Authors: J.P.R. van der Laarse & N.L. Neuman
Publication Date: September 24, 2021

Here we provide some metaphors as examples to better illustrate Inverse Surveillance. These metaphors are a representation of how we see inverse surveillance in comparison to other forms of surveillance and sousveillance at this moment in time. Throughout this project we aim to continue to refine this concept, and more clearly describe the differences between the different forms of veillance. 

Defining Surveillance

We use the terms surveillance and sousveillance as stand-alone concepts in these metaphors, based on the consensus within academic research. But surveillance could also be seen as an umbrella term for all activities. And the same is true for the term sousveillance with respect to all surveillance activities carried out by citizens, including inverse surveillance. 

The definitions used in these metaphors are based on our framework for inverse surveillance research. Prof. Steve Mann, the author on sousveillance, uses a broad veillance framework for veillances that encompasses surveilllance, sousveillance, inverse surveillance and other veillance concepts. He made the case for using veillance as the umbrella term instead of surveillance, which has different connotations.

1) Police Officer vs. Auditor

Inverse surveillance is by definition not anti-government in a dystopian sense, but pro-government from a utopian stance. Inverse surveillance provides citizens with leverage for holding a government accountable, which ought to be considered a positive effect in a functioning democratic society. For the Panopticon effect to work, there needs to be some level of threat. However, citizens will not take the role of a police officer, who issues fines based on criminal behaviour, and exercises power. Rather, citizens using inverse surveillance AI will essentially fulfill the role of an auditor. Auditors are also within their right to assess, correct, and sometimes enforce norms under the threat of specific consequences.However, an auditor is different from a police officer, since auditors report, while offering organizations also an opportunity for improvement. An auditor can be seen as an additional means of control to check that everything is running as it should within an organisation according to some normative framework. Despite the strict monitoring role of auditors, in which they directly hold organizations accountable for their behavior, independent auditors are frequently hired by organizations themselves to monitor their business and operations to ensure that they have everything in order when a formal audit occurs. This dynamic of organizations reaching out to auditors for help in auditing their systems and contributing ideas for improvement is exactly the kind of relationship our Inverse Surveillance project aims to stimulate between citizens and governments or other large /organizations. 

2) School examination

This metaphor relates to the different forms of veillance, and aims to illustrate the differences.

Surveillance: A teacher walks around during an exam to check if students are cheating. This is a form of power from above.

Counter-Surveillance: A student sits behind a pillar during an exam in protest, or sets their table up so that the teacher cannot perceive them properly. Whether the student cheats or not is irrelevant. The focus is on evading surveillance by the teacher. 

Sousveillance: The teacher walks past the tables and a student addresses their behaviour. For example, “Sir/Madam, I keep seeing you walking past the tables of students of colour. This is a form of discrimination”. The teachers’ surveillance is being observed and reported by a student.

Inverse Surveillance: The teacher walks past the students making their exam, without the students paying attention to it. Surveillance is part of this process and the students are not necessarily concerned about it. However, the students have set up a student council to evaluate the teachers and school system. Are they working fairly? What exactly is being surveilled? Have any processes crept in that lead to, for example, occurrences of racism? Or are there patterns that can be identified that indicate corruption?