The idea of the Panopticon was presented by Jeremy Bentham as an efficient reform to the British penal system. The kind of prison that Bentham envisioned was arranged both to facilitate surveillance and to encourage obedience to prison rule. From a central position, one watcher could see every prisoner, and all prisoners were aware that they were—or might be—under constant surveillance. Whether the watcher actually had eyes on every prisoner was irrelevant. (Bentham considered only direct observation because he lived in the 18th–19th centuries, before the invention of photography.) Because the prisoners believed they were being watched, they would follow the prison’s rules rather than risk punishment for an infraction that might be observed. As Michel Foucault later observed, this method effectively made the penal system self-enforcing by reducing, if not eliminating, the need for actual punishment as it intensified fear of punishment.
In 1984, surveillance is a constant reality for Oceania’s people. It is personified in the leader and in his subject so that Oceanians feel a direct connection to surveillance rather than experiencing it as impersonal. The slogan is not simply, “Big Brother is watching,” but that he is watching “you.” Rather than fear this personified watcher, the people are constantly encouraged to love him—that is, to identify with the state’s interests and place them before self-interest or one’s actual family members.
There are cameras in the telescreens, which are presumed to be always on, so that anyone who tries to escape the watchful eyes must use subterfuge and finesse. A clear example is presented by Winston’s having discovered the corner of his apartment that the camera does not reach and using that corner to write in his diary (chapter 1). The state has access to its people’s innermost thoughts, via the Thought Police who investigate and punish "thoughtcrime," which included every slight hesitation about supporting the all-controlling political system that Big Brother represents.