More on inverse surveillance

I promised some quick notes on the IWIS workshop earlier this week. I do have some note-like notes, especially from the early part of the workshop, but I will instead focus on some take-away reflections about interesting issues.

I was pleasantly surprised at the focus on the social over (or, at least, with) the hardware. That is, the group seemed very ready to talk about what it means socially to have and share individual recordings of the world. I was also happy to see that while privacy remained at the forefront, the group was able to walk a nice line between techno-utopianism and cynical skepticism–though certainly leaning toward the former. That is to say, the focus was not simply on privacy and its protection, nor simply on activism, but on how future public and private spaces might be shaped by “always-on” wearable technologies.

It was nice to be able to hear from a group of people who had really thought about these issues (far more than I have) and had shaped opinions about them. I think one of the major areas that need to be addressed, and this came out in the discussions, is the question of policy — and the question of policing. While sousveillance[1] has largely been looked at as a counterpoint to surveillance, and a way of surveilling the surveillors, in some ways I think it is potential far more intrusive than traditional state- and corporate- (or state-and-corporate) surveillance. It has a lot to do with expectations. I have a hard time predicting how a stranger will behave, and widely available wearables (or camphones, for that matter) put me in a position of trusting not just society in general, but each individual member. The consequences of that trust being betrayed are significant, but since there is still no clear social mores regarding personal recording — it is still too new/rare a practice — I have no way other than an extensive interaction to know whether my privacy is in the process of being invaded each time I talk to someone.

This lack of understanding has shown itself in bad law, with a new federal bill that would outlaw camphones in particular private/public places. Bad law is not an uncommon reaction to new technologies. Think about the CDA. Bad law. Yet the problems it addressed were real (if grossly exaggerated). Now we are in the process of sorting out social solutions to some of those problems, and working these through will take a long time.

We also touched upon what I think is the most interesting part of this, which is moving what is a hyper-individual kind of technology — to what might be considered an extreme degree with implantable technologies — into a structure in which it allows and encourages collaboration. But I do wish we had gone a bit further with this. How is it that we will move from 100 recordings of an event to some commonly accessible narrative? We talked a bit about wearcomps in/as inverse surveillance. One of the differences between Steve Mann’s Sur/Sous distinction is that the Sur is able to shape and elucidate an ongoing grand narrative. Inverse surveillance will be made up of petites narratives. Will the power and usefulness of these recordings be diminished because of their place in the structures of power. That larger question informs the smaller: how do we move from memories to stories, from recordings to ideas, from an approximation of our observations, to the qualia of our experiences?

And again, sousveillance, when aggregated, has the potential of becoming omni-veillance. Even if you go with Brin and the idea that transparent society is the only acceptable solution, you must look for ways of cushioning its onset, and maintaining as much reciprocity and control in the short run as possible. Arun mentioned at one point the “tyranny of the masses” and for me too, this idea kept coming up. How do we avoid putting the “mob” in smart mobs? How do we ensure that there are systems in place that encourage mutual aid rather than groupthink? What does it mean when everyone in the room can record? When only some people can?

Overall, I agree with most of the participants: the time was way to short to thresh out some of these ideas. I was very happy, though, with what seemed to be a general consensus regarding some of the directions this research needs to be going. I’m very excited about a conference next year. There is always a difficulty in bringing together technologists, artists, and social scientists–a genuine effort needs to be made to provide a common language and culture for the conference. But I think the convergence of these areas falls naturally on wearcomp (and especially collaborative wearcomp), and I am glad to help make it happen in whatever way I can.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep working on my paper on Citizens Rights Management (or is “Personal Rights Management” better?).

fn1. I like “inverse surveillance” more, by the way. When said with an American accent, “sousveillance” sounds like Dr. Seuss invented it. (Which, on second thought, isn’t at all a bad thing.) When said with a bad French accent (like mine), it’s difficult to discern the difference between sur et sous.

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  1. stefanos
    Posted 4/18/2004 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Of Laws and Flesh:

    It seems that we are witnessing a power struggle that is being conducted within the subconcious. Like the blowback reaction of the Rodney King beatings, the power to demonstrate how police surveillence of persons, and the abuse of power, is indicative of an editing force towards, “covernment.” Such was the opinion of the visually impaired person who I had interviewed in preparation for an eyetap experiment. Our volunteer commented upon a power structure of how police protect drug dealers.

    more later


  2. stef
    Posted 4/18/2004 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    if you sample physicians regarding pressure sores, you will discover that this is a quality idicator of how a nursing home or hospital is doing. it is known that the more pressore sores are monitored, the increase likelihood of healing. The whole thing of image processing and sousavaillence using them Orkut community wide monitoring systems, could be replicated with monitoring otc pressure sore supplies, and or number of hospital beds sold in a community. this information can lead one to know if a staffing change has occured in a hospital of rehab center. This all coorelated with sousavaillence noted from behind the white wall of silence, can lead to an understanding of the problems within a health care system. there are medical legal issues on this, but with increase efforts, the tort system will, or should realize that those that have more transparency, are doing a better job, but may wind up reporting stuff the shady places, and or characters, that are a problem, will not. It will require community commitment to “Civic Duty” to make something like this work, and for sousavaillence not to deevolve into a lottery ticket for litigation lawyers. The consequenses of overlitigation will limit rationed resourses and collapse a system, if all this hits a health care system all in sycn, in real time chaos of persons with released vengence and anger (which is a real emotion when ones loved one is in a condition of chronic illness) So yes, sousavaillence can be used for machiavellian ends, so hence, it needs to be tempored in a very deep emotional and academic restraint, that i feel, with the proper channels, can happen. Its like blogging with FDR. This was a time that persons came together to fight a great evil. We also witnessed what can happen in our society from the unbalanced surveillence, as witnessed in LA during the Rodney King beatings. We are faced with a fragile society changing rapidly. Will technologies be partitioned, and restricted to maintain a status quo? this is not the trend given that the power structure of litigation is not writting wise, nor laws rooted in common sense, in anticipation of the future…like our founding fathers wrote the constitution. As long as we have a constitution, we will have some ability to roll with the punches, but my fear, is that persons are only trying to circumvent (you yourself are concerned about student unsatifactory manner of circumventing IRB’s, which suggests a pattern of social behaviour because creative argument rooted in law and debate, takes effort and energy) the process of law via a sabatoging of our legal system with the feedback of litigation shutdown that will bankrupt our system with the personal greed of individual quest for unbalanced justice. The question is, how do we prevent the mob rule that can happen with consumer coordination of law suits? already, lawyers advertise on tv constantly, what will prevent them from finding a way to advertise on cellphones or computers. The idea of Class action law suit and the media is a great case for profit. Look closely at your local court house and look at who is donating to keep it clean and beutiful? Look at how many persons who feel that things are wrong, acually volunteer and fight with hard work on the grassroots level to help out in nursing homes…not many persons do…we expect new imigrants to come migrate and clean and bath our elderlys excrement, and do we thank these persons? Look closely at our behaviour and you will see our motives toward a civic duty.


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