This paper takes critique of surveillance studies scholars of the shortcomings of the panoptic model for analysing contemporary systems of surveillance as a starting point. We argue that core conceptual tools, in conjunction with an under-conceptualization of agency, privilege a focus on the oppressive elements of surveillance. This often yields unsatisfying insights to why surveillance works, for whom, and at whose costs. We discuss the so-called Prüm regime, pertaining to transnational data exchange for forensic and police use in the EU, to illustrate how—by articulating instances of what we call ‘situated dis/empowerment’—agency can be better conceptualized, sharpening our gaze for the large extent to which the empowering and disempowering effects of surveillance depend on each other.

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