Seton Hall University

Professor's Latest Book Explores Intersection Between Technology and Surveillance  

Robert PallittoUsing the framework of the social theory of bargaining, Professor Robert M. Pallitto's latest research examines the daily compromises individuals make with technology and whether resisting is even possible when the technologies in question are backed by persuasive or even coercive corporate and state power. At this intersection of technology and politics, Pallitto's latest book, Bargaining with the Machine: Technology, Surveillance and the Social Contract, published by University Press of Kansas, is at the forefront of this debate, analyzing what happens when people encounter surveillance technologies.

"The book explores the privacy dilemmas we face when using social media, shopping online, and submitting to biometric scans. Do we really have a choice about surrendering personal information? What do such encounters tell us about the state of our liberties under the modern social contract?," asks Pallitto, Ph.D., J.D., Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Pallitto questions what happens when cell phone apps share location information, software companies store user data in the cloud, and certain businesses implant microchips into their employees' hands. These are instance where individuals agree to trade a share of privacy or an aspect of identity for greater convenience or improved security. Are we truly making such bargains or transactions freely in this technologically sophisticated world?

In Bargaining with the Machine, Pallitto writes: "The benefits of convenience and efficiency are widely celebrated. Advertising spots promise savings of time and money and tout the advantages of doing banking from a mobile phone and storing data on ever-smaller devices. Such messaging spurs an endless search for more advanced convenience and ever-greater efficiency. Individuals respond affirmatively to these promises out of a combination of "fear, familiarity and fun."1 There's nothing inherently wrong with convenience, of course. And some conveniences are vital in life-and-death terms, such as laser surgery, wearable insulin pumps, or machines that constantly monitor blood pressure and heart rate in a hospital room (making it unnecessary for the attending nurses to get up repeatedly and take readings). The question, rather, is whether convenience or efficiency has eclipsed other important values, such as privacy, autonomy, dignity, or even safety. Trade-offs between these values can happen knowingly and deliberately, or they can be so poorly understood that their harmful consequences are unanticipated."

Prominent philosopher, specializing in the philosophy of technology, Albert Borgmann, Ph.D., author of Real American Ethics: Taking Responsibility for Our Country and Regents Professor Emeritus at the University of Montana says of Bargaining with the Machine: "With philosophical insight and social science circumspection, Robert M. Pallitto lifts the veil of plausibility from the injurious bargains we make with contemporary American culture."

Dr. Armin Krishnan, Director of Security Studies at East Carolina University notes, "Bargaining with the Machine explores the contractual relationship between the user of a technology or service and the provider of it. A user of a technology or service is confronted with an ‘irresistible bargain': in order to take advantage of the service the user must surrender some privacy by agreeing to surveillance measures. The user cannot alter the terms and has therefore only the option of rejecting the offer altogether, which comes at the cost of convenience. Robert M. Pallitto makes a convincing case that most people will enter the bargain without even considering the consequences or implications and that often the individual benefits are far less than the risks that can result from subjecting oneself to surveillance measures. The book contains excellent analysis and many fascinating insights that make it an important contribution to the study of surveillance."

Robert Pallitto's Bargaining with the Machine bookPallitto is scheduled to discuss his book and research with the Seton Hall community as part of Seton Hall Week virtual events on Monday, October 26, at 4 p.m. Join the virtual event.

Pallitto's previous books include: In the Shadow of the Great Charter (Kansas 2015), Presidential Secrecy and the Law (Johns Hopkins University Press 2007 -- co-authored with William Weaver), and Torture and State Violence in the U.S. (Johns Hopkins University Press 2011). He has also authored and co-authored numerous articles for the scholarly and popular presses as well as co-authoring amicus briefs in several government secrecy cases and comments frequently in the media on law and individual rights cases.

To read more about Bargaining with the Machine, visit the University Press of Kansas website

[1] David Lyon, The Culture of Surveillance (Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2018), 39.

Categories: Arts and Culture, Education