First They Came for the Poor: Surveillance of Welfare Recipients as an Uncontested Practice

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

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First They Came for the Poor: Surveillance of Welfare Recipients as an Uncontested Practice


  • Nathalie Maréchal School of Communication, University of Southern California, USA


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Abstract:  There have been moments in American history when government surveillance of everyday citizens has aroused public concerns, most recently Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations concerning widespread, warrantless surveillance of Americans and foreigners alike. What does not arouse public concern are longstanding governmental practices that involve surveillance of poor people who receive certain types of public benefits. This article traces the political history of U.S. poverty-relief programs, considers the perspective of welfare beneficiaries themselves, analyzes American cultural beliefs about the poor in order to offer some thoughts on why those surveillance practices garner little public concern, and argues that those who are concerned about warrantless surveillance of ordinary citizens should do more to protect ordinary poor citizens from surveillance.

Keywords:  beneficiaries; poor; poverty; public benefits; surveillance; welfare

Published:   20 October 2015


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v3i3.268


© Nathalie Maréchal. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.