Sousveillance: Wearable Counter-Surveillance
November 30th, 2002

Wearable computing pioneer Steve Mann proposes that a technologically-enabled citizen counterbalance to the surveillance society is a grassroots movement he calls sousveillance. Wired News reports that Toronto professor Ronald Deibert has called for December 24 to be “sousveillance” day.

(Thanks, Andrew and Jim!)

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Comments
1 - Joi Ito

Definitely. My moblog is becoming a form of sousveillance. I heard that actors and actresses are distressed by the proliferation of cell phones with cameras though. Kind of mobveillance…

Sounds like Brin’s transparent society.

3 - Howard

I have blogged Steve’s reaction to your remark about transparency, Bryan.

http://www.smartmobs.com/archives/000424.html

4 - rur42

you gotta love this

http://cryptome.org/tia-eyeball.htm

The SF Weekly’s column by Matt Smith in the Dec 3 issue points out that there may be some information that John M. and Linda Poindexter of 10 Barrington Fare, Rockville, MD, 20850, may be missing in their pursuit of total information awareness. He suggests that people with information to offer should phone +1 301 424 6613 to speak with that corrupt official and his wife. Neighbors Thomas E. Maxwell, 67, at 8 Barringon Fare (+1 301 251 1326), James F. Galvin, 56, at 12 (+1 301 424 0089), and Sherrill V. Stant (nee Knight) at 6, may also lack some information that would be valuable to them in making decisions — decisions that could affect the basic civil rights of every American.

Sousveillance vs superveillance: the information wars are opening up?

6 - Showcase

I wonder if it would be feasible for individuals to wear a “masking” or “scrambling” device that interrupts some forms of surveillance. Perhaps it would be possible to use some part of the electromagnetic spectrum to render video surveillance “fuzzy” or audio surveillance unintelligible.

I can imagine “avatar” companies specializing in “cloaking,” encryption, misinformation, and other services to protect the privacy of individuals. Maybe they would also handle online and wireless identities for individuals. Wouldn’t high-profile and/or very wealthy people pay for this as just another necessary form of security/protective services?

There’s a great, terrifying Phil Dick novel that uses this very idea. _A Scanner Darkly_ includes a cop who wears a “scramble suit”, which generates so many different facial and bodily profiles, changing so rapidly, that it’s impossible to make out details. “Let’s hear it for the vague blur!” shouts one appreciative minor character.

Once again John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider may prove prophetic, with its protagonist feeding data into the system to create new identities for himself.

Brunner’s protagonist only tried to live two identities at a time, though (his real one and the one he was using for a cover for a cover). How many identities will post-9/11 man have?

9 - Howard Rheingold

I mention in the book that privacy controls via wearables — something Steve Mann has advocated for years — highlights a key intersection of politics and user interface design: If by some miracle, design of wearables in the future includes a privacy toggle, will the default setting be “on” or “off”? Considering the number of VCRs in America where the time is always 12:00, I think it’s clear that most consumers don’t change their factory preferences.

Steve Mann is commendable for his taste for etymology and well-formed neologisms, but I find his slightly overdone point is simply about full democratization of all (or most, for a time) information means.

And with all due respect to Bryan and Steven, I feel references to Philip Dick and John Brunner are telltale signs of a “Marooned in the 20th century views and ideology” effect that — granted — affects a lot of people nowadays (Brin is definitely more current, but I can’t recall what his “transparent society” book is).

For a more current reflection on universal panoptics, I’d recommend the more recent (although still 10 years old or so) “In Light of Other Days”, started by Arthur Clarke and finished by Stephen Baxter (or something like that).

One of the 20th century key theme has been “Us vs. Them”, or in this case”Sous” vs. “Sur”. In exactly the same vein, here in France, 20th-century-centric tear-jerking rhetorics have recently coined the pair “la France d’en haut” / “la France d’en bas” (allegedly priviledged, parisian, educated crowds versus still vaguely rural, not quite educated hard-life provincials). It is my belief that the 21st century is the point in the story where it is realized that “them” is in fact part of “us”. ;)

I like the down-to-earth modernity of your question, Howard, and I don’t know how to answer it or what’s preferable. For a vague analogy: in France, fixed phone numbers are by default registered in the public directory and you have to request (and pay for) a non-registration ; with mobile phone numbers, it’s the opposite, the default is no registration, you have to request publication. As a user of both, I find the latter system more inconvenient.

Brin’s book is The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? – he’s got a website for it here.

I’m not sure that a simple “20th century=overwhelmingly pessimistic views of the uses to which technology will be put” equation is valid. Brunner was careful to point out the benefits of technology as well as its perils.

12 - Steve Mann

Sous vs. Sur is absolutely not about “Us” vs. “Them”. As I describe in CYBORG it is more about roles than about particular individuals. For example, a particular individual may be a shopkeeper (i.e. a representative of the Surveillance Superhighway) one day, and a shopper the next day. A cab driver may, at certain times, be a passenger in somebody else’s cab. And it’s not even that simple, because the clerk at the department store may simply be assuming a role, and may have, or pretend to have, no real power of selection or control (or responsibility for) the surveillance infrastructure.

You can’t oversimplify the “Sous” vs. “Sur” as just being a 20th century “Us vs. Them” theme, without conflating the very different concepts of individual personhood versus temporary roles. The issue is really not merely one of personal privacy versus institutional secrecy, but also of individual versus organizational reciprocity.

Moreover, if you’re going to call for a blurring of the boundaries between “Us vs. Them” (which I actually believe is a good idea), you must also consider the possibility of the “enemy within”. You must also blur the boundaries between “police” and “criminals” and maybe even the boundary between “soldiers” and “terrorists”. You must at least acknowledge the possibility that there could be leakage from one group to the other. But what do we do if and when corruption, criminals, or even terrorists infiltrate places of high political power? We can’t simply rely on democracy and due process to give us promises that surveillance will only be used against “the bad guys”. Otherwise we’re merely getting stuck in the 20th century “Us vs. Them” (“Us” being citizens and our democratic government, and “Them” being criminals and terrorists).

So it should become apparent that the “Sous” vs. “Sur” argument actually contains the seeds of looking at, beyond, and through, the postmodern ideas of deconstructed democracy.

In the cyborg/postmodern/posthuman age, we are beginning to see a new symmetry unfolding. But the very fabric of the society, and in particular, the networks, are still the domain of large organizations. As soon as individuals band together and get traction, we’ll be in (if we’re not already) the postcyborg/pastmodern/pasthuman age. Basically, the powers that be, could simply shut down, obstruct, or hinder, the growth of a truly free democratic cyborg society.

Postcyborgism is quite literally, the cyborg unplugged.

But the problem (postcyborgism) may contain the seeds to its own solution. We don’t yet know what that solution is, so we organized a (de)conference, attended by approximately 100 scholars, philosophers, and thinkers of our time. At this event, we explored issues of postcyborgism (pastmodernism) and pastcyborgism (beyond pastmodernism).

I would be curious to hear from anyone who has read CYBORG, their views on this concept of true reciprocity (sousveillance), and how it goes beyond merely attaching a democratic due process to surveillance.

13 - Howard

Very useful distinction between people and roles. It’s like pedestrian and driver in that regard. Thanks, Steve!

You were right to insist, Steven: I have read Riding the Shockwave when it came out, 28 or 30 years ago, I haven’t read it since, and I don’t remember much of it, so I shouldn’t make assumptions on what is or isn’t in it.

As for that “equation”, I have tried to write several versions of a justification of what I meant in the past 2 days (20th = century of deconstruction of everything, self-criticism of the Western world, questioning of all forms of authority as a last step in a multisecular emancipation of the individual) but was satisfied with none of them, but I now find that Steve Mann, in his latest contribution, corrects a misunderstanding on my part, and expresses probably more clearly than I could a number of important views that I share.

Steve, I agree entirely with the importance of temporary roles and of the ability to switch roles/contexts with as little effort as possible in these postmodern times. Roles supersede identities in a way, they’re dynamic while identities are static and artificially constrain us. Roles are the expressions of a multicultural baggage whereas identities focus often on a single dimension. “Us vs. Them” is definitely rooted in the misleading safety of identities.

“Sur vs. Sous” is not, on the contrary as you’ve explained; I got that; and I like it. That’s quite what I have in mind, except more clearly formulated ;) : we don’t get simplistic (good guys/bad guys), we don’t get moralist (it’s bad to look at someone when…), we just insist on an as even as possible gamefield. You can watch me and know things about me if I’m under suspicion of something, ok, but I can watch you just as well if I suspect something, and I’ll do it not with means that you control but thanks to “weak-to-strong” advantages. (Right ?)

I also found your reflections on the “blurring” of various boundaries that you used to explain this quite relevant, thank you.

…And then I followed the link to your “d‚àö√†connade” page, sorry, “deconism”, and I had a brief lapse of faith in you (and a number of giggles)! ;) Nah, just kidding, carefully mixing the “premier degr‚àö√†” and “second degr‚àö√†” is a skill of the times! ;)

I still have to read Howard’s book and now I know I should read yours as well, phew!

PS: Happy Sousveillance day to everyone!

16 - Howard

I highly recommend Steve’s book, not only for an understanding of wearable computing, but also for a look at how a technology enthusiast can think critically about technology.

Happy holidays to you and your family, Lionel.

17 - x

Sousveillance eh,? Okay, it had occured to me the other day how much I did not like the idea of cameras going up all over the grid without explanation oversight or even telling the public exactly who is behind those cameras. I then occured to me that the obvious solution was to allow access to those camera signals on the internet, making survelience of the public, “public property”, keeping those in power from abusing information. (because they too are on camera.) The wasy to to create this is penning a series of “Public Eye” legislation and getting it passed.

18 - eyetapper

The idea of putting public surveillance data in the public domain is discussed in the book (CYBORG: Digital Destiny… Randomhouse). See also http://wearcam.org/netcam_privacy_issues.html

19 - Meli-chan

i think surveillance should be stoped because we all need our privacy. What happened to freedom!

20 - Meli-chan

i think surveillance should be stoped because we all need our privacy. What happened to freedom! We have rights and they are gradually being taken away from. So who to all that agree with me, you should stand up and shout “Down With Big Brother!” or say “Big Brother will not watch us for we watch him.” When I say that I’m refering to the CIA and how they abuse thier right and surveillance us like sick lab animals! Down With Big Brother!

21 - Meli-chan

i think surveillance should be stoped because we all need our privacy. What happened to freedom! We have rights and they are gradually being taken away from. So who to all that agree with me, you should stand up and shout “Down With Big Brother!” or say “Big Brother will not watch us for we watch him.” When I say that I’m refering to the CIA and how they abuse thier right and surveillance us like sick lab animals! Down With Big Brother!

22 - Meli-chan

i think surveillance should be stoped because we all need our privacy. What happened to freedom! We have rights and they are gradually being taken away from. So who to all that agree with me, you should stand up and shout “Down With Big Brother!” or say “Big Brother will not watch us for we watch him.” When I say that I’m refering to the CIA and how they abuse thier right and surveillance us like sick lab animals! Down With Big Brother!

23 - Meli-chan

i think surveillance should be stoped because we all need our privacy. What happened to freedom! We have rights and they are gradually being taken away from. So who to all that agree with me, you should stand up and shout “Down With Big Brother!” or say “Big Brother will not watch us for we watch him.” When I say that I’m refering to the CIA and how they abuse thier right and surveillance us like sick lab animals! Down With Big Brother!

24 - melli-chan

Sorry I pushed post too amny times.

*sigh*

Siincerely,

Melli-chan

a.k.a one who opposes surveillance!

^_~ *wink

LOL

25 - melli-chan

and sorry for the grammar!