Sousveillance refers to the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies.

Sousveillance has also been described as "inverse surveillance", i.e. from the word surveillance
Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people. It is sometimes done in a surreptitious manner...

 which is formed from "sur" (French for "from above") and "veiller" (French for "to watch"), by changing "sur" to "sous" (French for "from below").

While surveillance and sousveillance both generally refer to visual monitoring (i.e. "veiller" being "to watch"), 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
Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people. It is sometimes done in a surreptitious manner...

 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
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 or ethnomethodology
Ethnomethodology is an ethnographic approach to sociological inquiry introduced by the American sociologist Harold Garfinkel . Ethnomethodology's research interest is the study of the everyday methods people use for the production of social order...

 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 at a protest rally).


The term "sousveillance" 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

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
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

, shoppers to photograph shopkeepers, or passengers to photograph taxicab drivers. Rheingold notes that it's much like 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 camera
A camera is a device that records and stores images. These images may be still photographs or moving images such as videos or movies. The term camera comes from the camera obscura , an early mechanism for projecting images...

s that were in an establishment, the more the guards disliked the use of an electric seeing aid, such as the EyeTap
An EyeTap is a device that is worn in front of the eye that acts as a camera to record the scene available to the eye as well as a display to superimpose a computer-generated imagery on the original scene available to the eye....

 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
World Sousveillance Day
World Sousveillance Day occurs on the busiest shopping day of the year, December 24. In part, it aims to raise awareness of the imbalance between surveillance and sousveillance as particularly exemplified in shopping malls where surveillance is ubiquitous whereas sousveillance is prohibited.WSD...

 with groups of participants in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

, Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

, Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. 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. One such group is the group organized by Dr. Stefanos Pantagis, a New York physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

, who leads a group of approximately 25 poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

s, artist
An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only...

s, and other hospital workers on experiments in glogging. Among the New York 'gloggers are some blind poets making a cyborglog called "shootingblind". There is a certain irony in the blind exploring the all seeing eye of the Panopticon. This has given rise to some interesting debates within the poetry communities in New York, and around the world.

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
Equiveillance is a state of equilibrium, or a desire to attain a state of equilibrium, between surveillance and sousveillance. It is sometimes confused with transparency...

 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. Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

s, 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. Rather, there is a simple shift in the equiveillant point, as, for example, more camera phones enter widespread use, we might be able, as a society, to be more self-reliant, on our own communities to keep an electronic neighbourhood watch. This variation of sousveillance ("personal sousveillance") has been referred to as "coveillance" by Mann, Nolan and Wellman.

Copwatch is a network of activist organizations in the United States and Canada that observe and document police activity while looking for signs of police misconduct and police brutality...

 is a network of US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 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 Team
Forward Intelligence Team
Forward Intelligence Teams are two or more police officers who are deployed by UK police forces to gather intelligence on the ground and in some circumstances, to disrupt activists and deter anti-social behaviour. They use cameras, camcorders and audio recorders to conduct overt surveillance of...

s (police photographers) in the UK.

In 2008, Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

, UK researchers (in the MESSAGE project) have teamed with bicycle couriers to measure and transmit air pollution indicators as they travel the city.

Personal sousveillance

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
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

 prosthetics, such as seeing-aids, visual memory aids, and the like. Even today's personal sousveillance technologies like camera phone
Camera phone
A camera phone is a mobile phone which is able to capture still photographs . Since early in the 21st century the majority of mobile phones in use are camera phones....

s and weblogs
A blog is a type of website or part of a website supposed to be updated with new content from time to time. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in...

 tend to build a sense of community
Sense of community
Sense of community is a concept in community psychology and social psychology, as well as in several other research disciplines, such as urban sociology, which focuses on the experience of community rather than its structure, formation, setting, or other features...

, in contrast to surveillance that some have said is corrosive to community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...


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
Telephone tapping
Telephone tapping is the monitoring of telephone and Internet conversations by a third party, often by covert means. The wire tap received its name because, historically, the monitoring connection was an actual electrical tap on the telephone line...

. When one or more parties to the conversation record it, we call that 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), we call the recording "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 (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
John Poindexter
John Marlan Poindexter is a retired United States naval officer and Department of Defense official. He was Deputy National Security Advisor and National Security Advisor for the Reagan administration. He was convicted in April 1990 of multiple felonies as a result of his actions in the Iran-Contra...

 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, objections to the camera can be raised by another human more easily than it is 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. In this sense, the Rodney King
Rodney King
Rodney Glen King is an American best known for his involvement in a police brutality case involving the Los Angeles Police Department on March 3, 1991...

 video was captured serendipitously by a citizen participating in a civil society. There was no political motive (i.e. the officers who were beating King were not targeted), and the material was captured more serendipitously.

As the technologies get smaller and easier to use, the capture, recording, and playback of everyday life gets that much easier. For example, David Ollila, a manufacturer of video camera equipment, was trapped for four hours aboard a Comair
Comair is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines headquartered on the grounds of Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport in unincorporated Boone County, Kentucky, United States, west of Erlanger, and south of Cincinnati, Ohio...

 plane at JFK Airport in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. When he filmed an interview with the pilot
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

 about the situation, the pilot called the police who removed Ollila for questioning and removed everyone from the plane.

In the limit, when the effort falls low enough, personal experience capture can be done without conscious thought or effort, wherein the person capturing the information becomes a "cyborg
A cyborg is a being with both biological and artificial parts. The term was coined in 1960 when Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline used it in an article about the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space. D. S...

" in the Manfred Clynes
Manfred Clynes
Manfred Clynes is a scientist, inventor, and musician. He is best known for his innovations and discoveries in the interpretation of music, and for his contributions to the study of biological systems and neurophysiology.-Overview:...

 sense. The "Sensecam" works this way, as does Gordon Bell's MyLifeBits
MyLifeBits is a Microsoft Research project. It was inspired by Vannevar Bush's hypothetical Memex computer system. The project includes full-text search, text and audio annotations, and hyperlinks. The "experimental subject" of the project is computer scientist Gordon Bell, and the project will...

 project at Microsoft
Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

. A logfile made in this way, with zero effort, is known as a CyborgLog, or glog.
The most widespread sousveillance has spread without conscious design. Camera phones, digital cameras and digital video cameras have proliferated, affording the opportunity of easy, unobtrusive documentation using snapshots, videos and audio. The simplicity of a wearable camera phone makes cyborglogging possible simply by walking around in ordinary day-to-day life. Other devices such as a Holter heart monitor can add additional tracks to an audiovisual cyborglog that make the 'glog useful for personal safety and health monitoring.

Recording a situation is only part of the sousveillance process. Communicating is also important. Video-sharing sites such as YouTube
YouTube is a video-sharing website, created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, on which users can upload, view and share videos....

 and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr
Flickr is an image hosting and video hosting website, web services suite, and online community that was created by Ludicorp in 2004 and acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. In addition to being a popular website for users to share and embed personal photographs, the service is widely used by bloggers to...

 play a vital role. For example, police agents provocateur
Agent provocateur
Traditionally, an agent provocateur is a person employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act...

were quickly revealed on YouTube when they infiltrated a demonstration in Montebello, Quebec
Montebello, Quebec
Montebello is a municipality located in the Papineau Regional County Municipality of Western Quebec . As of the 2001 census, there were 1,039 permanent residents. The village has a total area of , and is located at the eastern edge of Canada's National Capital Region.The village is world famous for...

, against the leaders of Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 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
YouTube is a video-sharing website, created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, on which users can upload, view and share videos....

 video of UCLA campus policemen tasering a student
UCLA Taser incident
The UCLA Taser incident occurred on November 14, 2006, when Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a fourth-year UCLA student, was stunned multiple times with a Taser by campus police, for allegedly refusing to be escorted out of the College Library Instructional Computing Commons lab at Powell Library...


Alibi Sousveillance

Alibi sousveillance is a form of sousveillance activity aimed at generating an alibi as evidence to defend against allegations of wrongdoing.

Examples of Alibi Sousveillance

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 something on-air that is inappropriate. More recently, Hasan Elahi, a professor from Rutgers University, 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 the sousveillance activities include using his cell phone as a tracking device and publicly posting debit card and other transactions that document his actions.

Societal Impact

The dissemination of first hand accounts and videos, both live and pre-recorded, of state reactions to protests in Tunisia and Egypt in January 2011 served to raise visibility of the actions of the states, and may have spurred growth in the protests. The impact was significant enough that after initial attempts to block specific sites, Egypt ultimately shut down all internet access for a period. Notably, the primary recording device in these revolutions was the mobile phone. In this context, inverse surveillance was used in complement to social networks.

Industrial interest

Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

 is also exploring cyborglogs, as are Hewlett Packard, Nokia
Nokia Corporation is a Finnish multinational communications corporation that is headquartered in Keilaniemi, Espoo, a city neighbouring Finland's capital Helsinki...

, and many others. Joi Ito
Joi Ito
is a Japanese activist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and Director of the MIT Media Lab.Ito has received recognition for his role as an entrepreneur focused on Internet and technology companies and has founded, among other companies, PSINet Japan, Digital Garage and Infoseek Japan. He maintains...

's use of the camera phone approaches the idea of a cyborglog, in the sense that his images are sent often, and with little conscious thought or effort.
Ito is part of the Program Committee for the International Conference on Sousveillance, along with the attendees of the International Workshop on Inverse Surveillance.

Social software

Social software
Social software
Social software applications include communication tools and interactive tools. Communication tools typically handle the capturing, storing and presentation of communication, usually written but increasingly including audio and video as well. Interactive tools handle mediated interactions between a...

 such as Facebook
Facebook is a social networking service and website launched in February 2004, operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. , Facebook has more than 800 million active users. Users must register before using the site, after which they may create a personal profile, add other users as...

 and MySpace
Myspace is a social networking service owned by Specific Media LLC and pop star Justin Timberlake. Myspace launched in August 2003 and is headquartered in Beverly Hills, California. In August 2011, Myspace had 33.1 million unique U.S. visitors....

 aid surveillance
Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people. It is sometimes done in a surreptitious manner...

 by encouraging people to publish their interests and their friendship networks. They also aid sousveillance by making this information available to peer networks
Social network
A social network is a social structure made up of individuals called "nodes", which are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.Social...

 as well as to the authorities.

In literature

  • 1984
    Nineteen Eighty-Four
    Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party...

  • The Light of Other Days
    The Light of Other Days
    The Light of Other Days is a 2000 science fiction novel written by Stephen Baxter based on a synopsis by Arthur C. Clarke, which explores the development of wormhole technology to the point where information can be passed instantaneously between points in the space-time continuum.- Characters...

    – A novel set in a world with a complete lack of privacy; anyone can view the activities of anyone or anything else, including looking into the past.
  • The Transparent Society
    The Transparent Society
    The Transparent Society is a non-fiction book by the science-fiction author David Brin in which he forecasts social transparency and some degree of erosion of privacy, as it is overtaken by low-cost surveillance, communication and database technology, and proposes new institutions and practices...

  • Lacey and His Friends
    Lacey and his Friends
    Lacey and His Friends is a 1986 compilation of three stories by David Drake, about Jed Lacey, a ruthless individual, convicted for raping a former contemporary as an act of revenge for betraying him, turned detective by a computer that allocates people to work in areas where their "psych profile"...

    – A novel set in a world where nothing is private, where privacy is illegal and where private acts are monitored by camera continuously. Some of these records are unavailable except to authorized investigators. Small exceptions for passwords and other authorization systems are allowed (boxes over keyboards), etc. David Drake basically envisions a world without any privacy whatsoever, where the privacy of the powerful is regarded as a threat by the society.
  • The Neanderthal Parallax
    The Neanderthal Parallax
    The Neanderthal Parallax is a trilogy of novels by Robert J. Sawyer published by Tor. It depicts the effects of the opening of a connection between two alternate Earths: the world familiar to the reader, and another where Neanderthals became the dominant, sentient hominid...

    – A parallel-worlds novel, in which Neanderthal
    The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

    s inhabit the alternate Earth. Their justice system (and part of the plot) depends on an embedded forearm implant that continuously records everything in your environment and transmits it to the alibi archive, accessible by your word or by court order. Thus any observer or close relative of a victim can report a crime and open that part of the archive to investigators, effectively ending most serious crime.
  • Earth
    Earth (novel)
    Earth is a 1990 science fiction novel written by David Brin. The book was nominated for the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1991.-Plot introduction:...

    – A novel set in the future, where personal cameras are ubiquitous and privacy is at best rare and often unavailable.
  • Freeze Frame
    Freeze Frame (film)
    Freeze Frame is a psychological thriller film written and directed by John Simpson, and starring comedian Lee Evans in a rare dramatic role.-Production:The film was shot in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast Northern Ireland....

    – Is a film featuring Sousveillance.
  • The Final Cut – Another film featuring sousveillance.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
    Stranger in a Strange Land
    Stranger in a Strange Land is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. The novel explores his interaction with—and...

    Robert A. Heinlein
    Robert A. Heinlein
    Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre. He set a standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of...

    's 1961 novel features characters whose profession of Fair Witness serves the function to act as human cameras to impartially observe and recall, but not interact in, events and human interactions, thus serving as a functional sort of sousveillance.

External links

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