1/18/2009 3:02:25 PM
Escape Into the Panopticon: Virtual Worlds and the
The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with
great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to
see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable.1
Suppose that you move to a new town. To buy your home, you must allow
the developer to install cameras in each room and record all interactions
between you and your husband. To use the telephone, you must permit the
telephone company to record and retain your conversations. To receive mail,
you must allow the mail carrier to copy and index the contents. To access
funds, you must permit the bank to record all purchases. Suppose, too, that
much of this information can become available to government actors with a
simple subpoena rather than the more stringent search warrant.2 It may sound
incredible, but this is the reality for millions of people who live, work, and play
in virtual worlds.
The essential irony of virtual worlds is that populations seeking to build
new lives away from the public eye are moving into an environment that is
subject to constant surveillance. Virtual worlds currently operate like Jeremy
Bentham’s Panopticon prison.3 The Panopticon permitted a single guard in the
center of the prison to monitor all of the prisoners. The same degree of
J.R.R. TOLKIEN, THE LORD OF THE RINGS 616 (Houghton Mifflin 1994) (1954).
2. See United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435, 444 (1976) (permitting access to bank records with
a subpoena and noting the “general rule that the issuance of a subpoena to a third party to
obtain the records of that party does not violate the rights of a defendant”).
JEREMY BENTHAM, THE PANOPTICON WRITINGS (Miran Bozovic ed., 1995).
the yale law journal pocket part
surveillance exists in virtual worlds. The denizens of virtual worlds are