Video Surveillance and the Right of Access: The empirical proof of panoptical asymmetries

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Robert Rothmann


The interdisciplinary study presented here is about visual power relations in urban settings under video surveillance and the empirical assessment of one’s right of access to personal data as a central feature of privacy regulation. Referring to Garfinkel’s methodical approach of “breaching experiments”, a series of so-called subject access requests according to Austrian data protection law are carried out, with an overall number of 29 private video operators examined. The empirical focus lies on the immediate reaction of the data controllers and their formal way of handling and responding to such requests. The research shows that the subjective right of access is largely refused and undermined, with a series of strategies of denial to be identified. The legally grounded entitlement to access one’s personal data ultimately appears socially illegitimate and mostly not exercisable. The normative figure of the Panopticon shows up in the monitored routines of everyday life.

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