How Wearable “Sousveillance” Cameras Will Transform Our Society

Have you heard of the term sousveillance? It’s the inverse of surveillance: instead of a camera pointed at individuals, individuals wear their own cameras on themselves to document their activities. Wearable-camera pioneer Steve Mann has written a fascinating piece for Time, titled “Eye Am a Camera: Surveillance and Sousveillance in the Glassage“, in which he offers his vision of what the future will look like once wearable cameras such as Google Glass (seen above) become ubiquitous.

Mann argues that it will soon be absurd to enforce any “no photography” policy, even in private places, as “cameras become integrated into the very fabric and flesh of our society and the prosthetic territory of individuals”:

Consider the automobile or wheelchair as a middle ground between building-mounted (surveillance) cameras and wearable (sousveillance) cameras. Would a drive-in theater owner kick out a driver who had a rearview camera or dash camera? Would you throw someone in a wheelchair out of a movie theatre because a rear-view or auto-pilot camera was part of the wheelchair? We’re starting to see this trend in concert halls where organizers are giving up their fight against audience members using camera phones. But once cameras become part of the human mind and body, their fight will be completely lost.

[…] society will return to a world in which there is both sousveillance and surveillance (both “undersight” and oversight) rather than today’s world of […] surveillance without sousveillance (oversight without undersight).

Here’s something crazy for you to think about: photography is often prevented these days because authorities can see the cameras being used, but what happens if/when the human eye can be used as a camera or if/when memories can be projected onto a screen? At that point, anything people can see and any location people can visit will be fair game for photographs, and society will simply have to adapt and live with it.

Eye Am a Camera: Surveillance and Sousveillance in the Glassage [Time]

Thanks for sending in the tip, Phil!

Image credit: Photograph of Google Glass camera by Chris Chabot

  • Hannes

    I think that kind of toy is exactly what the “surveillance camera man” wants to make us reflect about. Privacy in public spaces will be gone with this.

  • Keiran Blackwell

    That’s because that’s in public spaces, there is no expectation of privacy in public.

  • gncd eimikaa

    I will create portable EMP fielddevicysupersystem around me, about 10 km in radius.

  • JosephRT

    Right before you want to commit an act of indecent exposure, blow off an EMP to keep from being “exposed”

  • Hope4mankind

    As much as there is a lot of bad things that people in power do i would say there is still more good being done. This in no way justifies the wrongs but please consider that those who do good rarely get recognized for their good deeds. but when we do good we don’t look for recognition necessarily. But we should always strive to encourage the good. And if we would focus more on encouraging the good the wrongs would diminish; not in their recognition but in their happening altogether. This is my hope.

  • TanyaS

    What about a public toilet? No expectation of privacy there as well?

  • Ben

    See Black Mirror, episode 3

  • Ben

    This is the subject of my dissertation. You might want to take a look at Taser’s Axon Flex and other on-officer camera systems. They market these showing that in 93% of complaints against officers regarding incidents during which video was recorded, the officer and department are exonerated. Police have been amazingly resilient to growing visibility afforded by sousveillance and surveillance. Your comment is one I think many of us can relate to, and many might share your hopes. However, we have little empirical basis to substantiate this prognosis: simply, visibility does not seem to deter police violence.

  • Keiran Blackwell

    I’m not sure what the law has to say concerning those places, but aren’t they usually owned by a company (ie a private entity) or a local council (not sure about ownership in that case).

    But that is a good point, but I still believe there’s a difference between walking along a public path and using the porcelain throne… :P

  • Thomas Hawk

    Nice photo by Chris Chabot. :)