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Sousveillance = watching from below




Sousveillance is the conscious capture of processes from below, by individual participants; surveillance is from the top down, while participation capture is inscribed in the very protocols of cooperation and is therefore an automatic ‘inscription’ of what we are doing. Sousveillance may lead to the emergence of a Participatory Panopticon.


"denotes the act of watching from above, whereas “sousveillance” denotes bringing the practice of observation down to human level (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching)." (


"Sousveillance (IPA: [suːˈveɪləns], original French [suvɛjɑ̃s]) as well as inverse surveillance are terms coined by Steve Mann to describe the recording of an activity from the perspective of a participant in the activity, typically by way of small portable or wearable recording devices that often stream continuous live video to the Internet.

Inverse surveillance is a proper subset of sousveillance with a particular emphasis on "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."


David Bollier:

"Sousveillance is commonly directed against police as a way to document their (anticipated) abuses. The classic example is the amateur video footage of LA policemen brutalizing Rodney King in 1991. Now that lightweight cameras are everywhere and footage can easily be posted on YouTube and other websites, sousveillance videos have documented police abuse in Malaysia, gay-bashing in Latvia and union-busting in Zimbabwe, as one account describes.

A British website concerned with surveillance has taken note of “FitWatch” – “the tactic of filming the Met Police Forward Intelligence Teams and sharing photos, badge numbers and names.” In the United States and Canada, there is a network of volunteer organizations called Copwatch that monitor the police and host a user-generated database of police misbehavior.

Sousveillance is not just about watching the police. The Web site invites women to post photos of any man who tries to harass them. In Sierra Leone and Ghana, people used mobile phones to monitor for irregularities and intimidation during elections in 2007.

Politicians are increasingly monitored by citizen-videos, a practice that allows citizens to bypass the mainstream press and present their own unvarnished accounts of campaign activities. The most famous example may be the videotape of George Allen, the GOP candidate for Senate in 2004, who had the bad judgment to utter an ethnic slur, maccaca. The sousveillance video arguably tipped the election in favor of Allen’s opponent, James Webb. The British newspaper, The Guardian, once enlisted its readers to help take photos of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair at a time when the Labour Party was trying to insulate him from press coverage." (

Ushahahidi Mapping as Sousveillance

Patrick Meier:

"The Ushahidi platform enables a form of live-mapped “sousveillance,” which refers to the recording of an activity using portable personal technologies. In many respects, however, the use of Ushahidi goes beyond sousveillance in that it generates the possibility of “dataveillance” and a possible reversal of Bentham’s panopticon. “With postmodernity, the panopticon has been informationalized; what once was organized around hierarchical observation is now organized through decoding and recoding of information” (Lyon 2006). In Seeing Like a State, James Scott argues eloquently that this process of decoding and recoding was for centuries the sole privilege of the State. In contrast, the Ushahidi platform provides a participatory digital canvas for the public decoding, recoding of information and synchronization of said information. In other words, the platform serves to democratize dataveillance by crowdsourcing what was once the exclusive realm of the “security-informational complex.” (


The emergence of the Participatory Panopticon

"Soon -- probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two -- we'll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.

And we will be doing it to ourselves. This won't simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily. I call this world the Participatory Panopticon." ( ;)

An update by author Jamais Cascio, at

Equiveillance Theory

David Bollier introduces Equiveillance theory:

"An excellent Wikipedia entry notes that an equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance may have positive effects. “Equiveillance theory” argues that sousveillance may reduce or eliminate 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. 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 neighborhood watch. This variation of sousveillance (“personal sousveillance”) has been referred to as “coveillance” by Mann, Nolan and Wellman." (

More Information

See our entry on the Participatory Panopticon

  1. Listen to the podcast by James Cascio at
  2. http://sousveillance.pdf by Steve Mann, Jason Nolan and Barry Wellman, all professors at the University of Toronto.
  3. The Wikipedia article is at
  4. Danish conference, January 2009, at

Steve Mann:

  • Veillance and Reciprocal Transparency: Surveillance versus Sousveillance, AR Glass, Lifeglogging and Wearable Computing,” [1]
  • A companion essay, “The Inevitability of the Transition from a Surveillance-Society to a Veillance-Society: Moral and Economic Grounding for Sousveillance,” [2]

David Bollier: "Mann’s larger objective here is to develop a new set of ideas for describing the social realities of “veillance” in society today, and to propose workable countermeasures to ubiquitous surveillance. It would be nice to have some empirical social science studies to validate some presumed realities, and to have the perspectives of legal scholars, civil libertarians, law enforcement and others more fully reflected here. Still, Mann’s essays are seminal in outlining a territory that urgently need to be developed. To that end, he gives us a new vocabulary for a more intelligent discussion of the subject. For example, when surveillance and sousveillance are both treated equally – a more appropriate state – one can say that there is “equiveillance.” More typically, however, there is “inequiveillance.” If there is only one party consenting to the veillance, there is “univeillance,” and if an absentee, non-participant records some or all parties while at the same time forbidding them from recording themselves, there situation can be described as “McVeillance” – the uniltateral “sensory entitlement” that many business establishments assert over their premises." [3]

Key Books to Read

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?. David Brin. Perseus Books, 1999

In this very thought-provoking book, Brin argues that the loss of privacy is an inevitable given. The key question then becomes: who owns the means of surveillance, and in this context, the democratic solution of control by all is much preferable. Recommended, even if you do not tend to agree with the conclusions of the book.

Partial online version of The Transparent Society, by David Brin, at