Sousveillance (// soo-VAY-ləns; French pronunciation: [suvɛjɑ̃s]) is most commonly defined as the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies.
Alternative definitions of both sur- and sous- veillance (the act of watching), in addition to the definition above, include:
- Surveillance is defined as cameras (or other sensors) affixed to property (real-estate, e.g. land, by way of posts or poles, or buildings), whereas sousveillance is defined as cameras (or other sensors) borne by people.
- Surveillance is the veillance of the authority (i.e. the veillance that has the capacity to prohibit other veillances), whereas sousveillance is the veillance of plurality (i.e. "crowd veillance" or watching, sensing, or the like, done by non authorities).
- Sousveillance has also been described as "inverse surveillance", based on the word surveillance (from the French sur, "from above", and veiller, "to watch"), and substituting the prefix sous, "from below".
While surveillance and sousveillance both generally refer to visual monitoring, the terms also denote other forms of monitoring such as audio surveillance or sousveillance. In the audio sense (e.g. recording of phone conversations) sousveillance is referred to as "one party consent".
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).
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 or protestors at a protest rally).
The term "sousveillance", coined by Steve Mann, 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 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. Howard Rheingold commented on the site for his book Smart Mobs that this is similar to 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. 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.
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.
An essay from Wired magazine predicts that sousveillance is an important development that will be on the rise in 2014.
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.
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 suggests. In particular, citizens watching over their neighbors is not necessarily "better" than the alternative: an increase in community self-reliance might be offset by an uncomfortable "nosy neighbor" effect. "Personal sousveillance" has been referred to as "coveillance" by Mann, Nolan and Wellman.
Copwatch is a network of American 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 United Kingdom.
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, it is called "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), the recording is called "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 or 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, any objections to the camera could be raised by another human more easily than it would be 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.
As the technologies get smaller and easier to use, the capture, recording, and playback of everyday life gets that much easier to initiate spontaneously in unexpected situations. 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 recorded an interview with the pilot about the situation, the pilot called the police who then removed Ollila for questioning and removed everyone from the plane.
Recording a situation is only part of the sousveillance process. Communicating is also important. Video-sharing sites such as YouTube and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr play a vital role. 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 in one case holding a rock.
There are many similar examples, such as the widely-viewed YouTube video of UCLA campus policemen tasering a student. In Russia, onboard cameras are so ubiquitous that thousands of videos of automobile accidents and close-call incidents have been uploaded. The unanticipated 2013 Russian meteor event was well documented from a dozen angles via the use of these devices.
For example, many radio operators keep a complete recording of everything they transmit, so that they can use it to defend against allegations that they may have said or shown something on-air that is inappropriate.
Hasan Elahi, a University of Maryland professor, has produced a sousveillance for his entire life, after being detained at an airport because he shares the same name as a person on the US terrorist watchlist. Some of his sousveillance activities include using his cell phone as a tracking device, and publicly posting debit card and other transactions that document his actions.
Use of wearable cameras by police officers combined with video streaming and recording in an archive results in a record of the interactions of the officer with the public and with criminal suspects. The small cameras are made by Taser International, Looxcie, and probably other firms. Experiments with police use in Rialto, California in 2012 to 2013 resulted in a reduction of both complaints against officers and reduction in use of violence by officers. The public is shielded from police misconduct and the police officer from bogus complaints.
In the era of web-based participatory media and convergence cultures, non-governmental and non-state actors, with their own virtual communities and networks that cut across national borders, use what Bakir (2010) calls the sousveillant assemblage to wield discursive power. The sousveillant assemblage comprises Haggerty & Ericson’s (2000) surveillant assemblage (or loosely linked, unstable, systems of data flows of people’s activities, tracked by computers, and data-mined so that we are each reconfigured as (security) risks or (commercial) opportunities, but data-fattened by the proliferation of web-based participatory media and personal sousveillance that we willingly provide online.
Features of sousveillance cultures:
- Dissent, and holding power-holders to account, is easier
Undoubtedly, the urge and practice of dissent has always been with us, and people exploit the participatory media technologies at hand to mark and spread their dissent. However, the rise of web-based participatory media and sousveillance cultures have made it easier for many more to record and spread this dissent globally, unimpeded by traditional media’s commercial distribution restrictions such as pre-defined circulation runs or paid-for airtime, or the need for expert knowledge in media production. Mann has long maintained that the ‘informal nature of sousveillance, with its tendency to distribute recordings widely, will often expose inappropriate use to scrutiny, whereas the secret nature of surveillance will tend to prevent misuse from coming to light’ (Mann, 2005, p.641). Just as Foucault’s Panopticon operates through potential or implied surveillance, so sousveillance might also operate through the credible threat of its existence. As the ubiquity and awareness of sousveillance widens, it is this that may most empower citizens - by making officials realise that their actions may, themselves, be monitored and exposed at any time. The permanent potential for sousveillance from so many (as opposed to more formalised exposés at the hands of investigative reporters, a small media elite) raises the likelihood that power abuses will be captured on record which can then be used to hold power-abusers and manipulators to account, providing of course, that there is a functioning legal system and/or public sphere (with mechanisms in place to translate popular demands and moral outrage into real-world change).
- Emancipation, resistance and social change are unpredictable.
In Mann’s original conception, sousveillance had an emancipatory political thrust, with hierarchical sousveillance a conscious act of resistance to surveillance. Yet, the nature of the social change generated is unpredictable, and dependent on the sousveillant content, the context of its subsequent sharing, and, of course, the strength of the traditions of deliberation for democratic purposes. ISIS’ use of sousveillance, then, may result in social change, but not in a progressive fashion
- Sousveillers’ anonymity is crucial.
Given the lack of secrecy inherent in placing sousveillant content online, the anonymity of the sousveillers is of prime importance if hierarchical (politically or legally motivated) sousveillance is to proliferate. There is a real need for spaces online that are willing to protect users’ anonymity and keep their subversive content online despite political or corporate pressure. With this sort of situation in mind, whistle-blowing web sites have been set up that guarantee anonymity, such as Wiki-leaks, launched in December 2006. More such sites are needed.
- Agenda-building power comes from the searchable and recirculated, semi-permanent, eye-witness archive.
Social media provide what could be described as a semi-permanent, and easily accessible, database of eye-witness accounts. Given that the web can be used and searched in the manner of a database to find examples of sousveillance; and given the recirculation of sousveillant footage in memes and in mainstream media, ever-hungry for new content in a media environment of convergence and expanding capacity, the longevity of sousveillant footage is perhaps what gives sousveillance its agenda-building power. It allows journalists, citizens, activists, insurgents, strategic communicators and researchers the opportunity to discover and partially relive both the eye-witnessed, sousveillant account, and the discourse surrounding specific moments of sousveillance, as well as reflecting on, and marshalling, their significance.
Referred to as an early proponent of lifelogging and perhaps the most extreme example of self-tracking since 2003, conceptual media artist Alberto Frigo has embarked on an ambitious project, 2004–2040, to understand himself. Starting with tracking everything his right (dominant) hand has used, he’s slowly added on different tracking and documentation projects. Keeping the focus on himself and his surrounding has helped him connect to himself and the world around him.
In the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, the Homo neanderthalensis occupying a parallel universe have what are called companion implants. These are comprehensive recording and transmission devices, mounted in the forearm of each person. Their entire life is constantly monitored and sent to their alibi archive, a repository of recordings that are only accessible by their owner, or by the proper authorities when investigating an infraction, and in the latter case only in circumstances relevant to the investigation. Recordings are maintained after death; it is not made clear what the reasoning is for this and under what circumstances and or by whom a deceased person's archive can be accessed.
The plot of the 1995 movie Strange Days is based on a future where sousveillance recordings are made and sold as entertainment. The plot of the movie revolves around the murder of a celebrity by police officers that is recorded by a person secretly wearing one of the devices. In the movie, the recordings are made by a flat array of sensors that pick up signals from the brain stem. The sensors are usually hidden under a wig, and they record everything the person wearing them sees and hears. Recordings made while the person making them dies are called "blackjack" tapes.
The 2007 novel Halting State by Charles Stross and its sequel Rule 34 depict a 2020s Scotland in which wearable computing has a level of ubiquity similar to that of 2013's cell phones. The implications of a society in which anyone might be recording anything at any time are explored at length, particularly with respect to policing.
- "Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices...", by Steve Mann, Jason Nolan and Barry Wellman, in Surveillance & Society 1(3), 2003
- "Sousveillance: Inverse Surveillance in Multimedia Imaging, by Steve Mann, in ACM Multimedia 2004, pp. 620–627
- "Keeping a Close Watch", by Kingsley Dennis, Sociology Department, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK, 2008 July 30th, in The Sociological Review
- Sousveillance, not just surveillance, in response to terrorism, 2002 March 1st, Metal and Flesh, Volume 6, No. 1
- Vol. 31, Issue 2 – April 1998 "Reflectionism' and 'Diffusionism': New Tactics for Deconstructing the Video Surveillance Superhighway", in Leonardo, pp. 93–102
- "Sousveillance, Media and Strategic Political Communication", by Dr. Vian Bakir, book ISBN = 978-0-8264-3009-0
- university course on sousveillance Home › Courses › Course Catalog › 290. Surveillance, Sousveillance, Coveillance, and Dataveillance 290. SURVEILLANCE, SOUSVEILLANCE, COVEILLANCE, AND DATAVEILLANCE
- International conferences on sousveillance:  and 
- WiReD magazine, Clive Thompson, "Establishing Rules in the Videocam Age", 2011 June 28
- Reflections on the Vancouver Riots, Vancouver Observer, 2011 June 28
- Communications of the ACM, Vol. 56 No. 11, Pages 26-28
- S. Mann, J. Nolan, and B. Wellman. Sousveillance: Inventing and using wearable computing devices for data collection in surveillance environments. Surveillance & Society, 1(3):331–355, 2002.
- K. Michael and M. G. Michael. Sousveillance and point of view technologies in law enforcement: An overview. 2012.
- J. Bradwell and K. Michael. Security workshop brings `sousveillance’ under the microscope. 2012.
- S. Mann. Veillance and Reciprocal Transparency: Surveillance versus Sousveillance, AR Glass, Lifeglogging, and Wearable Computing. IEEE ISTAS 2013, Pages 1-12
- "MSNBC". MSNBC. 2012-06-04. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- Exploring Equiveillance, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Anonequity Project
- CACR (Centre For Applied Cryptographic Research), 8th CACR Information Security Workshop & 2nd Annual Privacy and Security Workshop, The Human Face of Privacy Technology, November 1–2, 2001, The University of Toronto, Canada; Slides and recordings.
- "Sousveillance: Wearable Computing and Citizen “Undersight”", h-Plus Magazine, 2009jul10
- "When Is “Undersight” Unconstitutional?", Ian Ayres, Yale Law School, New York Times, January 5, 2011
- "Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments, Surveillance & Society 1(3): 331–355" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- This is what a police state looks like: Sousveillance, direct action and the anti-corporate globalization movement. Elizabeth A. Bradshaw. Critical Criminology, 21(4):447–461, 2013.
- Monahan, Torin (2006). Surveillance And Security: Technological Politics And Power in Everyday Life, p.158. ISBN 9780415953931.
- Course at City College of New York, in Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice: "Sousveillance: The Art of Networked Surveillance: Decoding the Social and the Private"
- Richards, Neil M., Watching the Watchers (November 4, 2013). Wired Magazine 
- Ghana puts faith in humble text message Matthew Green, Financial Times, December 8, 2008
- When all video all Finlo Rohrer, BBC News Magazine April 21, 2009
- Cyclists' cellphones help monitor air pollution Tom Simonite, New Scientist, January 2, 2008
- Fletcher, Gordon; Marie Griffiths; Maria Kutar (7 September 2011). "A day in the digital life: a preliminary sousveillance study". Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1923629. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Avoiding Big Brother". Classy's Kitchen. February 26, 2003. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
- Douglas McArthur, "Flights of Fancy", Toronto Globe and Mail, December 29, 2007, p. R16.
- Clark, Campbell; Ingrid Peritz; Ian Bailey (2007-08-25). "Sûreté du Québec to review practices". Globe and Mail. pp. A5. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
- "Russian Dash Cam Craze". Ghost Theory. 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- "Sousveillance: Wearable Computing and Citizen “Undersight”", by: Steve Mann, hplus magazine, Published: July 10, 2009
- Clive Thompson (May 2007). "The Visible Man: An FBI Target Puts His Whole Life Online". Wired.com. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- Randall Stross (April 6, 2013). "Wearing a Badge, and a Video Camera". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
- Bakir, V. Sousveillance, Media and Strategic Political Communication: Iraq, USA, UK. Continuum: New York (2010). Available at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/sousveillance-media-and-strategic-political-communication-9780826430083/
- Haggerty, K.D. & Ericson, R.V. (2000). The surveillant assemblage. British Journal of Sociology, 51(4), 605-622.
- Mann S. (2005). Sousveillance and cyberglogs. A 30-year empirical voyage through ethical, legal and policy issues. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 14(6), 625–646.
- Alex Preston title=The death of privacy (August 3, 2014). The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/03/internet-death-privacy-google-facebook-alex-preston?commentpage=1
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- "How safe is your quantified self?". 2014.
- "Website of the records generated for 36 years". 2014.
- "Alberto Frigo: A 36-year Tracking Project". 2014.
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- Over and under the Valences of Veillance (Exploring Equiveillance)
- Cyborglogging with Camera Phones: Steps Toward Equiveillance, Proceedings of the ACM Multimedia 2006, Santa Barbara, California, Oct. 23–27, 2006.
- CARPE 2004, Continuous Archival and Retrieval of Personal Experiences
- University of Ottawa Cyborg Law Project, Sousveillance Workshop, and Special Issue on Cyborg Law, etc.
- "MIT Media Lab are doing their bit to help make ours a sousveillance society" (Reason online)
- Steve Mann, Jason Nolan and Barry Wellman. Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments. Surveillance & Society 1(3): 331–355
- Existential Technology, Leonardo 36(1), 2003, pp19–26, explores the fundamental philosophical question of inverse bureaucracy, i.e. "Can humans being clerks make clerks be human?".
- 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society – The Veillances
- Microsoft is also exploring cyborglogs
- Joi Ito's use of the camera phone
- International Workshop on Inverse Surveillance
- Satire of the sousveillance industry. Archived from the original on 2005-11-03. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- World Sousveillance Day
- Performance Art (The Surveillance Camera Players and others)
- The First ACM Workshop on Continuous Archival and Retrieval of Personal Experiences
- Sousveillance Blog: Thought and images from Stefanos and the NYC sousveillance crew.
- Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) CFP 2005, opening keynote (plenary panel) on equiveillance, along with the Bell Canada Sousveillance Tour, April 2005
- Free-running sousveillance program for camera phones
- Open-source DIY mobile time-lapse camera
- Find The Cameras – A student-run sousveillance project at SUNY Purchase College.
- Surveillance, Sousveillance, Coveillance, and Dataveillance Berkeley School of Information