Sousveillance: Implications for Privacy, Security, Trust, and the Law

Introduction

Point of view has its foundations in film. It usually depicts a scene through the eyes of a character. Body-worn video-recording technologies now mean that a wearer can shoot film from a first-person perspective of another subject or object in his or her immediate field of view (FOV). The term sousveillance has been defined by Steve Mann to denote a recording done from a portable device such as a head-mounted display (HMD) unit in which the wearer is a participant in the activity. Some people call it inverse surveillance because it is the opposite of a camera that is wall mounted and fixed.

IMAGE COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MICHAELWOODCOCK

IMAGE COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MICHAELWOODCOCK

During the initial rollout of Google Glass, explorers realized that recording other people with an optical HMD unit was not perceived as an acceptable practice despite the fact that the recording was taking place in a public space. Google's blunder was to consider that the device, worn by 8,000 individuals, would go unnoticed, like shopping mall closed-circuit television (CCTV). Instead, what transpired was a mixed reaction by the public—some nonusers were curious and even thrilled at the possibilities claimed by the wearers of Google Glass, while some wearers were refused entry to premises, fined, verbally abused, or even physically assaulted by others in the FOV.

Some citizens and consumers have claimed that law enforcement (if approved through the use of a warrant process) and shop owners have every right to surveil a given locale, dependent on the context of the situation. Surveilling a suspect who may have committed a violent crime or using CCTV as an antitheft mechanism is now commonly perceived as acceptable, but having a camera in your line of sight record you—even incidentally—as you mind your own business can be disturbing for even the most tolerant of people.

Wearers of these prototypes, or even fully fledged commercial products like the Autographer, claim that they record everything around them as part of a need to lifelog or quantify themselves for reflection. Technology like the Narrative Clip may not capture audio or video, but even still shots are enough to reveal someone else's whereabouts, especially if they are innocently posted on Flickr, Instagram, or YouTube. Many of these photographs also have embedded location and time-stamp data. You might not have malicious intent by showing off in front of a landmark, but innocent bystanders captured in the photo could find themselves in a predicament given that the context may be entirely misleading.

Privacy, Security, and Trust

Privacy experts claim that while we once might have been concerned or felt uncomfortable with CCTV being as pervasive as it is today, we are shifting from a limited number of big brothers to ubiquitous little brothers and toward wearable computing. Fueled by social media and instant fame, recording the moment can make you famous as a citizen journalist at the expense of your neighbor.

The fallacy of security is that more cameras do not necessarily mean a safer society. In fact, statistics, depending on how they are presented, may be misleading about reductions in crime in given hotspots. The chilling effect, for instance, dictates that criminals do not just stop committing crime (e.g., selling drugs) because someone installs a bunch of cameras on a busy public route. On the contrary, crime has been shown to be redistributed or relocated to another proximate geographic location. In a study conducted in 2005 for the United Kingdom's Home Office by Martin Gill of the University of Leicester, only one area of a total of 14 studied saw a drop in the number of incidents that could be attributed to CCTV. The problem was with using the existing CCTV systems to “good effect” [1].

Questions of trust seem to be the biggest factor against wearable devices that film other people who have not granted their consent to be recorded. Let's face it: we all know people who do not like to be photographed for reasons we don't quite understand, but it is their right to say, “No, leave me alone.” Others have no trouble being recorded by someone they know, so long as they know they are being recorded prior to the record button being pushed. And still others show utter indifference, claiming that there is no longer anything personal out in the open.

Who's watching whom? Alexander Hayes takes a picture of wearable computer pioneer Steve Mann in Toronto, Canada, during the Veillance.me Conference (IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society 2013), while Mann uses his EyeTap device and high-definition camera to record a surveillance camera. Is this sousveillance squared? (Photo courtesy of Alexander Hayes.)

Who's watching whom? Alexander Hayes takes a picture of wearable computer pioneer Steve Mann in Toronto, Canada, during the Veillance.me Conference (IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society 2013), while Mann uses his EyeTap device and high-definition camera to record a surveillance camera. Is this sousveillance squared? (Photo courtesy of Alexander Hayes.)

Often, the argument is posed that anyone can watch anyone else walk down a street. These individuals fail in their assessment, however—watching someone cross the road is not the same as recording them cross the road, whether by design or by sheer coincidence. Handing out requests for deletion every time someone asks whether they've been captured on camera by another is not good enough. Allowing people to opt out “after the fact” is not consent based and violates fundamental human rights such as the control individuals might have over their own image and the freedom to go about their life as they please.

Using technology like the Narrative Clip may not capture audio or video, but even still shots are enough to reveal someone else's whereabouts, especially if they are innocently posted on Flickr, Instagram, or YouTube.

Laws, Regulations, and Policies

At the present time, laws and regulations pertaining to surveillance and listening devices, privacy, telecommunications, crimes, and even workplace relations require amendments to keep pace with advancements in HMDs and even implantable sensors [2]. The police need to be viewed as enforcing the laws that they are there to upkeep, not to don the very devices they claim to be illegal. Policies in campus settings, such as universities, also need to address the seeming imbalance in what is and is not possible. The commoditization of such devices will only lead to even greater public interest issues coming to the fore. The laws are clearly outdated, and there is controversy over how to overcome the legal implications of emerging technologies. Creating new laws for each new device will lead to an endless drafting of legislation, which is not practicable, and claiming that existing laws can respond to new problems is unrealistic, as users will seek to get around the law via loopholes in a patchwork of statutes.

Cameras provide a power imbalance. First, only a few people had mobile phones with cameras, and now they are everywhere. Then, only some people carried body-worn video recorders for extreme sports, and now, increasingly, using a GoPro, Looxcie, or Taser Axon glasses, while still in their nascent stages, has been met with some acceptance, dependent on the context (e.g., for business-centric applications that free the hands in maintenance). Photoborgs might be hitting back at all the cameras on the walls that are recording 24×7, but they do not cancel out the fact that the photoborgs themselves are doing exactly what they are claiming a fixed, wall-mounted camera is doing to them. But beating “them” at their own game has consequences.

The Überveillance Trajectory

One has to ponder: where to next? Might we be well arguing that we are nearing the point of total surveillance, as everyone begins to record everything around them for reasons of insurance protection, liability, and complaint handling “just in case,” like the in-car black box recorder unit that clears you of wrongdoing in accident? And how gullible might we become that images and video footage do not lie, even though a new breed of hackers is destined to manipulate and tamper with reality to their own ends.

Will the new frontier be surveillance of the heart and mind? The überveillance trajectory refers to the ultimate potentiality for embedded surveillance devices like swallowable pills with onboard sensors, tags, and transponder IDs placed in the subdermal layer of the skin, and even diagnostic image sensors that claim to prevent disease by watching innards or watching outward via the translucent dermal epidermal junction [3]. Just look at the spectacle and aura of the November 2014 “chipping” of Singularity University's cofounder Peter Diamandis if you still think this is conspiracy theory [4]! No folks, it's really happening. This event was followed by the chipping party in Sweden of eight individuals [5]. Let us hope this kind of thing doesn't catch on too widely because we stand to lose our freedom, and that very element that separates man from machine.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This article was adapted from Katina Michael, “Redefining Surveillance: Implications for Privacy, Security, Trust, and the Law,” December 2014, Issues Magazine, http://www.issuesmagazine.com.au/article/issue-december-2014/redefining-surveillance-implications-privacy-security-trust-and-law.html.

References

1. BBC. (2005). CCTV systems "fail to cut crime." BBC News. [Online]. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk-news/england/leicestershire/4294693.stm

2. R. Clarke, "The regulation of point of view surveillance: A review of Australian law," IEEE Technol. Soc. Mag., vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 40-46, 2014.

3. M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Eds., Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants: Emerging Technologies (Advances in Human and Social Aspects of Technology). Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2013.

4. J. Dorrier. (2014). Summit Europe: Chip implants easy as piercings. Singularity Hub. [Online]. Available: http://singularityhub.com/2014/11/25/summit-europe-chip-implants-easy-as-piercings/

5. J. Wakefield. (2014). The rise of the Swedish cyborgs. BBC News: technology. [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/-technology-30144072

Citation: Katina Michael, "Sousveillance: Implications for Privacy, Security, Trust, and the Law", IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, Volume: 4, Issue: 2, April 2015, pp. 92 - 94, DOI: 10.1109/MCE.2015.2393006