leaks by Edwards Snowden: Every week, through the media, new information leaks out, every time showing another part of our lives being monitored by government agencies.

At first, only the big names like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple were said to share data with the NSA. People fled to alternative email providers and operating systems.

Then, new leaks showed that a huge part of the communication done through the Internet was being recorded. Some people just resigned to their fate, while others fled to open-source operating systems and encryption.

But even those hopes were crushed, when rumors came out saying that backdoors might have been installed on a hardware-level in processors.

The world is now aware of the NSA’s claimed capabilities. And especially as there are still many leaked documents left to be published, who knows if their perceived last bastion of privacy has not been already cracked 5 years ago, only to be leaked in a few months?

Leaked photographs showing NSA employees tinkering with intercepted hardware deliveries.

Leaked photographs showing NSA employees tinkering with intercepted hardware deliveries. (source)

But what if this all is a lie? What is the NSA doesn’t actually have all the capabilities that the leaks are claiming? This might be true, or they might actually have the capabilities. We will not try to answer this question, as you can’t know for sure, or at least the general public cannot.

Let’s look at the implications of this of a constant state of uncertainty about surveillance.

Researchers have long known that there are serious psychological consequences to being surveilled, and you can be sure that it’s changing us, both as a society and as individuals. It’s throwing us off balance, heightening some characteristics and inhibiting others, and tailoring our behavior sometimes to show what the watcher wants to see, and other times to actively rebel against a condition that feels intrusive and disempowering. (source)

Or as the late philosopher Michael Foucault put it:

[...] surveillance also functions to create in everyone a feeling of always being watched, so that they become self-policing.

The aspects of changed behaviour under surveillance have already been covered in-depth elsewhere (example), we shall not focus on that here.

Some people say Snowden is a real whistleblower, some say he is a double agent, or even triple agent– the interesting part is, that also doesn’t matter. Even more: the entire Panoption Theory doesn’t actually have to be a planned conspiracy. It might just have turned out that way. Again, it doesn’t matter.

The conclusion is: no matter if Snowden is really a whistleblower, no matter if the NSA actually does have the capacities the leaks claim: the uncertainty about surveillance has been implanted in the public mind, and changes the way the public behaves. One might as well scratch the theory and call it the Snowden Panopticon effect.


Sources and further reading:

  • On the psychological effects of a panopticon:
  • On the psychological effects of surveillance in general:
  • Timeline of the Snowden leaks:
  • “Edward Snowden Scandal: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Facebook Reveal Data Requests”
  • Website dedicated to collecting operating systems and software unaffected by NSA surveillance:
  • “New Details Show Broader NSA Surveillance Reach”
  • “4 Email Encryption Services To NSA-Proof Your Email”
  • “Intel chips could let US spies inside: expert”
  • “99% of Snowden files remain unpublished – Guardian editor-in-chief”; “Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has up to 20,000 unpublished Snowden documents”
  • On claims of Snowden being a double agent:

16 thoughts on “The Snowden Panopticon Theory”

  1. Shlomo Sheklestein says:

    This website is simply outrageous, you goyim need to learn your place.

    I am contacting you in connection with the identification and pursuit of identified instances of libelous statements across the internet.

    We have evidence to prove that this website, contains serious, untrue and highly defamatory comments towards the Jewish people, some of which contain malicious falsehood. In doing so, defamatory comments are being communicated to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, posing a serious threat to the reputation of the Worldwide Jewish community.

    1. the shekel shaker says:

      Oy vey! Indeed, the antisemitic goyim are trying to fool us! Buy Mr schlomos fine anti gubbermint tinfoil hats(made In Israel)!

  2. chaim goldberg says:

    This kind of Anti-Semitism will not be tollerated. You racists cannot hide behind your 1st Amendment.

    1. thebluecadet says:

      shut the fuck up.
      anti-semitism is a bullshit term created by zionist to squash any comments made by anyone who disagrees with the regime..

      its happening in america too.. they call you a racist if you are against open borders, obamas policies, wars, whatever…

      so go fuck yourself JEW

      a NON zionist jew

      1. Schlomo Goldsteinberg says:

        You anti-semite holocaust denying nazi. How dare you claim that 6 million did not die, it is widly documented that 60 billion chosen one were killed by hitler. Now gib shekel to the ashes of the 6 trillion.

  3. Rabbi Muhsehcks Mill-Yon says:

    Oy vey! Do you goyim really think we are going to let you get away with this? Your precious internet will be ours soon enough. We took the newspapers, the radio, and the television. You’ll serve us or you’ll be labeled…are you ready?…ANTI SEMITIC! That’s right! Quake in fear you dirty shabbos goy! SHAKE. IN. FEAR. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and suck the foreskin off a baby,

  4. A Shiggydig says:

    Interesting article, keep them coming.

    I like the new format on the front page too.

  5. Moishe Finkelblatt says:

    Oy vey its annoda shoa. SHUT IT DOWN

  6. Abdul Ali Muhammad says:

    Allah will save me from all these jewish infidels like snowden and kekelstein.

  7. Alex Lomkin says:

    What in the hell are these comments above? This post has nothing to do with antisemitism. Are these bots just spamming blogs:?

    1. but eater says:


    2. haze says:

      probably the JIDF just going nuts, don’t worry, just ignore the noise.

  8. Ari Ben Shekelberg says:


  9. THE ONE says:

    This website is becoming quite the looker. At first I had felt that it would be another failure, but it seems to be going quite well. How do RSS feeds work here? Any way to get that set up? I usually never use these feed things but now that there is possibly a good journal to actually feed I may appreciate it’s use.

  10. :^) says:

    What if timesofpols only task is to find all jew impersonators?


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