The two facets of electronic care surveillance: an exploration of the views of older people who live with monitoring devices

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jul;67(1):128-36. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.03.005. Epub 2008 Apr 8.


Scholars are increasingly questioning the notion that electronic surveillance merely constrains individuals' liberty and privacy. However, illustrations of alternative perspectives are few and there is a need for empirical research exploring the actual experience of surveilled subjects. This study, carried out in Sweden, seeks to offer a nuanced account of how senior citizens experience electronic care surveillance in relation to their privacy. It is based on in-depth interviews with 17 seniors who have participated in a telemonitoring project and who have experience of being continuously activity monitored in their own homes. The findings suggest that senior citizens can perceive electronic care surveillance as freeing and as protecting their privacy, as it enables them to continue living in their own home rather than moving to a nursing home. One individual, however, experienced a privacy violation and the surveillance service was interrupted at her request. This illustrates the importance of built-in possibilities for subjects to exit such services. In general, the study highlights that e-surveillance can be not only constraining but also enabling. Hence, it supports the view of the dual nature of surveillance. The study also illustrates the agency of the surveilled subject, extending the argument that various agents actually participate in the construction of surveillance practices. It analyzes the indirect role and responsibility of the surveilled subject, and thereby questions the traditional roles ascribed to the agents and targets of surveillance.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Empirical Research
  • Home Care Services*
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / instrumentation
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Privacy / psychology
  • Telemetry / instrumentation
  • Telemetry / psychology