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posted by:Ian Kerr // 11:07 PM // January 03, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX

Ian Kerr and Steve Mann

I. Over and under the Valences of Veillance

Surveillance literally means (in French) “to watch from above.” Of course, surveillance is about much more than mere observation. As Jim Rule once defined it, surveillance is “any systematic attention to a person's life aimed at exerting influence over it”. Surveillance studies have spawned a number of excellent journals, such as Surveillance & Society . Such research has also resulted in noteworthy academic collaborations and networks, such as The Surveillance Project .

As leaders in the field such as David Lyon remind us:

Surveillance is not simply about large organizations using sophisticated computer equipment. It is also about how ordinary people - citizens, workers, travelers, and consumers - interact with surveillance. Some comply, others negotiate, and yet others resist.

One important form of negotiation and resistance has been a movement known as sousveillance. Coined by Steve Mann, sousveillance stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning "above", and sous, meaning "below." Sousveillance, a practice that originated with the use of eyetap (electric eyeglasses as described here) and other wearable computing devices, refers both to inverse surveillance, as well as to the recording of an activity from the perspective of a participant in the activity (i.e. personal experience capture).

Surveillance connotes a kind of systematic omniscient “eye-in-the-sky” (God's eye view) by authoritarian, though human, eyes and architectures. Conversely, sousveillance involves the recording of an activity by a participant in that activity.

Surveillance often requires secrecy and panopticism (Bentham’s fancy word used to describe a centralized optical system that ensured total transparency in one direction and zero transparency in the other direction). Conversely, sousveillance seeks to decentralize in order to achieve transparency in every direction. Sousveillance thus seeks invert (reverse) the panopticon.

Although it is tempting to see SUR and SOUS as binary, us-versus-them opposites, we are hoping to spend this week thinking instead about equiveillance, that is, the possibility that these two very different social practices might somehow result in some kind of equilibrium.

While Steve is optimistic that such an equilibrium can be achieved, Ian expresses more ambi-veillance. Both of us have invited a number of colleagues, professors and students to engage in this dialogue. Below are some of the issues that we will explore this week.

II. The Promise of Equiveillance

If equiveillance is an achievable state, there will be a balance between surveillance and sousveillance. If achieved, such a balance will result in a better ability to document the world from a diversity of perspectives. From an evidentiary point of view, an equi-veillant state would better preserve the contextual integrity of veillance data. For example, the decentralized capture of personal experience would provide an enriched evidentiary record which could prevent one-sided (surveillance-only) data from being taken out of context. The search for truth and justice has already experienced glimpses of this potential as more and more controversial episodes of public interest are caught-on-tape.

It is well known that surveillance can be used to exert power and influence. For better and for worse, both State and private sector surveillance can create tremendous power imbalances. In an equi-veillant world, a better balance would be achieved since, in its best light, sousveillance would act as a kind of ombudsperson: a vehicle through which individuals can exercise complaints and mediate fair settlements more effectively against large and powerful entities.

Equiveillance promises a freer society, one which places emphasis on respect and balance of power. With the greater transparency it provides through its decentralized watchful vigilance, power-brokers would be held to greater accountability. Equiveillance might even result in a purer form of democracy, where respect, power and participation are shared and well distributed amongst the demos.

III. The Challenge of Equiveillance

While the existing literature on equiveillance discusses its promise, less has been written on the practical challenges that equiveillance seekers face. Here are a few.

1. Is Equiveillance Possible?

Part of what equiveillance seekers hope to achieve is a balance of informational power. According to Steve and others, this has a better chance of happening if and when the field of personal cybernetics converges with techniques in personal imaging and cyborglogging, creating user-friendly means for individuals to store and archive personal information and personal experience capture.

But even if this convergence becomes technically achievable, producible en masse, economically feasible, affordable to all, and mass adopted, what will ensure that the big muscles that the super-powers of surveillance now flex will in any way meet a balance of force? Although it is conceivable that the addition of sousveillance could undermine Foucaultian panopticism’s “visibility and unverifiability”, how do we know that the veillances (Sur + Sous) will truly cancel each other out or reach some kind of steady state? What good reason is there to think that these veillances operate like chemical valences?

While the balance/equilibrium metaphors are alluring, equiveillance theorists need to be able to explain what would otherwise seem counter-intuitive to most folks who care about privacy and excessive surveillance:

(i) How does a world that contains more and more information capture devices and greater numbers of information capturers find itself in a state of equilibrium?
(ii) Since sousveillance and surveillance share a similar potential to do harm, how would the change from the one-sided monopoly on surveillance ensure an outcome of greater balance in informational power, more freedom and deeper respect for and among citizens?
2. Will Equiveillance Respect Fair Information Practice Principles?

One of the virtues of equiveillance would be an increased reciprocal transparency in the operations of powerful entities engaged in surveillance. Such reciprocal transparency has become necessary, in part, because surveillance often takes place surreptitiously, i.e., without the knowledge and consent of the people who are being monitored.

Consent to the collection, use and disclosure of personal information is central among the fair information practice principles (FIPPs) set out in PIPEDA, Canada’s private sector privacy legislation. Although FIPPs currently apply only to “organizations”, in an equiveillant society, one might expect that FIPPs could apply equally to the decentralized masses of individuals enagaged in cyborglogging and other personal experience capture techniques.

FIPPs requires much more than a simple consent to the capture of personal data. FIPPs requires significant accountability for collection/use/disclosure in a number of ways. For example, organizations are generally required: to identify the purposes for collection; to narrowly limit the collection to those purposes; to limit the use/disclosure/retention of the information collected; to maintain the accuracy of the information; to provide safeguards; to provide open access to information subjects; and to provide a form of recourse for complaints about improper collections of information.

(iii) Should sousveillance also be practiced in accord with FIPPs?
(iv) If it should, then what regulatory/oversight mechanisms would be used to ensure that this is so? (For example, would the current infrastructure of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada suffice? Does equiveillance demand that private sector privacy legislation needs to be amended to contemplate and accommodate sousveillance?)
3. If Equiveillance Does Not Respect FIPPs, what is its Moral or Legal Justification?

Some equiveillance seekers believe that FIPPs must give way to the goal of achieving greater reciprocal transparency in society, that to have a society within which personal freedoms and justice are equally distributed, greater reciprocal transparency is needed. At the same time, other equiveillance theorists have been careful to distinguish themselves from David Brin and others who also see the need (and have the desire) to sacrifice privacy in order to achieve what often amounts to unidirectional transparency.

Even if symmetry of transparency is not seen as an overarching goal, obtaining equiveillance might be seen by some to require an abandonment or at least a suspension of FIPPs. Part of the justification for doing so would be that powerful entities engaged in surveillance do not comply with FIPPs and that the only way to destroy the monopoly on surveillance is to “shoot back” or “fight fire with fire.”

(v) How can privacy be maintained if FIPPs-values are jettisoned for the sake of symmetry in transparency or the change away from the surveillance-only monopoly?

One justification for doing sousveillance in a way that jettisons FIPPs-values might be to understand equiveillance seekers as engaged in morally-minded civil disobedience in the tradition of Henry Thoreau, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. This form of sousveillance is a deliberate, open, and peaceful violation of FIPPs. Its purpose is to undermine or resist an unjust, illegitimate and immoral surveillance monopoly.

(vi) Is sousveillance properly understood as civil disobedience even if it is surreptitious?

(vii) A hallmark of civil disobedience is the willingness of the civil disobedient to accept the legal consequences. Should equiveillance seekers who breach FIPPs be held to this standard?
(viii) If Equiveillance does not respect FIPPs, what is its moral or legal justification?

IV. Legal Protection of Sousveillance

Finally, we consider issues regarding the legal protection of sousveillance in our current, unbalanced surveillance-centric society. If we arrive at the conclusion that equiveillance is in the public interest, how can we protect it against law, policy, and practices that are biased in favour of surveillance-only regimes?

For example, we already recognize certain social benefits from fire exits, wheelchair ramps, and the like. Private property owners and governments are not at liberty to create environments that are unsafe, or that discriminate in certain ways.

(ix) Should property owners be required to facilitate, permit, or, at the very least, not to impede sousveillance activities?

Clearly, some sousveillance activities might result in public safety benefits (e.g., a memory aid or seeing aid worn by the elderly might happen to collect evidence useful to a physician or a jury in determining the cause of a slip-and-fall incident).

(x) What legal remedies might be provided to deal with those who attempt to obstruct equiveillance? Do information rights extend to those who wish to have a record of their own personal experiences? For example, what remedies are available to a person who is prohibited from capturing personal experiences (eg, “no photographs allowed”)?
(xi) Is requiring a person to turn off recording devices ever akin to “tampering with evidence”? If the result of such an incident is that the surveiller has a record but the sousveiller does not, ought there to be some sort of legal recourse to the sousveiller? Is there a rule of evidence or equity that could support equiveillance in such a situation? Consider, for example, a situation in which entities “A” and “B” would have each recorded their own version of “the truth” (i.e. their own choices of camera angle, etc., when they are interacting with each other), but for the fact that “A” prohibits “B” from recording. In this case, “A” has the only recording, because it has instituted a monopoly on the “recording of fact”. Might a reasonable legal remedy to the possible conflict-of-interest inherent in such recording monopoly be to dismiss any such recordings made by “A” as inadmissible evidence in a trial or proceeding against “B”?

V. Discussion Time

Unlike many of the ID TRAIL MIX articles published in this space, the purpose of which is to espouse a particular position or opinion, in this piece, we have tried to describe what equiveillance is and raise some challenging questions for discussion. Our aim is exploration. Rather than providing a typical point-counterpoint debate, we think it will be more interesting to put forward for discussion the most plausible and appealing version of equiveillance theory and to inspire a dialogue that investigates its virtues and vices with the aim of determining the best and most appropriate approaches for confronting the harms flowing from the excessive and monopolistic surveillance society that we currently live in.

We view the outcome of the discussion as up-for-grabs, i.e., that any of those involved in the discussion might be convinced to change their views. Part of our hope is that the discussion will help focus on solutions that work.

So lets talk!

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Very interesting subject and totally related with the new Virtual Personality human right, which gives more power -sousvelillance- to the person.

Details here:


Posted by: Jaco A. at January 4, 2006 04:01 AM

Thanks for starting a stimulating discussion, Steve and Ian.

The program of equiveillance, I take it, calls for a certain equilibrium in privacy-diminishing practices. I wonder whether, accordingly, we might not capture the overarching idea of equiveillance as follows:

(E) The extent to which one party (individual, group, organization), A, is allowed to diminish the privacy of another party, B, is the extent to which B should be allowed to diminish A’s privacy.

If that’s a roughly fair way of putting the idea, then I think it’s very important, in order to answer many of the interesting practical questions you raise, to be clear about the idea’s scope. In its most general form -- call it Equiveillance Unmodified -- no restrictions are placed on the sorts of parties represented in (E). Equiveillance Unmodified says that the equilibrium referred to in (E) should apply across the board, regardless of who the relevant parties, A and B, might be.

Equiveillance Unmodified may not be a very plausible doctrine. To illustrate, compare information flows between a pair of young siblings of roughly the same age, on the one hand, and information flows between the siblings’ parents and the siblings, on the other. It might seem right at an intuitive level that the information flows between the two siblings should be governed by something along the lines of (E). That is, each sibling’s privacy, relative to the other sibling, should be roughly proportionate to that of the other. But it’s hard to swallow that the informational flows between the siblings and their parents should be governed by the likes of (E), as Equiveillance Unmodified would suggest. In various ways, parents can quite rightly possess a level of privacy relative to their young children that the children don’t possess relative to the parents. It seems that parents have a special duty to care for (to provide for, to protect, etc.) their children that requires that the children have less privacy than the parents; without that uneven distribution of privacy, the parents wouldn’t be able to perform their duties as parents.

Similarly, one might argue that in a liberal democratic society such as our own, the state and its agents/agencies have a duty to care for private citizens such that, first, this duty is not shared by the citizens themselves (happily – I wouldn’t want my neighbors running around thinking that it was their duty to police me, dispense social insurance benefits to me, etc.), and, second, this difference in the duty to care might make for a legitimate difference in the distribution of privacy: in some ways, agents/agencies of the state might properly get more than private citizens. That would suggest that, where A represents agents/agencies of the state, and B private parties, (E) would not apply, even if it does apply where A and B are both private parties -- a further reason to shy away from Equiveillance Unmodified.

So we might have to go for some form of Equiveillance Modified, where significant restrictions are placed on the sorts of parties covered by (E). I think the question of what these restrictions should be is a fascinating one to explore.

Posted by: David Matheson at January 4, 2006 11:49 AM

Your comment that, “From an evidentiary point of view, an equi-veillant state would better preserve the contextual integrity of veillance data” got me thinking. I’d suggest that there’s a difference between social experience and veillance data. As with other media artefacts, the meaning of veillance data has to be constructed by the social actors using the data. For example, it was no surprise that the Rodney King video tape was so controversial in the criminal case against the police officers who were recorded beating him - the meaning of the tape was up for grabs, and the lawyers on both sides knew it.

So I’m not so sure sousveillance can counter surveillance, or invert the panopticon as you put it. The power exercised by those who use surveillance rests in their ability to control the meaning made of the data and to make hidden decisions about people based on that meaning. Souveillance doesn’t open up that decision-making process, or pull power to the opposite end of the spectrum. But it does interfere with that power, by threatening to impose a certain level of accountability. The act of sousveillance doesn’t guarantee that accountability, but it opens the field for social response, much the way the King video led to the Los Angeles riots.

So it seems to me that the power of sousveillance, then, rests in its ability to disrupt. One of my favourite colleagues routinely tapes his conversations with call centres. When they say, “This call is being monitored,” he says, “That’s OK, I’m taping it too.” Typically, the call centre operator is furious or aghast, and tells him that he’s acting illegally. The fact that surveillance is perceived to be routine and legitimate and sousveillance is perceived (incorrectly, I’d argue) to be to be illegal intrigues me. It’s like my experience with rudeness and postal codes. Two years ago, when a cashier would ask me for my postal code and I’d refuse, I was treated as if I had acted rudely. Strangely enough, placing me under surveillance for commercial purposes wasn’t perceived of as rude, but resisting it was. But the resistance put the issue on the table, and opened it up to debate. I can’t tell you the number of times the next person in line, after listening to our exchange, refused to give their postal code too.

The reason sousveillance appeals to me is that, when power is exercised inappropriately, I figure we have a moral obligation to resist. The biggest danger is that surveillance will be naturalized and become one of the ways we protect “ourselves” from “them”. Sousveillance provides an opportunity to redefine the “them” as the watchers, to point to the Panoptic centre, spit in its eye and jeer at the Emperor's lack of clothes.

Posted by: Valerie Steeves at January 4, 2006 11:54 AM

Hi Dave,

I just read your post and wanted to ask you if you saw any dangers in your analogy between the state/citizen relationship and the parent/child relationship. Seems to me that the state is accountable to the citizen for its use of power, and that transparency of the state's actions is essential to democracy. Parents, on the other hand, keep things from kids to protect their developmental innocence because parents, in the best of all worlds, are older and wiser. I'd argue that privacy and access to information are both democratic impulses - the first protects the individual from undue state interference and the second holds the state accountable to the citizenry. I've been deeply concerned by the way in which government policy has reversed these principles in the past decade or so, claiming a veil of privacy for its own actions on the one hand (think George Bush's "war on terror" and the spying on Americans fiasco)and, on the other hand, claiming it can only protect us if it can place us all under surveillance in case we're acting illegally. The combination of a paternalistic state and surveillance technologies isn't a pretty one, especially when the state begins to argue, as it has in the Lawful Access proposals, that it can place us under surveillance without judicial oversight.

Is it possible the state isn't entitled to privacy from citizens and that what you refer to in your formula is really a form of secrecy that is necessary to allow the state to perform functions (such as security and policing) that are still subject to mechanisms of accountability?

Posted by: Valerie Steeves at January 4, 2006 12:11 PM

It seems to me that to some extent there has always been the recognized potential to keep one's own record of interactions with corporate or government entities. We're all familiar with the paper trail - put it in writing, ask for written responses, keep notes of key conversations, etc. We do this in order to document our side of a particular dispute or transaction. So to some extent, sousveillance could be argued to be about updating the technology by which this is done in order to create some sort of level playing field. The problem is, though, that it doesn't seem to me that sousveillance is necessarily triggered by the need to record or document a particular transaction or interaction that might have social, economic or legal signficance for the sousveiller. In some manifestations it sounds more like "you're watching me, so I'm watching you." While it's true that there have been some significant recent examples of amateur video taping bringing to light unsavoury incidents or practices, I'm not persuaded that sousveillance is not just a fancy word used to rationalize playing around with gadgets, the use of which would otherwise be hard to justify.

I have some sympathy for the call centre worker who is told by a client that the client, along with the employer, is recording their conversation. It's bad enough having to put up with your employer watching over your every move. Imagine also being told that a total stranger is making a recording of you for undisclosed purposes entirely beyond your control. If this is an example of "sousveillance", does it really attack the panopticon, or does it just creep out someone who is doing their best to support themselves or their family by working at a call centre?

Posted by: Teresa Scassa at January 4, 2006 01:29 PM

Hi Val,

I agree with your statement that sousveillance may be unable to counter the power relationship that currently exists between the various actors in the surveilled-sousveilled universe. Assuming I walked about town with my own eye-tap device (see Steve Mann’s web page for more details), taping all of my interactions, I would most likely be met with resistance from those more powerful surveillors (banks, security guards, etc.). However, even if I were able to effectively tape everything I did I would not be in any better a position to gain a power advantage over them, nor should I hope to gain an equal footing.

The power of video surveillance/sousveillance qua video clips is extremely limited. The more powerful surveillance techniques seem to be found in the infrastructures that collect and manipulate vast quantities of data transactions, not in the individual chunks of data themselves (except in rare cases like Rodney King). Aggregated databases in consort with the enormous capital resources of corporations/governments enable the vast majority of power imbalances to come to life through advertising and research initiatives (Mattel versus me and my two-year-old daughter) or monolithic legal actions (the recording industry versus Joe Schmo).

Here’s a thought. Perhaps a voluntary open-source model could be developed in order to collect and aggregate data from individuals relating to corporate or government data transactions, with the aim to mine the data and produce a more accurate picture of the nature of their actions. For instance, imagine a database that included information on the frequency of telemarketing phone calls made to people in Ontario, including information like: the originating organization, the duration of the calls, the nature of the questions asked, the average household income of those called. I would imagine that “hard data” (popular with legislators) on the nature of telemarketing would expose all sorts of interesting information that might lead to a shift in perception of those organizations and their marketing techniques. How about a database that included information on the frequency of police vehicle stops, race of the drivers, sex of the drivers, make and model of the vehicles, badge numbers of the officers involved, language used by the officers (via voice recordings), locations of the stops, etc. With all the allegations of profiling floating around in the media, such databases would be a powerful tool to counter the power of the institutions involved.

An aggregated approach represents the sling that is required to topple the complex power imbalance inherent in the current system.


Posted by: Jason Millar at January 4, 2006 04:25 PM

teresa - the problem that you raise about the call centre employee is *precisely* what leads to my own "ambi-veillance" about equiveillance (to riff on steve's language).

my concern about (what david matheson might call) an "unmodified" equiveillance is that individuals -- usually not-so-powerful individuals -- are often the ones who get caught in the crossfire. if a particular sousveillance practice intentionally breaches FIPPs at the expense of innocent individuals, there had better be some "higher level" disruptance/ disobedience objective...

i agree with val that we have a moral duty to resist excessive surveillance; the difficult Q is how far we can legitimately push it...

i'll bet steve thinks that we can push those call centre employees since they play a role in the surveillance machinery (he liken's it to complicity theory). i am not yet convinced by his position on this. steve, maybe you could elaborate?!

teresa - do you think that the harm val's colleague causes in resisting call centre surveillance is an additional harm simply by virtue of adding another recording/capture device and therefore another level of scrutiny? would it make a difference if the sous-veiller was monitoring on behalf of call centre employees?

part of what i am trying to figure out is whether the harm is simply that there are more and more cameras, tape recorders, data agregators, etc., or whether one should only understand the harm in terms of the nature and purpose of the power being exerted through a particular monitoring practice.


Posted by: Ian Kerr at January 4, 2006 09:45 PM

In answer to your question (sousveillance of those who are complicit in surveillance), I do see your point that fighting fire with fire causes crossfire, but I also think we need to think about this matter from a couple of different points of view before we decide whether or not the complicitee (complicit employee) is really a (an undeserved?) victim at all (by the way, a number of complicitees have even found sousveillance somewhat entertaining or educational). Firstly, one has to consider the end effect of sousveillance on the complicitee. It is not necessarily the case that all complicitees end up looking like idiots under the gaze of sousveillance; sometimes sousveillance can even expose the plight of the complicitee in a respectful or helpful way (i.e. perhaps to show the plight of the worker, working conditions, and generate sympathy, etc., that might even result in changes that make for better working conditions; in this role, sousveillance could be used as a tool to help prevent workers from being exploited).


But if we simply take the view that the worker is sacred because they are powerless, then what we will do is create or perpetuate a regime that allows the worker to be (or continue to be) exploited as a human shield. In other words, without being able to probe into, uncover, or explore (empirically, i.e. by recording actual data) these issues, we could end up with a situation in which complicitees are exploited as a form of armour around what would then become a socially inpenetrable (i.e. where it becomes poliltically incorrect to try to penetrate) hierarchy.


That leads us to the second main reason for sousveillance as a form of social inquiry: pragmatics. Let me give a kind of silly but simple example. Suppose you need to find out who is in charge somewhere (or need to speak to a manager to ask them some questions about an organizations surveillance system). When you ask for the manager, you will likely be told that he or she is not in now, or only takes questions on certain days. Maybe you come back on one of those certain days and are told that you need to speak to someone in head office. What I am saying is that basically you get a run-around. But now suppose you pull out your camera and just start taking pictures of the surveillance cameras. That's a great way of doing an empirical study (or maybe you just want to get some pictures of surveillance cameras for including in an academic journal paper in Surveillance & Society). What you will find is that someone will often come running out right away, perhaps to object.


Now you might argue that the person who comes running out is only a low-ranking complicitee (or a totally non-complicit enslaved in poverty, etc., depending on your point of view). But from the totally pragmatic academic exercise of finding the manager, suppose you photograph that person (at the potential risk of crossfire???). What will likely happen is that the situation will escalate, especially if you have a legitimate reason to continue, and your legitimate reason is beyond the comprehension of all but the top managers.


This legitimate reason might be (as sousveillance seekers often find) something like, for example, you just had lunch with your patent agent in a restaurant, while reviewing patentable subject matter, but later discovered a surveillance camera there, and that you are required by your own Company's policy to record any evidence of a possible breach of security of your own company confidential material.


This scenario (and others like it) would (and in fact does) create such a bureacratic complexity, but at the same time demands such immediate attention, that the complicitee summons a manager right away. It turns out the manager is really there, and he or she was lying when saying that the manager was "not in right now".


So sousveillance can form an effective probe into an organization's hierarchy, and, from a simple practical point of view (wearing the engineer's hat so to speak) can bring you face-to-face with a top-level manager (something that would ordinary take weeks, months, years???) in a matter of minutes.


Lastly, should not the state (and this is where I disagree with the parental analogy) and its complicitees get less privacy, because it (they) is (are) our (as taxpayers) employees? In other words, how is sousveillance by a taxpayer any less acceptable than the standard and well accepted practice of an employee monitoring their employees?


And this is where the child/parent analogy totally breaks down. Are we naive toddlers being taxed by an all-knowing, all-seeing (Thy Father) government, or should we not be treated as equals (we the people have elected some of ourselves to run things, etc.).


Is government like a King, watching over us from on high, with a divine knowledge and wisdom beyond what you or I are capable of (like child and parent or like human and God), or is government nothing more than a simple practical matter of us selecting some of our own people (no more or no less intelligent, wise, moral, etc. than we are)?


And if government is simply made of people like you and me, then why can't we put ourselves over sousveillance (jointly and severally), i.e. why can't an old and wise citizen make a recording of a no more old and wise government complicitee?

See "Can Humans Being Clerks Make Clerks be Human", http://wearcam.org/leonardo/mann2004.htm

Posted by: Steve Mann at January 5, 2006 06:02 AM

when persons are dealing with complex institutions, be it air canada, a hospital, or a nursing home, persons find themselves refered to as that difficult person, and rapidly become marginalized, and placed outside the bellcurve.

DEhumanization of human problems, leads to forms of totalitarian behaviours: ie Zimbardo's and Milgram's experiments have demonstrated this just as Sousveillance artists are also discovering.

In healthcare, this poses complex problems of social sorting: in times of isolation, and chronic illness, the disadvantages to loss of freedom, and privacy become compounded when one has less input advocating ones wishes, or protecting ones rights:

I am finding that the most meaningful sousveillance is that which provides feedback to institutions, and creates the force of accountability to help better a situation.

It becomes an art to balance all the sur/sous forces and requires a certain intuition.

Any future meaningful dialog in any field, from art to engineering, will only become meaningful if the sousveillance becomes active in creating democratic dialog.

In my opinion, sousveillance defragments a fragmented society, and as a cultural force, is the logical consequence of preventing a univalent junta from evolving.

This is what David Brin articulates in the Transparent Society, as well as Paul Virilio, in Dromology.

The media can also be manipulated due to its fluidity, towards a New Media Disequiveillant Vigilantism, a form of bullyism, as seen with the phenomena of happy slapping, which is the inverse of extreme institutional callusness, as witnessed by the official government policy of Germany during 1932-1945 or contempory nursing home situations (ie demented patients hanging themselves on restraints due to extreme neglect)

So the extreme spectrums of disequiveillance need careful delineation, with the anthropology and sociology understood as how the individual reacts as an individual, and as a group/herd animal.

The media creates extreme cases: propaganda vs extreme deconstructism, or dialectic.

so any understanding of technoprudence, will require to contextualize the aggregates: there will be stable and unstable aggregates, with social needs ranging from extreme conservatism, to extreme revolutionary situations, to even extreme anarchy and riot.

In a real time world, persons can be in various states of consciousness, switching personaes to correlates with the multitude of glocal situations that inhabit each section of time:

The world as being completely mediated, the need to relax by removing all technolgy from the self, forms a need for relaxation, as many cultures discovered in the past, starting with the Romans, and the public steam bath: in which individuals rested from the intense mediated world of perpetual conflicts.

Posted by: obviously anonymous stef at January 5, 2006 08:30 AM

"so any understanding of technoprudence, will require to contextualize the aggregates: there will be stable and unstable aggregates, with social needs ranging from extreme conservatism, to extreme revolutionary situations, to even extreme anarchy and riot."

one may participate in various aggregates in the course of a day, month, or lifetime.

Different alligences will require ones participation within different perspectives, to maintain individual autonomy, as well as maximizing one advantage in various situations, as one switches gears in a stick shift to maximize ones car engine and fuel consumption. thoughts will become this way to maximize freedom of thought, balances with privacy, and being able to participate in public forums.

One become most aware of ones internal social engines either when one self demotes ones self within an institution, or when one augments and maximizes ones power (social capital as a measure), as navigating within a sousveillance grid.

Posted by: obviously anonymous stef at January 5, 2006 08:37 AM

Hi everyone. Great discussion.

A bit more about my initial comment above: In fairness to myself, I think it should be pointed out that I was there in no way suggesting that the role of the state is just that of Big Parent. I would be the first to agree that the relationship between the state and private citizens differs in a host of ways from the relationship between parents and young children. I wasn't, accordingly, attempting to draw any sort of global analogy between the role of the state and that of parents. What I was doing was suggesting the particular point that legitimate "veillance" imbalances can exist between parents and children, on the one hand, and between agents of the state and private citizens, on the other, and that one reason for these imbalances in both sorts of case might have to do with a duty to care.

So, for example, suppose law enforcement agents acquire reason to believe that Citizen X is engaging in very disturbing illegal activity. These agents of the state have a special duty to care for (serve, protect, etc.) private citizens. The discharge of this duty might in many cases *require* that they set up a wiretap on Citizen X's telephone. This wiretapping in effect creates a legitimate veillance imbalance: for the period in which the wiretapping occurs, the law enforcement agents are permitted to diminish Citizen X's privacy (or secrecy, if you prefer) to an extent to which Citizen X is not permitted to diminish theirs.

Of course, the veillance imbalance between the law enforcement officials and Citizen X ought to be judicially warranted, limited to a specific time period, open to transparent review at a later time, etc. So there's no suggestion that the imbalance is inherently at odds with proper accountability. But still, it's an example of why (what I was calling) Equiveillance Unmodified is implausible, since Equiveillance Unmodified would entail that even the veillance imbalance flowing from the agents' duty to care, in this particular situation and time, would be inappropriate.

I most definitely believe that agents/agencies can effect completely illegitimate veillance imbalances -- where the effected imbalances aren't, despite disingenuous claims to the contrary, really necessary for the fulfillment of the duty to care. And I completely agree with Val that, sadly, this seems to be happening on an alarming scale in various areas of the contemporary scene. But I'm not convinced that the way resist the illegitimate imbalances is by objecting to imbalances across the board, as Equiveillance Unmodified would have it. There's no easy inference from *there's a veillance imbalance between A and B* to *there's an illegitimate veillance imbalance between A and B*.

All of that being said, it's not clear to me than anyone really accepts Equiveillance Unmodified. It is, after all, a pretty extreme view. What I find so interesting about Steve and Ian's post are the questions it raises about what sort of *Equiveillance Modified* we should be pushing for.

Posted by: David Matheson at January 5, 2006 10:37 AM

It seems to me, based upon admittedly sparse knowledge of the subject, that the essential differences between surveillance and sousveillance are (a) who is doing the veillance and (b) the purpose of the veillance. The literature I have considered thus far appears to paint the surveyors as invasive and malicious, while the sousveyors provide a benevolent balance. Without challenging these characterizations, I think it's important to consider them from the perspective of an innocent bystander caught in the "cross-veillance". When observing veillance from the perspective of an innocent third party, the distinction between surveillance and sousveillance begins to dissolve. To an uninvolved individual, the nature and purpose of the veillance is inconsequential (unless it is to be used against that individual). All that can be said with any certainty is that the innocent 3rd party's privacy is now being invaded by yet another source.

While thwarting the surveyors’ abuse of power is an important goal - one which may be served by sousveillance - it is important to recognize that these are not the only players in the game. Third parties, involved in neither veillance, will be subject to further infringement of their privacy rights. Although this infringement may be justified when it serves a greater social justice concern, instances providing such justification will be the exception. Hence, existing concerns regarding privacy rights will apply equally to sousveillance.

Posted by: Jesse Ahuja at January 5, 2006 11:54 AM

Regarding the topic of legal ramifications and protection of Sousveillance, particularly the following quote:
“Is requiring a person to turn off recording devices ever akin to "tampering with evidence"? If the result of such an incident is that the surveiller has a record but the sousveiller does not, ought there to be some sort of legal recourse to the sousveiller?”
To this I say there should absolutely be legal some sort of legal ramification towards the sousveiller. In a situation where a sign reads “no camera’s allowed” this should extend to BOTH the surveiller and the sousveiller. The sousveiller cannot be exempt from privacy laws, which on whole are so vital in our society, simply because his or hers actions are not directly recognized as of yet under the law. Laws that are single-handedly designed to protect the individual from the forces of greater society, particularly privacy law, should be read in a large and liberal fashion so as to change with time and incorporate new realties without mechanically changing the text of the law instantaneously. As such, the sousveiller cannot escape from the ramifications of law; the Rule of Law should continue to remain the dominate source of guidance to all “forms” of human –including the cyborg- species.

Posted by: Valerie Fox at January 5, 2006 12:52 PM

Hi everyone, I have a hypothetical question. I take it that if you watch your watcher, and everyone is watching everyone in possesion of the same technology, you agree to watch and be watched 24/7. But what happens when you turn the camera off, would it be considered an offense in a world where everyone is supposed to be using this technology constantly?

On the other hand, I like the idea that this type of technology can be used to receive direct imput from a patient using certain treatments or for a company to use it with their clients in order to receive direct imput from a new product or service but only if there mediates a previous consent for that particular use.

Posted by: Wilma at January 5, 2006 08:02 PM

What I found to be particularly interesting in this remarkable article are the key questions that were formulated in parragraph two under the "Is Equiveillance Possible?" heading where it reads, and I quote: "But even if this convergence becomes technically achievable, producible en masse, economically feasible, affordable to all, and mass adopted, what will ensure that the big muscles that the super-powers of surveillance now flex will in any way meet a balance of force?" And: "[. . .] how do we know that the veillances (Sur + Sous) will truly cancel each other out or reach some kind of steady state? What good reason is there to think that these veillances operate like chemical valences?"

After all, how can we be so sure that an utopic balance will simply result from achieving "equiveillance" and that suddenly all will be fine and dandy just because now two potentially hazardous factors know as "surveillance" and "sousveillance" are working at the same time against each other like ying and yang? These aren't cosmic forces were're talking about. What we are truly discussing (or what I at least think we're talking about here) is the possibility that one type of these so-called "veillances" will be beneficially countered by the other producing a more harmonious existence for those of us who like to think that our lives are somewhat protected from uninvited spectators who from time to time may decide to snoop around our daily lives. I certainly believe this is feasible to some degree although I still truly don't understand why and how, even after reading this article. What about the possibility of countering surveillance some other way for our benefit as a society? Perhaps "sousveillance" isn't the answer at all. I think other options should be explored though at the moment I dare not make any such bold suggestions and rather wait until I understand a little more on these topics. These are, after all, only my initial impressions.

Eva Saracho

Posted by: Eva at January 5, 2006 08:27 PM

Just like some of you have said, in this war between the surveiller and the sousveiller a lot of people are cought in between. Some people just hate being videotaped. And what about them (I'm sorry but I cannot find the question mark in this computer). If you're being surveilled (at least by private parties in Puerto Rico) they have to notify you. If you don't want to appear on the camera of a certain company or store you just don't go in. The sousveiller is going to ask me if I want to be on camera or notify me of what he-she is doing (still haven't found it)
Nonetheless, I ask myself how is it that videotaping the videotaper is going to put me in the same level as the videotaper (same problem)
Although I can see some use for it (like the clinic-patient situation), I am not convinced of its value to promote equality or "equiveillance".

Then again, I am just starting to get acqueinted with the topic.

Posted by: Vanessa at January 5, 2006 08:30 PM

As Donna Haraway refered to in her cyborg critique,we're mostly dealing with an identity dilemma. Meaning, that I believe that privacy terms will apply according to who you are, where you are, what you are doing and so on. About tonight's discussion, it is crucial to think that with the capability to access someone's personal information, or private whereabouts, we are opening the door to a new system, a new modern life. New laws will need to be implemented, and with them, the meaning of privacy could undertake a new twist. What will be considered private? What would be considered personal information if we all evolve in consequence with the new technology? I agree with Jesse in that laws will need to incorporate to the new realities.

I'm eager to hear tomorrow's discussion on the matter.

Posted by: Maraliza at January 5, 2006 08:55 PM

stef says, "I am finding that the most meaningful sousveillance is that which provides feedback to institutions, and creates the force of accountability to help better a situation."

this seems to me the most plausible justification so far for sousveillance, so long as it is conducted, to the greatest extent possible in accordance with FIPPs.

stef - what would be your best example of how to use sousveillance, say, against an institution that is increasing surveillance through a voluntary verichip program?

also, stef, what do you think of jason millar's suggestions for more powerful institutional souveillance?

Posted by: Ian Kerr at January 5, 2006 09:24 PM

After the quite of night, and after some sleep, the problem seems more clear to me.

We are faced with a world that has built within it, time borders; with this I mean our entire existence has been broken down into various sections and subsections. This is couple with several phenomena.

1. The phenomena of real-time
2. the increasing need to make communication efficient
3. communication becoming more in the form of filesharing
4. rapid transmission
5. over abundance of data

How do we mentally participate in a world within which the idea of place has expanded to how we participate with what is local, and what is a distributed global data sphere?

We all have responsibilities; with work, family, and community; but how do we make a balance and participate in all different roles we need to take on to successfully negotiate and thrive as individuals?

Increasingly all cognitive reception is becoming influenced by the aspect of broadcast: so world is becoming mediated and essentially a virtual world. Consciousness, is becoming a cyber-consciousness.

How we participate in various data collection infrastructures increasingly converges with the concept of managing time; hence how we participate in the world becomes a form of energy, and to be successful requires us participate via the perspective of cybernetic efficiency. The world has embedded within it systems that require continuous archiving and recording for it to function: but this is what Brin and Mann are looking at from a historical consequence perspective. But real-time is very new as a cognitive, and even mathematical model.

We begin to make choices consciously or subconsciously based upon this.

“Perhaps a voluntary open-source model could be developed in order to collect and aggregate data from individuals relating to corporate or government data transactions, with the aim to mine the data and produce a more accurate picture of the nature of their actions.”

This is an interesting perspective: when one thinks of the Rodney King happening, one needs to think of the overall belief system of the community: the community had a system of beliefs based upon how the community experienced being treated by the authority: it was a form of spoken opinions that became embedded within the community. That particular community had a need to react to the images based upon an established history.

With file sharing, the tradition of spoken discontent, become storable, and data transmittable. So how discontent gets spread over a network, creates a communal force, and an aggregate action can evolve from such file sharing. How persons deal with such forces can be either constructive, or completely destructive. So hence, aggregates can be stable, or unstable, with those as stable becoming forms that maintain social peace, and harmony, to those that create anarchy and destruction, with extreme social reactions that become disequiveillant: Destruction, revolution, killings, but worse, a constant drowning apathy.

How this relates to the concept of a verichip is difficult to delineate: but when dealing with profiling, there is a tremendous efficiency of data collection that can be used for various purposes: so regardless, these efficiencies will evolve with historical speed towards transforming our world and culture. With the pressure to be more productive creating multiple more anthropologic fragmentations; do we make this process transparent, or do we encrypt it within biometric systems that only accelerate social fragmentation?

What becomes purpose in a probabilistic world? Can we engineer probabilities to the point of self control through storing and data mining aggregated data?

But as a society, I not think we have established the moral imperatives to deal with such aggregated data. Are we too historically immature to deal with such social pressures?

Sousveillance brings in culturally a form to build a moral imperative to form the basis for democratic societies that balance the forces of surveillance, and efficiencies that continuous monitoring, archiving and retrieval will create. Just as it is important to learn through a series of personal experiments as a child going through Piaget’s stages, so too we need to undergo a series of media experiences to develop notions of right or wrong in an electronic world.

It is unfortunate that we don’t see more sousveillance, considering the ease to moblog, or even cyborlog. Perhaps persons have become too comfortable with being in input only mode while reading the newspaper, or listening to the TV.

Unfortunately, if one surveys the art in most large museums, or reads poetry, there is an overabundance of self indulgence and art for the sake of art: such work only emphasizes a world in which persons become disconnected from what is happening in reality. Perhaps the brain atrophies if we do not use critical thinking modes that require total brain function. Perhaps, just as we forget how to do advance mathematics after we stop taking the classes, we also forget how to be democratic when we leave social science class. So by not participating in sousveillance, we become less free through undermining our knowledge base. Perhaps authority wishes a public less interested in critical thought, and more interested in meaningless entertainment: we become prisoners to the surpluses of the media eyecandy and participate less and less in the lifelong form of cyborglogging, and become locked in the time restricted forms: with the concept of time theft becoming a controlling issue that we become less and less aware of.

“one may participate in various aggregates in the course of a day, month, or lifetime.”

Lifetime aggregates is very radical concept, but would help delineate many social and cultural trends: on a practical level, a lifetime aggregate can help with establishing causes of various illnesses; ie cancer with smoking, or exposure to toxic waste, or chemicals, or allergy patterns.

Lifetime aggregates can also expose how governments are transitioning in form, and how responsibility for large repetitive disasters, often is well distributed, with those taking the most profits from taking a risk, sheltered the most. Hence sousveillance may become a method to protect the rights of those who are trying to have a morality, from those who on the aggregate are causing repetitive harm: ie toxic waste dumpers protected by corrupt police, who are supported by large companies, who in turn know nothing about those who stole and dumped the toxic waste. (maybe there are better examples of risk redistribution)

Posted by: stefanos pantagis at January 6, 2006 06:39 AM

Personally, when thinking about this from an equality perspective, the right to "watch the watcher" does appeal to me. The idea of myself taping those "recorded" telephone conversations never occurred to me, but I find it very interesting (though certainly not surprising) to hear that this is often met with a negative reaction. However, I don't feel as comfortable with the idea that all private citizens would be able to "watch" one another in this way. Although we'd equally have the right to "watch" those who watch us, I feel that this might have the result of gradually eroding our privacy rights to the point where they are virtually non-existent. My other thought is that regardless of whether we can achieve a state of equilibrium with respect to the right to monitor one another, I don't think that this would result in a state of "equality" in terms of power. Presumably, such a system would still require privacy laws, which would invariably be violated by some individuals. As such, there would still need to be some societal institution that would uphold these laws and make the decisions about, for instance, whether or not to lay charges in any given case. Because of the inherent discretion involved in such a practice, I don't feel that true equilibrium could be achieved.

Posted by: Krista Scobie at January 6, 2006 08:06 AM

After careful reading all material for our class of January 5, 2005, I keep asking the same questions to myself: What is the purpose of being watched 24/7 and what is the purpose of watching somebody 24/7? Why do someone want to watch me 24/7? (besides probably an obsessive person). In the case of watching someone, I only see the benefit from a medical or technological point of view. Another benefit could be the whereabouts of a child or elderly parent. Therefore, my understanding is that the real purpose of this project must be medical, technological, social instead of political. In order to counterbalance the intromission of our privacy (spatial and informational) by the government or another entity, we need perhaps to create another tool besides the sousveillance. Which brings to another question, can we rely on these tapes or data? Must of them could be tampered.


Posted by: Karla at January 6, 2006 08:26 AM

I think that we have to be careful about how we can achieve the equiveillance produce by combining the surveillance and the sousveillance forces. Is obvious that the government or other entities have more power among us, like the US does, because they has more tools and are more powerful in making their role as surveillance than does the ones that are in the role as sousveillance. This links us to the privacy matter, because if the government has more tools than the people making the role as sousveillance, it is more difficult to achieve the balance between them. Because people in the sousveilance roll will be more disadvantaged, doesn’t matter the fact that this movement was created to watch the watchers. So to achieve the balance that we want, we have to be first, equal in a sense that all people has access to this technology, but in the meantime, I think we are in the hands of the watchers right now.
So, in the case that all we have all the technology to practice the sousveillance, then we have to determinate how to control the way the people uses it without invading the privacy of the others that does not want to be recorded or transmitted, etc.

I also agree with Vanessa and Jesse, in a sense that the laws governing privacy have to change because the world and the methods of communication to see or interact with other people are changing very fast. Also because we have to regulate this new forms of interaction among each other, because if it it used in a wrong way, it will be very dangerous.

Posted by: Yaritza at January 6, 2006 08:39 AM

I can agree that “in an equi-veillant world, a better balance would be achieved,” but only in the sense that we will gain, as citizens living under governmental legislation, a greater individual freedom towards the government or any public entity as a result of the balancing of powers. However, I don’t see how we would increase individual freedom if sousveillance creates the ability for citizens to exert power over each other, rather then only having this social practice limited to the relationship between the State and its citizens. In fact, I believe that the entire concept of a society grasps the idea that the government does have a “divine knowledge and wisdom” beyond the everyday citizen, regardless of whether or not we acknowledge the government as being “King”. This being said, I can understand why we would be focusing on achieving a better control over the State’s actions but I would be concerned about how the use of sousveillance will be beneficiary to the citizens themselves and their relationship amongst each other.

I don’t see how we will be living in a freer society with an increase in public security if the entire concept of a society, along with its needs for rules and regulations, would constantly be redefined. There is no doubt that our society remains in a continuous state of evolution but where will we finally draw the line when it comes to the human rights of citizens which nevertheless create the society. To say we live in a free world must include the right for citizens to choose how and what they wish to reveal to others. With surveillance and now even more with the idea of sousveillance, we are only heading towards a decreased notion of secrecy and the right to privacy the human being should always be accustomed to.

Posted by: Stephanie at January 6, 2006 11:25 AM

Despite my reservations I do feel that Steve is on to something. This summer I worked on a case where an individual was severely beaten by club bouncers and in his half conscious and bloddied state was swiftly scooped up by Toronto's finest and eventually charged with public intoxication. He was strip-searched and left naked for the entire night in his cell for no apparent reason.

Not surprisingly, the individual filed a formal police complaint. The police investigators informed him that they had viewed the tape and would deal with the situation accordingly. He informed the police that he would like the tape and they refused. I then spent much of my summer attempting to get this tape.

When I made a formal disclosure request for the tape for the purposes of defending his public intox charge, the investigating police officer interrogated me as to why I wanted the tape. I informed him that in addition to answering the charge, I felt that given the circumstances, the tape belonged to our client. He then told me that the tape had been destroyed by accident but that the police complaint report would surely staisfy.

From an evidentiary perspective, I can see how Steve's technology would be useful in order to secure justice in this matter. The inability of our client to sous-veil might ultimately prohibit his remedy. Unfortunately, the police control the narrative of this story. Had our client had the ability to sous-veil this might be a story about equiveillance.

(As a side note, the client attempted to record some of his interactions with the police using his cell phone. However, his production was mainly inaudible. He explained to me that he was handcuffed at the time and the phone would only record in brief segments. It would seem then, that the available technology failed him.)

Posted by: Blair at January 6, 2006 11:44 AM

1) An interesting question was asked: How do we know that the veillances (Sur + Sous) will truly cancel each other out or reach some kind of steady state? What good reason is there to think that these veillances operate like chemical valences?

I am not really convinced that should look at equiveillance as something that is going to be achieved in isolation. It’s not really about implementing sousveillance, and then suddenly “ta-da” the totalitarian gaze that Steve Mann highlights, is going to be eliminated. What I think sousveilliance can operate as, is an interesting starting point towards subverting the type of gaze that is already being imposed upon us as citizens.
It may not work alone, but after reading many of our course readings, I do believe it is an effective starting point for resistance.

2) Another interesting question was asked: Since sousveillance and surveillance share a similar potential to do harm, how would the change from the one-sided monopoly on surveillance ensure an outcome of greater balance in informational power, more freedom and deeper respect for and among citizens?

To effectively achieve resistance towards surveillance, it is necessary to change the way people think about their own concepts of privacy and solitude. For example, if people prefer to live in a world where there is a mere illusion of privacy, then sousveilliance can never effectively resist a totalitarian gaze. I firmly believe that sousveillance can only be effectively if its users are active participants (or what I like to call, cultural critics) in its usage. In other words, “shooting-back” requires us to think about the reasons why we are shooting back. If this isn’t done, then, yes, there is potential for sousveillance to not be effective as a resistance mechanism.

Posted by: Kinda at January 6, 2006 11:54 AM

Krista, Karla, Yaritza, Stephanie, I would be interested to know your feelings on sousveillance when it is used in a setting where surveillance is already present.

This creates a very moderate form of sousveillance, which, we might call, to use the language of Matheson, "Equiveillance Modified".

This form of Equiveillance Modified might simply state that whenever there is surveillance present, there is an automatic right of the surveilled to practice sousveillance. It still leaves unanswered the question of coteveillance (also known as coveillance) which is basically (approximately) sousveillance when no surveillance is present.

Thus what I am asking is if you agree to equiveillance without coveillance, i.e. to sousveillance in "free fire" zones, where "free fire" is defined by the existence of surveillance.

More generally, we could broaden the definition of freefire zones to include areas where sousveillance is present as well. So for example, if a cyborg is sitting alone at a dinner table, and you are a cyborg as well, and decide to join in and both of you decide to have dinner together, you can both come to an agreement or decision that the conversation is interesting enough to webcast. Now suppose a third cyborg comes along, I think it might be reasonable for the other two to say "hey, come over and join us in this webcast discussion" (the third cyborg might have already been listening to the conversation on the way over).

What I am basically saying is that if one party is already recording an activity, then additional parties should have an automatic right to record the activity.

This creates a kind of tipping-point dynamic in which a conversation can often be off record and then any one person might initiate a change in state, after which the others simply re-enforce this state.

This particular situation came up when I brought my cyborg inventions down to MIT in 1991, and there were both supporters as well as opposers of my inventions and their usages, etc. (ironically the opposers were those who later began doing research in this same area and later started also wearing computers and recording systems, etc.).

The good thing about sousveillance is it can be negotiated among the parties present.

Surveillance doesn't have that level of negotiation, e.g. it's hard to have a heart-to-heart conversation with a lamp post that upholds a surveillance camera.

The main objection I have with surveillance is that it separates the locus of control of the camera from the camera operator.

I would be in favour of, for example, a law that required all cameras to have a responible camera operator, identified and obvious.

If cameras are dangerous (like cars), then there should be a visible driver. Imagine if I wanted to make my car radio controlled and remotely drive it from home. Wouldn't that put people at unreasonable risk (especially if I used an autopilot program, or if I obfuscated the identity of who was driving by passing the controls around to some of my friends, etc.).

Why do we, as a society, tolerate surveillance?

It seems dangerous, or risky, at best, because we never get to see who's driving the camera.

And when surveillance is misused, we get a big bureaucracy in trying to get to the bottom of it (I still can't get hold of the surveillance recording of my 2 year old daughter being harrassed by a security guard).

So I think we should pass a law against video surveillance, because with sousveillance surveillance will be unnecessary.

Until then, we should at least allow, and even encourage sousveillance in areas where surveillance is already used. These are the "free fire" zones like shopping malls, police streets, etc., where we should certainly be able to keep our own record of events to prevent the surveillance data from being taken out of context.

Posted by: Steve Mann at January 6, 2006 12:05 PM

I would like to extend the conversation alluded to by Valerie and Karla re. the legal ramifications of sousveillance technology. I was thinking about where exactly eye taps and wearable computing devices would fit into the categories of evidence law.

Karla - you raised the concern about tampering of the tapes. I dont think this would be any different from the concern of any other type of real evidence, such as DNA, fingerprints. For this evidence to be admissible, the trial judge must be satisfied that the integrity, continuity, and item is accounted for. So similar to OJ Simpson, if this trail of continuity is suspicious, the wearable computing devices would be inadmissible

Secondly, I would assume once/if this technology reaches the courts, it would fall under the 'novel science' category for which an expert would need to be called to relay the findings, such as with polygraph experts. Here the concern of reliability would be raised and Mohan's rules would be applied

But perhaps most importantly, courts seem to be placing much more importance on the criteria of necessity and reliability (Principled Approach). This transition from strict category based approach to a principled approach could be useful in getting the technology admitted.

Working at the Legal Aid clinic in the criminal division has allowed me to interview many citizens with complaints about ghastly police abuse. In many cases, the abused were intoxicated at the time so there statements are viewed as less reliable. Therefore if this technology could offer a high standard of reliability, who would not deem it to be necessary?

Posted by: Melanie at January 6, 2006 01:48 PM

I agree with Karla, I'm not sure I see a purpose in watching others 24/7, although I don't think the purpose of sousveillance and achieving an equiveillant state is really about watching our friends, neighbours, family 24/7 even though it's a direct "consequence" of the technology that will enable us to sousveille (did i just make up a word?) If we move into a society where it is required to be constantly "watching" everyone and everything around us, social interaction the way we know it will completely change, removing the need/desire to converse with friends, family etc. since we can simply watch them instead.

I also agree with Stef's comment above that the most meaningful sousveillance is that which provides feedback to institutions, and creates the force of accountability to help better a situation. I think this is the only type of sousveillance I forsee leading to any sort of equiveillant state.

Posted by: Dahlia at January 6, 2006 01:57 PM

I agree with Krista in that throughout the readings I was also wondering what the true purpose or need was of being watched or inversely being able to watch others 24/7. I do think that the most practical and purposeful uses would be for medical reasons ie: enhancing, hearing, etc. However, after reading the articles by Steve Mann as well as the above discussion, I do think that sousveillance has a role to play in developing a more equitable democratic system. I do not like the idea of being watched nor do I like the thought that our privacy is significantly decreasing at a rapid rate. However, if we are going to lose our privacy to such things as surveillance by big corporations and governments, I would like to think that we will have the ability to equal the playing field. If this becomes a reality however, I think that there must be limits placed on both ends of the spectrum - both on surveillance and sousveillance and both be used for their intended purposes and not simply to create a battle of countering one another.

Posted by: Sonia at January 6, 2006 03:22 PM

In the context of this reading the sousveillance seems to be useful to the common people, but the problem is how ensure that this technology will be use for the benefit of the people and not for the benefit of the State and/or big companies. As we see in the Kursweil reading (http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0500.html) the progress in technology is exponential. Technology is a tool to create new and more advance technology. Technology in almost all the cases is developed, droved and sponsored by big industries and military entities, being the ones that take most advantage of it. The sousveillance at the end may be a tool for the development for new technology that will, by sure, benefit the “powered”. I don’t see how the equiveillance can be obtained without being the sousveillance technology dominated by the “powered”. I know that the technology in many ways can be used for the benefit of the common people, but I think that in most of the cases it had been used for the powered as they want. Does the State will allow that sousveillance to become a tool able and useful to the people? How this technology is going to be developed if there is no sponsorship of the State or other big economic entities? Do is right to play with fire?

I think that the equiveillance may be obtained in other political systems, may be in one that the power doesn’t relays in the State and without a corporate oligarchy.

Do you (reader) think it is suitable and safe to have this type of conversation in the web when there is no equiveillance?

Posted by: Jonatán at January 6, 2006 03:37 PM

Just got an email from the verichip persons: it is important to review David Brin's book, the transparent society in terms of encryption, and the dangers of extreme secrecy.

It seems that there is a rapid spread of using implantable RFID's; so if everyone is chipped, then all the data goes to one place: what happens to ownership?

It is similar to the recorded self stored in multiple computers without the consent of the self: i find the idea of autonomy key to controling ones likeness, and all biometric data: but if informed consent is rooted in having all things transparent, what happens when all things and plans are not transparent?

Does this limit the meaningfulness of giving consent? Or do we enter a world in which, there is so much fragmentation of who we are, that we become dependent upon remote decision makers to the point we are no longer responsible for our actions.

"If cameras are dangerous (like cars), then there should be a visible driver. Imagine if I wanted to make my car radio controlled and remotely drive it from home. Wouldn't that put people at unreasonable risk (especially if I used an autopilot program, or if I obfuscated the identity of who was driving by passing the controls around to some of my friends, etc.)."

this comment by steve has a deep meaning to how we adapt to cybernetic efficiencies, and how we adapt to aggregate actions, both stable and unstable. We will ultimitly be dependent upon sousveillance as a fail safe mechanism to make evident that which could go wrong when there is no operator so that we can find the operator and wake them up before the repetitive and magnified accident of a car hitting a street filled with parked cars.

So this applies to the verichip: it can create such volumns of work and force physicians to the point of driving cases without being a consious operator: a whole medical system can run, with a multitude of errors going wrong: discovery of the problem will only become manifest when the problem is very big: but for the most part, if there is no sousveillance, the whole thing can go unnoticed as the whole system acts as a broken machine spitting out viruses.

Posted by: stefanos at January 6, 2006 08:20 PM



so these sites can help contextualize the above comments:
It seems that government, as it faces the issue of an aging population, and has to ration healthcare, the techniques of governance increasingly overlap, and are influenced by the way the government deals with issues such as terrorism, via the patriot act in the USA.

Its a governmental style that is affecting the way the government works:

Clayton Patterson documented how the police changed over a 18 year period: he is a sousveillance pioneer videographer and his videos have been used as evidence in the arrest of police, as well as used in Washington DC to combat police corruption.


Clayton's link

Clayton feels that Sousveillance en masse, as in a sousveillance grid, will not work because society is becoming increasingly very conservative, as well as afraid to challenge authority.

I too am finding that even with opportunities to record and distribute all sorts of events, no one does it.

it is very discouraging, which makes Brin's optomism look very bleak.

Posted by: stefanos at January 6, 2006 08:32 PM

I like the idea of turning the lens on those that normally have the lens on us. Professor Mann, your footage of going into department stores to sousveille the surveillers is very telling. However, I agree with Stephanie that there lie great privacy concerns of third parties involved in the cross-fire and in general.

This leads me to wonder if it would be possible to implement a PIPEDA-like (Canada’s privacy legislation that requires organizations collecting/using/disclosing personal information for commercial purposes to adhere to certain practices and protocol) piece of legislation for sousveillers.

As mentioned in the original blog entry, those organizations that fall within the realm of PIPEDA must identify purposes for collection/use/disclosure and obtain meaningful consent. However, I have trouble envisioning the practicality of imposing similar measures on citizen sousveillers should sousveillers be sousveilling 24/7 given the magnitude of contact a sousveiller could encounter in his/her travels in a single day. At least with an organization (namely one that is collecting/using/disclosing for commercial purposes) all this information would be centralized and the organization would have the resources and capacity to notify all individuals about the reasons why their information has been collected in order to achieve meaningful consent. And should those reasons change, again, an organization would have the capacity to notify individuals to obtain consent.

On the other hand, with a sousveiller, I think there would be the possibility that one could encounter great difficulty to obtain meaningful consent from every single person s/he has come into contact with and has collected information from in order to comply with PIPEDA-like provisions.

What about the privacy rights of employees of organizations that are being sousveilled? I’m curious to find out what people think about the privacy rights of those individuals who are employees and act as agents or representatives of surveillers? Do you think that they should be afforded privacy rights in their personal capacity or that all bets are off since they are a part of the surveillers?

Also, what about the potential problem of sousveillers who may misuse sousveillance – in the sense that they may use their equipment with the sole intent to achieve an end for personal gain that would foster harm to another individual? Is this a necessary negative by-product of sousveillance that we must accept in order to achieve equiveillance? What about the possibility of negative sousveillance use directly inhibiting the achievement of equiveillance?

Posted by: Anne at January 8, 2006 12:03 PM

With regards to Goffman's theory of roles, etc., one thing that must not be forgotten is that when you add a surveillance camera to an otherwise private area, you move it from zero observers to potentially infinity observers (let's take a worst-case scenario in which the audience is potentially infinite), but when you add a surveillance camera you move it from an audience of 1 to infinity, because the surveillance adds to an already present observer.

That may not seem like much of a difference, but it does mean that surveillance takes away the ability to be alone in a stronger sort of way, because you're only over sousveillance when you're with others (assuming you're not sousveilling yourself in which case you have control over it).

But you can be under surveillance when you would otherwise be alone.

Thus without any veillance (i.e. in a nonveillance situation) you have privacy when you're alone, i.e. you can pick your nose or whatever, when nobody else is there.

Surveillance changes that much more drastically, whereas sousveillance has less of an impact because it doesn't come into play (against your control) when you're alone.

In summary:

Sur: 0 to infinity;

Sous: 1 to infinity.

Lastly, when we consider that sousveillance is usually less organized and less formal, I believe that surveillance is worse in the sense that the aggregation of the data forms a bigger threat to privacy. Moreover, the secrecy of surveillance tends to make it less self-correcting, because we don't get to see it (usually), and thus we don't get the opportunity to see how we are portrayed by it. It operates without feedback, and without or say (and without or consent) for the most part.

In http://wearcam.org/gas_stove_analogy.htm I describe an analogy to natural gas. The dissemination of the data (i.e. immediate webcast) serves as a useful feedback mechanism, by making the privacy leak visible, which is typical of sousveillance. Surveillance, on the other hand, is more like a natural gas leak in which we've taken away the bad smell that normally is present in the gas to warn us of its consequences. Thus secrecy is the real danger.

Posted by: Steve Mann at January 8, 2006 07:00 PM

When I was listening to Steve Mann present his ideas on sousveillance at the Concealed Eye conference last year, a quote from Milan Kundera's "The Art of the Novel" popped into my mind:
"Lyrical souls who like to preach the abolition of secrets and the transparency of private life do not realize the nature of the process they are unleashing."

While the hopes of equiveillance call out with their promise of a better world ('With the greater transparency it provides through its decentralized watchful vigilance, power-brokers would be held to greater accountability. Equiveillance might even result in a purer form of democracy, where respect, power and participation are shared and well distributed amongst the demos.') it also makes sense to ask what happens after sousveillance has passed through the sieve of human nature. What will we really end up with? Where does a process which "seeks to decentralize in order to achieve transparency in every direction" lead to? — A sort of externalised-STASI which would make for a global village in the truest sense of the word 'village'? (i.e. that place just about everyone wants to escape from as soon as they have the opportunity.)

Democracy may tend towards a sousveillance culture left to its own devices, for instance, the agricultural communities of North America before the re-organisation of farming (see Wendell Berry's 'The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture') or Ancient Greece, (see James Davidson's "Courtesans and Fishcakes" about the political economy of distribution and the close control of appetites in classical Athens.)

It seems we are now approaching the global village from many directions — sousveillance, "identity porn" (from academic memoir to reality televeision, people who are trading their privacy or self-determination for monetary or social currency), the new citizen journalism (e.g. the new technologies for administrating those contributions) — and democracy may well make it through the transition, but how will the cosmopolitan thrive (or even just survive) through it all?

Posted by: Eleanor Allen at January 12, 2006 11:57 AM

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