Surveillance Technology and the Neoliberal State: Expanding the Power to Criminalize in a Data-Unlimited World

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


For the past several decades, the neoliberal school of economics has dominated public policy, encouraging American politicians to reduce the size of the government. Despite this trend, the power of the state to surveille, criminalize, and detain has become more extensive, even as the state appears to be growing less powerful. By allowing information technology corporations such as Google to collect location data from users with or without their knowledge, the state can tap into a vast surveillance network at any time, retroactively surveilling and criminalizing at its discretion. Furthermore, neoliberal political theory has eroded the classical liberal conception of freedom so that these surveillance tactics to not appear to restrict individuals' freedom or privacy so long as they give their consent to be surveilled by a private corporation. Neoliberalism also encourages the proliferation of information technologies by making individuals responsible for their economic success and wellbeing in an increasingly competitive world, thus pushing more individuals to use information technologies to enter into the gig economy. The individuating logic of neoliberalism, combined with the rapid economic potentialities of information technology, turn individuals into mere sources of human capital. Even though the American state's commitment to neoliberalism precludes it from covertly managing the labor economy, it can still manage a population through criminalization and incarceration. Access to users' data by way of information technology makes the process of criminalization more manageable and allows the state to more easily incarcerate indiscriminately.



Neoliberal governance, surveillance technology, big data, criminality, freedom