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This wearable wireless webcam captures a recording of the wearer's personal experience whenever he desires.

Sousveillance (pronounced /suːˈveɪləns/, French pronunciation: [suvɛjɑ̃s]) as well as inverse surveillance are terms coined by Steve Mann to describe the recording of an activity from the perspective of a participant in the activity,[1] typically by way of small portable or wearable recording devices that often stream continuous live video to the Internet.

Inverse surveillance is a subset of sousveillance with a particular emphasis on the "watchful vigilance from underneath" and a form of surveillance inquiry or legal protection involving the recording, monitoring, study, or analysis of surveillance systems, proponents of surveillance, and possibly also recordings of authority figures and their actions. Inverse surveillance is typically an activity undertaken by those who are generally the subject of surveillance, and may thus be thought of as a form of ethnography or ethnomethodology study (i.e. an analysis of the surveilled from the perspective of a participant in a society under surveillance).[2]

Sousveillance typically involves community-based recording from first person perspectives, without necessarily involving any specific political agenda, whereas inverse-surveillance is a form of sousveillance that is typically directed at, or used to collect data to analyze or study, surveillance or its proponents (e.g., the actions of police at a protest rally).



The term "sousveillance" stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning "above", and sous, meaning "below", i.e. "surveillance" denotes the "eye-in-the-sky" watching from above, whereas "sousveillance" denotes bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching).

Inverse surveillance

Inverse surveillance is a type of sousveillance. The more general concept of sousveillance goes beyond just inverse surveillance and the associated twentieth century political "us versus them" framework for citizens to photograph police, shoppers to photograph shopkeepers, or passengers to photograph taxicab drivers. (Rheingold notes that it's much like the pedestrian-driver concept, i.e. these are roles that many of us take both sides of, from time to time.)

One of the things that brought inverse surveillance to light was the reactions of security guards to electric seeing aids and similar sousveillance practices. It seemed, early on, that the more cameras that were in an establishment, the more the guards disliked the use of an electric seeing aid, such as the EyeTap eyeglasses, by the public. It was through simply wearing electric seeing aids, as a passive observer, that it was discovered that surveillance and sousveillance can cause conflict and sometimes confrontation. This led some researchers to explore why the perpetuators of surveillance are suspicious of sousveillance, and thus defined the notion of inverse surveillance as a new and interesting facet of studies in sousveillance.[3]

The Office of Community Sousveillance is currently engaged in "policing the police" and a number of "Sousveillance Officers" monitor police conduct and publish reports on police (mis)conduct.

Personal sousveillance

Steve Visual Filter for continuous live webcast as well as viewing (i.e. visual reality modification in realtime).
Sousveillance devices for ACM's CFP2005.

Personal sousveillance is the art, science, and technology of personal experience capture, processing, storage, retrieval, and transmission, such as lifelong audiovisual recording by way of cybernetic prosthetics, such as seeing-aids, visual memory aids, and the like. Even today's personal sousveillance technologies like camera phones and weblogs tend to build a sense of community, in contrast to surveillance that some have said is corrosive to community.

The legal, ethical, and policy issues surrounding personal sousveillance are largely yet to be explored, but there are close parallels to the social and legal norms surrounding recording of telephone conversations. When one or more parties to the conversation record it, we call that sousveillance, whereas when the conversation is recorded by a person who is not a party to the conversation (such as a prison guard violating a client-lawyer relationship), we call the recording "surveillance".

"Targeted sousveillance" refers to sousveillance of a specific individual by one or more other individuals. Usually the targeted individual is a representative or proponent of surveillance, so targeted sousveillance is often Inverse Surveillance (hierarchical sousveillance). "Hierarchical sousveillance" refers, for example, to citizens photographing police, shoppers photographing shopkeepers, or taxicab passengers photographing cab drivers. So, for example, targeting former White House security official Admiral John Poindexter with sousveillance follows this more political narrative. Classy's Kitchen describes sousveillance as "another way to add further introspection to the commons that keeps society open but still makes the world smaller and safer". In this way sousveillance may be regarded as a possible replacement for surveillance. In this sur/sousveillance replacement, one can consider an operative social norm that would require cameras to be attached to a human operator. Under such a scenario, objections to the camera can be raised by another human more easily than it is to interact with a lamp post upon which is mounted a surveillance camera. Thus the argument is that cameras attached to people ought to be less offensive than cameras attached to inanimate objects, because there is at least one responsible party present to operate the camera. This responsible-party argument is analogous to that used for operation of a motor vehicle, where a responsible driver is present, in contrast to remote or automated operation of a motor vehicle.

Beyond the political or breaching of hierarchical structure explored in academia, the more rapidly emerging discourse on sousveillance within industry is "personal sousveillance", namely the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity. In this sense, the Rodney King video was captured serendipitously by a citizen participating in a civil society. There was no political motive (i.e. the officers who were beating King were not targeted), and the material was captured more serendipitously.

As the technologies get smaller and easier to use, the capture, recording, and playback of everyday life gets that much easier. For example, David Ollila, a manufacturer of video camera equipment, was trapped for four hours aboard a Comair plane at JFK Airport in New York City. When he filmed an interview with the pilot about the situation, the pilot called the police who removed Ollila for questioning and removed everyone from the plane.[4]

In the limit, when the effort falls low enough, personal experience capture can be done without conscious thought or effort, wherein the person capturing the information becomes a "cyborg" in the Manfred Clynes sense. The "Sensecam" works this way, as does Gordon Bell's project at Microsoft. A logfile made in this way, with zero effort, is known as a CyborgLog, or glog. The most widespread sousveillance has spread without conscious design. Camera phones, digital cameras and digital video cameras have proliferated, affording the opportunity of easy, unobtrusive documentation using snapshots, videos and audio. The simplicity of a wearable camera phone makes cyborglogging possible simply by walking around in ordinary day-to-day life. Other devices such as a Holter heart monitor can add additional tracks to an audiovisual cyborglog that make the 'glog useful for personal safety and health monitoring.

Recording a situation is only part of the sousveillance process. Communicating is also important. This is where video-sharing sites such as YouTube and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr are important. For example, police agents provocateur were quickly revealed on YouTube when they infiltrated a demonstration in Montebello, Quebec against the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States (August 2007). When the head of the Quebec police publicly stated that there was no police presence, a sousveillance video showed him to be wrong. When he revised his statement to say that the police provocateurs were peaceful observers, the same video showed them to be masked, wearing police boots, and holding a rock.[5][6] There are many similar examples, such as the widely-viewed YouTube video of UCLA campus policemen tasering a student.[7]

Industrial interest

Microsoft is also exploring cyborglogs, as are Hewlett Packard, Nokia, and many others. Joi Ito's use of the camera phone approaches the idea of a cyborglog, in the sense that his images are sent often, and with little conscious thought or effort. Ito is part of the Program Committee for the International Conference on Sousveillance, along with the attendees of the International Workshop on Inverse Surveillance.

The recent industrial and corporate interest in sousveillance has led to a recent satire of the sousveillance industry. Thus it appears there may be two different "sousveillance factions", one using it as a detournement (in the Situationist tradition) to subvert the Panoptic gaze, while the other using it in a more commercial everyday sense. Of course the two "factions" are not necessarily irreconcileable, in the sense that high-art culture and "low-art" culture are often held to be indistinguishable in the postmodern world. In other words, the co-opting of the subversive nature of sousveillance by industry may well be just another example of art-in-action. Conversely many artists are using the commercialization of sousveillance itself as a social commentary, thus creating a detournement of a detournement of the detournement of surveillance.

Social software

Cameras can easily be mounted on bicycles, to record sports activities -- or record acts of road rage.

Social software such as Facebook and MySpace aid surveillance by encouraging people to publish their interests and their friendship networks. They also aid sousveillance by making this information available to peer networks as well as to the authorities.

As a form of inverse surveillance

Since the year 2001, December 24 has been World Sousveillance Day with groups of participants in New York, Toronto, Boston, Florida, Vancouver, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. However, this designated day focuses only on hierarchical sousveillance, whereas there are a number of groups around the world working on combining the two forms of sousveillance. One such group is the group organized by Dr. Stefanos Pantagis, a New York physician, who leads a group of approximately 25 poets, artists, and other hospital workers on experiments in glogging. Among the New York 'gloggers are some blind poets making a cyborglog called "shootingblind". There is a certain irony in the blind exploring the all seeing eye of the Panopticon. This has given rise to some interesting debates within the poetry communities in New York, and around the world.

Sousveillance of a state by its citizens has been credited with addressing many problems such as election fraud or electoral misdeeds, as well as providing good governance. For example, mobile phones were used in Sierra Leone and Ghana in 2007 for checking malpractices and intimidation during elections.[8]

A recent area of research further developed at IWIS was the equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance. Current "equiveillance theory" holds that sousveillance, to some extent, often reduces or eliminates the need for surveillance. In this sense it is possible to replace the Panoptic God's eye view of surveillance with a more community-building ubiquitous personal experience capture. Crimes, for example, might then be solved by way of collaboration among the citizenry rather than through the watching over the citizenry from above. But it is not so black-and-white as this dichotomy. Rather, there is a simple shift in the equiveillant point, as, for example, more camera phones enter widespread use, we might be able, as a society, to be more self-reliant, on our own communities to keep an electronic neighbourhood watch. This variation of sousveillance ("personal sousveillance") has been referred to as "coveillance" by Mann, Nolan and Wellman.

Copwatch is a network of US and Canadian volunteer organizations that "police the police." Copwatch groups usually engage in monitoring of the police, videotaping police activity, and educating the public about police misconduct. Fitwatch is a group who photograph Forward Intelligence Teams (police photographers) in the UK. [9]

In 2008, Cambridge, UK researchers (in the MESSAGE project) have teamed with bicycle couriers to measure and transmit air pollution indicators as they travel the city.[10]

See also

  • 1984
  • The Light of Other Days — A novel set in a world with a complete lack of privacy; anyone can view the activities of anyone or anything else, including looking into the past.
  • The Transparent Society
  • Lacey and his Friends — A novel set in a world where nothing is private, where privacy is illegal and where private acts are monitored by camera continuously. Some of these records are unavailable except to authorized investigators. Small exceptions for passwords and other authorization systems are allowed (boxes over keyboards), etc. David Drake basically envisions a world without any privacy whatsoever, where the privacy of the powerful is regarded as a threat by the society.
  • The Neanderthal Parallax — A parallel-worlds novel, in which Neanderthals inhabit the alternate Earth. Their justice system (and part of the plot) depends on an embedded forearm implant that continuously records everything in your environment and transmits it to the alibi archive, accessible by your word or by court order. Thus any observer or close relative of a victim can report a crime and open that part of the archive to investigators, effectively ending most serious crime.
  • Earth — A novel set in the future, where personal cameras are ubiquitous and privacy is at best rare and often unavailable.
  • Freeze Frame — Is a film featuring Sousveillance.
  • The Final Cut - Another film featuring sousveillance.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 novel features characters whose profession of Fair Witness serves the function to act as human cameras to impartially observe and recall, but not interact in, events and human interactions, thus serving as a functional sort of sousveillance.


External links

fr:Sousveillance sv:Sousveillance

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