Smart Mobs
The Next Social Revolution
Mobile communication, pervasive computing, wireless networks, collective action.

Smart mobs emerge when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation. The impacts of smart mob technology already appear to be both beneficial and destructive.


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Sousveillance: Wearable Counter-Surveillance

November 30, 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!)

Sousveillance as an alternative balance

Rather than tolerating terrorism as a feedback means to restore the balance, an alternative framework would be to build a stable system to begin with, e.g. a system that is self-balancing. Such a society may be built with sousveillance (inverse surveillance) as a way to balance the increasing (and increasingly one-sided) surveillance.

I derive the term ``sousveillance'' from surveillance, which is defined by Merriam-Webster (summarized) as follows:

French, from surveiller to watch over,
from sur- + veiller to watch, from vigil
from Latin, wakefulness, watch, from vigil awake, watchful;
akin to Latin vigEre to be vigorous, vegEre to enliven
2 : the act of keeping awake at times when sleep is customary;
3 : an act or period of watching or surveillance : WATCH
Thus, loosely speaking, sousveillance is watchful vigilance from underneath.

A society with only oversight is an oversight on our part:

Sousveillance (roughly French for undersight) is the opposite of surveillance (roughly French for oversight). But by ``sousveillance'', I'm not suggesting that the cameras be mounted on the floor, looking up, rather than being on the ceiling looking down like they are now. Rather, I am suggesting that the cameras be mounted on people in low places, rather than upon buildings and establishments in high places.

Thus the ``under'' (sight) means from down under in the hierarchy, rather than physically as in ``underneath'' the floor.

Let me begin by giving some trivial but illustrative simple examples of various kinds of sousveillance:

  • a taxicab passenger photographs the driver, or taxicab passengers keep tabs on driver's behaviour;
  • 1800 number "am i driving ok" on a truck so citizens can report the behaviour of the driver to the trucking company;
  • student evaluation of a professor (forms handed out to students by the professor but collected by a class representative and anonymized by the department);
  • citizens keeping a watch on their government and police forces
  • shoppers keeping tabs on shopkeepers (reporting misleading advertising, unsafe fire exits, etc.).
Posted by Howard at 12:36 PM


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...

Posted by: Joi Ito on December 2, 2002 08:13 PM

Sounds like Brin's transparent society.

Posted by: Bryan Alexander on December 3, 2002 07:52 PM

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Smart Mobs is published by Perseus Books

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