A writer at The Economist's Democracy in America blog writes:
As anyone who's ever been stopped at a speed trap knows, police don't always intend speeding arrests to cause all traffic to obey the speed limit. Sometimes they enforce speed limits selectively in order to meet ticket quotas or make up shortfalls in the department's annual budget. The big electronic signs that flash "YOU ARE SPEEDING"--that's transparent surveillance. The intent is clearly to reduce speeding. But speed traps are secret surveillance. The intent of secret surveillance can be to induce the citizen to behave at all times as though he were under surveillance, since he never knows for sure. But it can also be to lull the citizen into a false sense of security in the hopes that he will break the rules and enable the police to enforce them. This may be done either in order to collect fines (or, in less fortunate societies, bribes), or in order to create an opportunity for the display of dominance by security forces, to assert their social position and back up demands for resources and authority.
In other words, when surveillance operators use the enforcement of morality as a pretext to aggrandise their own power, they may aim not to minimise transgression, but to provoke a cycle of transgression and repression. And this seems to me to be a good description of how surveillance works on the internet. The internet, obviously, began with a promise of anonymity, not surveillance. It was a place where nobody knew you were a dog, a technological incarnation of the Central Park Rambles. It took many years, and many embarrassing posts and emails, for people to realise that beneath the digital Rambles lurked a panopticon. When people obsess over the privacy architecture embedded in Facebook, this is what they're worried about. They worry that they are in a space that deliberately creates the illusion of privacy in order to tempt participants to engage in revealing behaviour, which can then be leveraged for fun and profit by the observers secretly taping the proceedings through one-way mirrors.
One technique for the use of secret surveillance to effect social control is to exploit the discrepancies between people's public and private personas, which exist in all societies. The best way to do this is to first create social pressure to maintain a public code of behaviour that is highly artificial and untenable. This will maximise the gap between the things people say in public, and those they say in private. Then, you can use your surveillance apparatus to access people's private statements and gain leverage with evidence of hypocrisy or violations of the code. Without reaching to the Soviet bloc for examples, one case of such an artificial and untenable code is the American demand that all politicians be monogamous and drug-free. The press both creates this untenable expectation and exploits violations in order to entrench its power over the political system.The demand that political journalists either not hold, or never express, their own political opinions is another such artificial and untenable code. Politically interested actors who attempt to enforce this code by revealing the private convictions of reporters do not have the moral goal of ensuring that political reporters have no political opinions; such a goal would be absurd. Rather, they aim to aggrandise their power over journalistic organisations by exacerbating the hypocrisy of those organisations' official codes of conduct, and then exploiting evidence of that hypocrisy when useful.
Read the rest here.