Enemy Of The State: Someone’s Always Watching

Enemy of the State is an action film starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman and Jon Voight.  The main plot of the movie centres around a bill in Congress which would expand surveillance powers to the law enforcement agencies of the United States, an assassinated Congressman’s attempt to stop it – assassinated by the National Security Agency (NSA). Will Smith’s character, lawyer Robert Clayton Dean, is crossed by an old friend who happened to indirectly witness the assassination. From there he is caught in the middle of the NSA’s attempt to cover up the assassination.  Some events of the movie are eerily similar to a real-life event in the United States, where then-President George W. Bush signs in The Patriot Act, which, like the movie, increased surveillance powers of the law enforcement agencies after the effects of September 11. The film brings up the philosophical issue of surveillance of citizens and the political motivation to produce and maintain a society that is subject to what they want – disregarding the feelings of the individual. Since the movie it set in the United States, a link to the relevant American legislature will be evident in this blog post.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as part of the Bill of Rights of the United States, protects citizens from unwarranted surveillance, stating:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In the movie, a group within the NSA under the corrupt influence of Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) uses every means possible to track down Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) and Brill (Gene Hackman) in order to cover up the assassination of a Congressman. The use of such sophisticated tracking equipment, while within the realm of cinematic licence, is obviously a breach of Dean’s and Brill’s Fourth Amendment Rights. This very disciplinary method is contrary to Foucault’s philosophy of social regulation (Falzon, 2007, p. 170). Foucault states that such disciplinary power should not curb or crush individuals, but rather slowly change them (Falzon, 2007, p. 170). What the rogue NSA agents did was the opposite of how Foucault described “discipline”, they were crushing the very lives of Dean and Brill in order to get a piece of evidence. This was a clear violation of privacy using extremely sophisticated methods of surveillance (Falzon, 2007, p. 174).

The need for surveillance in today’s society is a hotly debated issue. It can be said that surveillance has two sides – one that can enforce social divisions and alike, and one that can help prevent serious crimes (Taylor, 2002, p. 66). Although there can be a third side to surveillance – to protect any covert interests of the government. This is presented evidently in the film. The NSA didn’t use surveillance to enforce social divisions, nor it prevented serious crimes. They did it to ensure a crucial piece of evidence didn’t get leaked to the public. In conclusion, Enemy Of The State brought aware a problem with surveillance in society today. With the passing of the Patriot Act in the United States, it brings the events within the movie a bit closer to home.

The Bill of Rights of the United States of America. Retrieved June 7, 2010 from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

Falzon, C. (2007). Antz – Social and Political Philosophy. In Philosophy Goes To The Movies. New York: Routledge.

Taylor, N. (2002). State Surveillance and the Right to Privacy. In Surveillance & Society. 1(1). Retrieved June 4, 2010 from http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/ojs/index.php/journal/article/view/53/53

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *