The ‘Catopticon’ allows everybody to communicate with everybody and removes surveyors from the watchtower.
Revelations about the extent of the US government’s surveillance of digital media has triggered a range of reactions around the world. In the world outside the US, citizens and their governments are rightly furious that the National Security Agency is systematically monitoring communications on some of the world’s most widely used communications platforms. That the US apparently spies on its closest allies in EU offices merely adds insult to injury.
The reaction within the US to these revelations has been disappointingly subdued. Civil libertarians and advocates for free speech online are struggling to productively channel their anger and are planning a major protest in Washington DC on July 4. But more widespread responses include a nodding acceptance of any invasion of privacy in exchange for prevention of terrorist violence, and a cynical, world-weary insistence that no one should be surprised that all digital networks are monitored both by corporations and by governments.
As a frustrated advocate for unfettered online speech, I find myself looking for ways to help my fellow Americans understand the significance of pervasive online surveillance. Unlike in Germany, where memories of the Stasi trigger an instinctive resistance to being watched, surveillance in the US has often focused on marginal political groups, which allows many Americans to assume that surveillance doesn’t affect them personally. This search for ways to make surveillance more apparent has led me to the work of Dr. Steve Mann and his work on “sousveillance”.
Mann is a professor at the University of Toronto, and an innovator in the world of wearable computers. In 1981, as a student at MIT, he created the first generation of EyeTap, a head mounted camera that recorded what the wearer saw and presented a computer-enhanced view of the scene. More than thirty years before Google Glass, Mann began living life while wearing a camera, recording all that he encountered, an experience that’s given him some deep insights into watching and being watched.
Mann coined the term “sousveillance” – watching from below – as an alternative to “surveillance” – watching from above. In surveillance, powerful institutions control the behavior of individuals by watching them or threatening to watch them, as in Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. In sousveillance, individuals invert the paradigm by turning their cameras on institutions, promising to document and share misbehavior and malfeasance with a potentially global audience through digital networks.
One effect of sousveillance is to provoke conversations about what it means to be watched. Even when surveillance is visible, as in the CCTV cameras that loom over many of our city streets, most of us tend to ignore the unseen watchers who monitor us. But when someone points a camera at us – particularly a camera mounted on their eyeglasses – we react, often with anger or dismay. Mann, who wears his EyeTap permanently attached to his head, was assaulted in a McDonalds in Paris by employees who were upset that he was taking pictures and who sought to force him to remove the camera.
We may need similar provocations to trigger our reactions to online surveillance. “Creepy”, a program by Ioannis Kakavas, can track an individual’s movements on a map through her postings on social media services. While Creepy was intended as an activist project, commercial programs use similar techniques. A controversial iPhone application, Girls Around Me, mines data on Foursquare to alert men looking for dates to locations in their cities where many women have checked in. Angry reactions to these programs, as well as reports of bars preemptively banning patrons from wearing Google Glass suggest that Mann’s idea of making surveillance both personal and visible may be a first step in provoking a discussion about what types of watching are appropriate and inappropriate.
There’s a second aspect of sousveillance that’s worth exploring: the idea that individuals may be able to keep the powerful in check by documenting misbehavior. While this idea can seem hopelessly naïve when confronted with systems as massive and pervasive as PRISM, it’s worth exploring cases where watching from below has helped fight abuses of power. Morgan Tsvangirai’s appointment as prime minister of Zimbabwe in 2009 was a direct result of his party’s technique of photographing voting tallies at each polling station, enabling a parallel tabulation of votes. Confronted with evidence that Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe in the first round, Mugabe’s government was unable to rig the election and was forced into a power-sharing agreement with Tsvangirai, the opposition leader.
More recently, activists in the Occupy Movement have used livestreaming of video as a technique to document their protests and police violence against protesters. Dozens of cameras captured footage of Lt. John Pike attacking seated protesters with pepper spray at a peaceful Occupy protest at UC Davis. The widely documented incident led to the UC Davis police chief and two officers being suspended and to Lt. Pike losing his job, and created one of the most powerful images of the power asymmetries the Occupy movement sought to confront.
Pervasive cameras can document the inner workings of institutions as well as abuses of power. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suffered a major campaign setback when video showed him dismissing 47% of the American electorate as unlikely to vote for him because they “believe they are victims” and are dependent on government services. The video, secretly shot by Scott Prouty at a fundraising event, was posted online and widely distributed by Democratic activists, who saw the video as evidence that Romney was out of touch with the electorate.
Most recently, sousveillance has shown its power in documenting protest movements in Turkey and Brazil that were initially ignored by mainstream media. In Turkey, CNN famously showed a documentary about penguins rather than footage from Gezi Park, leading protesters to make signs that show penguins wearing gas masks, protesting both the government’s use of tear gas and the media’s silence about the protests. In the absence of broadcast media attention, the protesters used their own documentation to find audiences online, spreading protests from those in the park to those who witnessed online and began protests in their corners of the country.
The Obama administration seems unlikely to shift policy on online surveillance without widespread and sustained popular outcry. As activists seek to trigger that outcry, we may need to make surveillance far more visible so it can become far more controversial.
SHOW NOTES AND MP3: http://www.corbettreport.com/?p=7547
By now we are all familiar with the concept of ‘surveillance.’ In the Orwellian tyranny of the new normal, we are all gradually being made aware that we are living in a panoptic society where everything we do and say is being watched and recorded. So what is the answer to this constant surveillance? Why not use the surveillance technology to keep tabs on what the government is doing? Welcome to the world of sousveillance. Join us today on The Corbett Report as we explore this concept and the grassroots revolution in citizen media that it has made possible.
Wednesday, 07 November 2012 09:30
“Sousveillance”: When the Watched Become the Watchers
Written by Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
Seems that our coverage of the ever-widening and increasingly sophisticated web of surveillance being spun by state and federal agencies is only scratching the surface — literally.
Recently stories have been published regarding a subtler weapon being developed and deployed by private citizens determined to defend themselves from the government and its widening war against our constitutionally protected civil liberties.
Take for example the following report published by PetaPixel:
Here’s something crazy for you to think about: photography is often prevented these days because authorities can see the cameras being used, but what happens if/when the human eye can be used as a camera or if/when memories can be projected onto a screen? At that point, anything people can see and any location people can visit will be fair game for photographs, and society will simply have to adapt and live with it.
In an article written for Time magazine, author Steve Mann calls this form of wearable monitor “sousveillance.”
Says Mann, “Not only will authorities and shops be watching us and recording our comings and goings (surveillance as we know it today), but we will also be watching and recording them (sousveillance) through small wearable computers like Digital Eye Glass. This affects secrecy, not just privacy.”
Whether this is the camera of a Peeping Tom, or a Peeping LEO (law enforcement officer), it elevates a previously inanimate object into something that has the capacity to “see.” This ought to raise far more important privacy concerns than a technology like Digital Eye Glass that merely provides sight to a living being where we already expect there to be sight.
Mann rightly reports that government does not have monopoly control of surveillance. Corporations actively record the video and audio of customers, some secretly, some openly. Although these establishments routinely disregard privacy concerns in pursuit of their surveillance policies — typically attributed to the need to protect safety — they aren’t as happy to have customers turn the camera’s eye on them.
Ironically, the very establishments that oppose wearable cameras are usually the places where lots of surveillance is used. Thus I coined the new word “McVeillance” to denote a highly mass-produced (“McDonaldized”) form of veillance, in the same way that a “McMansion” is a mass-produced mansion. McVeillance also implies a prohibition on individual veillance; for example, a prohibition on what we call “sousveillance”. The term “sousveillance” stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning “above”, and sous, meaning “below”. So “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, large entities or architectures doing the watching).
Thus, McVeillance, for example, is the installation of a large number of security cameras in a restaurant while at the same time physically assaulting guests for using their own camera to photograph the menu.
There are those encouraging individuals to purposefully don these sousveillance devices in order to watch the watchers, be they corporate or government.
In a paper he co-authored in 2003, Mann suggested a scenario wherein the wearing of the sousveillance glasses could stop the expansion of the surveillance state:
These disparate observers are reacting to the pervasiveness of surveillance in contemporary western society (Stanley and Steinhardt 2003). Such surveillance is everywhere but often little observed. Organizations have tried to make technology mundane and invisible through its disappearance into the fabric of buildings, objects and bodies. The creation of pervasive ubiquitous technologies — such as smart floors, toilets, elevators, and light switches — means that intelligence gathering devices for ubiquitous surveillance are also becoming invisible (Mann and Niedzviecki 2001; Marx 1995; Lefebvre 1991). This re-placement of technologies and data conduits has brought new opportunities for observation, data collection, and sur/sousveillance, making public surveillance of private space increasingly ubiquitous.
All such activity has been surveillance: organizations observing people. One way to challenge and problematize both surveillance and acquiescence to it is to resituate these technologies of control on individuals, offering panoptic technologies to help them observe those in authority. We call this inverse panopticon “sousveillance” from the French words for “sous” (below) and “veiller” to watch.
An article published by FCW online describes the current state of the sousveillance movement:
As social media and mobile technologies continue to expand, government officials and employees increasingly may be targets of “sousveillance” — a French term for ‘bottom-up’ surveillance — carried out by ordinary citizens in the coming years, according to an Internet trend analyst.
“It is the ordinary watching the powerful,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, said in a lecture sponsored by the Federal Web Managers Council interagency group on Dec. 13.
While the term sousveillance is not yet commonly used in the United States, the practice has become fairly prevalent here in recent years as more citizens carry and use video recording devices such as iPhones in public spaces and at public events. While bystander videotapes of law enforcement activities have been controversial on occasion, many forms of citizen videotaping of public officials’ activity are hailed by transparency advocates as a sign of increased engagement and transparency in society.
For agency leaders and other government figures, that means videos of their public speeches and appearances, along with tweets, comments on Facebook, blog posts and other public communications could be collected and displayed on social media websites in near real time, Rainie said.
An example is that Occupy Wall Street protesters and their supporters have made it a practice of video-recording police and public officials who interact with them and posting those videos online, Rainie said.
There is an argument to be made that the constant fear of surveillance is converting the United States (and the entire globe) into a wall-less prison. Every individual, regardless of criminal intent or activity, is being monitored by the government using technology not available to the general public, thus making us subjects of a state-run surveillance regime that is itself invisible and impenetrable.
Mann and his co-authors explain:
Digital technology can build on personal computing to make individuals feel more self-empowered at home, in the community, at school and at work. Mobile, personal, and wearable computing devices allow people to take the personal computing revolution with them. Sousveilling individuals now can invert an organization’s gaze and watch the watchers by collecting data on them.
Perhaps providing personal spying apparatuses to the public is a solution to the scourge of constant government surveillance. Mann and others quoted in this piece believe that if the watched match the watchers in ubiquity of their viewers then maybe the multiplicity will mitigate the harm being done to our privacy and our psyches.
On the other hand, perhaps the invisible electronic walls keeping us as virtual prisoners in a global gulag will fall faster as we consistently demand adherence to constitutional principles of individual liberty on the part of those chosen to lead, particularly when these officials attempt to protect their power by monitoring the population for signs of dissent.
Saturday, November 02, 2013
Transparency Wins and Losses…
“Not one of the politicians and so on who talk about restricting NSA access to information is telling you the truth — that it won’t happen. It cannot happen. The increasing power to surveil is intrinsic, propelled with the ponderous momentum of Moore’s Law. All posturing aside, if the NSA is restricted, these powers will simply flow to some other, darker and harder to supervise corner.
It has happened before, countless times, but one example serves. Did you ever hear of Total Information Awareness, or TIA? If you haven’t, look it up. If you dimly recall, then shame on you and all other pundits for not mentioning it, till now. Way back around 2003, DARPA honcho Admiral John Poindexter was smacked down by the entire political caste for talking about doing exactly the sort of things we now see from the NSA. In ensuing outrage, his programs were dissolved, banished… only to pop back up again, as in a game of Whack-a-Mole, an inevitable outcome that not one statesman or scholar or pundit discusses, amid all the posturing and righteous dudgeon….
here are a few reasons to think twice before using LinkedIn’s new product App “Intro.””
Posted by David Brin at 9:22 AM
Sousveillance and Justice: A Panopticon in the Crowds
by davidbanks, Nov 9, 2011, at 10:15 am
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.
The first post I wrote for Cyborgology concluded that many of the dominant socio-technical systems in our world look and behave in a similar fashion. The entertainment industry, advanced military surveillance, search algorithms, and academic reference tools are swapping hardware and best practice in such a way that the carrying out of a military invasion, or the Super Bowl begins to look disturbingly similar…..
More at the link above
Sousveillance: when the citizens watch back
The Sousveillance Scenarios
Steve Mann, 2012 October 22 Presented to at:
“Identity, Privacy & Security by ReDesign”,
Monday 2012 October 22nd, 4pm to 5:30pm,
http://eyetap.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-sousveillance-scenarios.html (Steve Mann’s blog)
David Brin on the Path to Positive Sousveillance
By: David Brin and Ben Goertzel
Brin himself tends not to view sousveillance as scary or disturbing, using the analogy of people sitting at different tables in a restaurant, who could eavesdrop on each others’ conversations, but choose not to. Even the nosy generally refrain, because the eavesdropper is likely to be caught doing so, and snooping is disdained. He reckons that if sousveillance became a reality, new patterns of social tact would likely evolve, and society and psychology would self-organize into some new configuration, which would leave people significant privacy in practice, but would also contain the everpresent potential of active sousveillance as a deterrent to misdoings. This can be illustrated by extending the restaurant analogy; if universal sousveillance means that all peeping toms are always caught in the act, then such a society might wind up with more privacy than you’d expect.
Indeed, modest evidence for Brin’s optimistic perspective exists already, in the shifting attitudes of the younger generation toward privacy. A significant percentage of young people seem not to care very much what others may know about them, openly putting all sorts of conventionally-considered-private information online. And in line with Brin’s restaurant analogy, even though I could find out a lot of private information about a lot of people I know via their various online profiles, I very rarely bother to. And the psychological makeup of the younger generation does seem to be subtly but significantly shifted, due to this limited “online sousveillance” that has arisen. One may argue that society is slipping toward sousveillance bit by bit – implicitly and incrementally rather than in an explicitly discussed and deliberated way — as the Net comes to govern more and more of our lives, and personal information becomes more and more available online.
Fusing perspectives from politics, media studies and cultural studies, Sousveillance, Media and Strategic Political Communication offers insights into impacts on strategic political communication of the emergence of web-based participatory media (‘Web 2.0′) across the first decade of the 21st century. Countering the control engendered in strategic political communication, Steve Mann’s concepts of hierarchical sousveillance (politically motivated watching of the institutional watchers) and personal sousveillance (apolitical, human-centred life-sharing) is applied to Web 2.0. Focusing on interplays of user-generated and mainstream media about, and from, Iraq, detailed case studies explore different levels of control over strategic political communication during key moments, including the start of the 2003 Iraq war, the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, and Saddam Hussein’s execution in 2006. These are contextualized by overviews of political and media environments from 2001-09. Dr Bakir outlines broader implications of sousveillant web-based participatory media for strategic political communication, exploring issues of agenda-building, control, and the cycle of emergence, resistance and reincorporation of Web 2.0. Sousveillance cultures are explored, delineating issues of anonymity, semi-permanence, instanteneity resistance and social change.
Dr. Vian Bakir is Senior Lecturer in Journalism, in the School of Creative Studies & Media, at Bangor University, UK.
Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror
Also by Vian Bakir
Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror examines the communication battles of the Bush and Blair political administrations (and those of their successors in America and Britain) over their use of torture, first-hand or second-hand, to gain intelligence for the War on Terror.
Exploring key agenda-building drivers that exposed the torture-intelligence nexus and presenting detailed case studies of key media events from the UK and USA, this insightful volume exposes dominant political discourses on the torture-for-intelligence policy. Whether in the form of unauthorized leaks, official investigations, investigative journalism, real-time reporting, or Non-Governmental Organisation activity, this timely study evaluates various modes of resistance to governments’ attempts at strategic political communication, with particular attention to ‘sousveillance’: community-based recording from first-person perspectives.
A rigorous exposition of the power-knowledge relationships constituting the torture-intelligence nexus, which re-evaluates agenda-building models in the digital age and assesses the strength of the public sphere across the Third, Fourth and Fifth Estates, Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror will appeal to scholars across the social sciences with interests in media and communication, sociology and social theory, politics and political communication, international relations, and journalism.