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Surveillance Works Both Ways

Wired reports how in an attempt to establish equity in the world of surveillance, participants at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Seattle this week took to the streets to ferret out surveillance cameras and turn the tables on offensive eyes taking their picture.

The opposite of surveillance — French for watching from above — sousveillance refers to watching from below, essentially from beneath the eye in the sky. It’s the equivalent of keeping an eye on the eye. With that in mind, Mann conducted his tour with conference participants to see how those conducting surveillance would respond to being monitored.

In the stores, as conference attendees snapped pictures of three smoked domes in the ceiling of a Mont Blanc pen shop, an employee inside waved his arms overhead. The intruders interpreted his gesture as happy excitement at being photographed until a summoned security guard halted the photography.

Mann asked the guard why, if the Mont Blanc cameras were recording him, he couldn’t, in turn, record the cameras. But the philosophical question, asked again at Nordstrom and the Gap, was beyond the comprehension of store managers who were more concerned with the practical issues of prohibiting store photography.

Mann quoted Simon Davies of Privacy International, a London-based nonprofit that monitors civil liberties issues:

The totalitarian regime is the regime that would like to know everything about everyone but reveal nothing about itself.

He considered such a government an “inequiveillant regime” and likened it to signing a contract with another party without being allowed to keep a copy of the contract.

What I argue is that if I’m going to be held accountable for my actions that I should be allowed to record … my actions. Especially if somebody else is keeping a record of my actions.

3 comments to Surveillance Works Both Ways

  • guy herbert

    Untypically, Simon understates the case. It is more like signing a contract in blank, with a pressure salesman suggesting the details are all there and you don’t need to read them. Whatever you assume might have been agreed, the government will fill in the details later.

  • io1029

    I don’t quite understand the problem here. I’m sure Norstram and Gap are private shops, and I believe Mont Blanc is (though I’ve never seen the place). How does that equate to a “totalitarian regime”? It ain’t the gov’t this guy was photographing, it was a private shop. Let them do as they will. If you dislike it, go someplace else. This post seems asinine.

  • Jamie Longstaff

    Don’t like the cameras..? Shop somewhere else..!