September 11, 2003
BB (P2P)

With all the fuss and blur about how much surveillance we are under (and I am a fusser, and a blurrer) there is an idea (google count 1430) that runs contra, or next to, or under it: sousveillance.

Derived from surveillance (view from above), sousveillance is "watchful vigilance from underneath." In other words, filming as opposed to being filmed. Shooting, as opposed to getting shot.

Steve Mann coined the term, and a lot of other stuff too, in his drive towards cyborg by way of "wearable tech." The human camera is more or less where this seems to start, which allows all of us to record and transmit everything we see and hear all the time. This forms the technological infrastructure for a sousveillance state.

There are certain parallels to P2P ideology, and this watching from under is part of a healthy society, suggests Mann. He distinguishes, though, between in-band and out-of-band forms. In-band sousveillance is for example, those 1800 numbers on the back of trucks, so every driver can report 'how am I driving?'

Out-of-band sousveillance is getting easier, but increasingly unwelcome. One example, offers Mann, is "citizens videotaping police brutality and sending copies to news media." Having just seen Paul Garrin's original videos from the police riot at Tompkins Square Park '88 it's difficult to remember that the lenses of amateur video cameras were not always wide or numerous enough to capture every possible image. Every.

But back in '89, Garrin had to fight to get his police brutality footage on TV, because TV is more or less all we had. So ok, there's the internet now. But what the out-of-band sousveillance subjects (e.g., the police) are more concerned with is the kind of instant decentralized broadcast that is made possible by next-gen video camera-phones.

Which is why there's surveillance, sousveillance, and -- watch this space for a boom industry -- countersousveillance.


(Note, too, that Garrin and Mann appeared together at Ars Electronica's Flesh Factor in 1997)

Posted by kevin slavin at September 11, 2003 10:48 PM

Hey Kev:

Posted by: Kio on September 12, 2003 02:09 PM
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