Saturday, December 20, 2014

Seminar 1 - Position Statement from Vian Bakir, Journalism & Media, Bangor University

  In a Veillance Society, can we resist dataveillance of our selves? 
Steve Mann posits that we are moving towards a ‘veillance’ society of mutual watching and monitoring. As well as surveillant watching undertaken by those with power, or who are not a participant to the activity (‘oversight’: eg CCTV cameras), we have ‘sousveillance’, the practices of watching by those without power, or who are participants to the activity (‘undersight’: eg citizens using mobile phone cameras to sousveil police at a demonstration, or sousveilling selves and each other). 
Mann and Ferenbok’s (2013) model of the Veillance Plane describes various potential power relationships between the viewer and the subject of the gaze when society is characterised by different surveillance-sousveillance combinations. This allows us to think through actual and desired veillant social practices. For instance, this can produce 'univeillance' (one-party consent, where one party sousveils another without them knowing or consenting), 'Mcveillance' (surveillance plus a ban on sousveillance eg central London train stations on platforms), 'counterveillance' (blocking any watching, eg Adam Harvey’s anti-paparazzi clutch bag that repels flash photography); 'total veillance' (maximum surveillance and sousveillance); and 'equiveillance' (a balance between surveillance and sousveillance).

These veillance concepts stem from a Panoptic metaphor of power and surveillance, and so tend to be visually oriented in terms of the examples to which they are applied. I ask, can they be applied to data surveillance ('dataveillance')?  This is an important question because, arguably, 'dataveillance' is the dominant mode of surveillance today. In the post-Snowden era we know of state snooping on our personal online communications and activities. This joins pervasive commercial surveillance and aggregation (and therefore, potentially personal identification) of numerous anonymised data-sets involving us, or people very like us. And quite possibly, in terms of quantity of personal information flow, we may have seen nothing yet, given the coming age of wearable media (of which Google Glass is the most sensational, but of which FitBit is perhaps the most used – monitoring our heart rates, breath rates, and other personal information). All of these activities build up a detailed profile of our selves.

 I suggest that Mann’s writings on sousveillance, especially his definition of sousveillance as ‘human-centered capture, processing, storage, recall, and transmission of sensory information’ (Mann 2005:636), help us think through what resistance to dataveillance might comprise. This definition of sousveillance pushes us to move beyond considering who holds the camera and makes the recording (the ‘capture’ of the image, and whether or not it is done by someone wielding power). Additionally, we  need to think about how that data (eg the image, but this could be widened to any data that concerns the self) is processed, stored, recalled and transmitted. 

This helps us to identify pressing questions concerning digital literacy:
- Is it possible to individually intervene in these commercial and political data flows about our selves, to ensure that not just the capture, but also the processing, storage, recall, and transmission of sensory information is under our personal control?

- Are there ways of encouraging individual agency, creativity, and control over data concerning the self?

- Do we have to be digitally and technologically very literate in order to engage with these potentially resistive practices? If so, what hope is there for the masses (of which I am one)?

1 comment:

  1. Engaging with Veillance:
    Given that there are so many types of ‘veillance’, we suspect that many people may not have encountered these types. In particular, Steve Mann has developed his concept of ‘veillance’, or mutual watching by surveillant organisations (e.g. the state intelligence agencies, advertising agencies) and sousveillant individuals (e.g. citizens watching each other, or watching those in power so as to hold them to account), into his model of a Veillance Plane. Meanwhile, Ball argues for the importance of tracing veillance and data flows through organisations. Putting together insights from the keynotes by Mann and Ball has led us to develop principles and questions for audience engagement with Veillance Types, that we hope might be useful to end users, from educationalists to regulators, and from companies seeking to implement ethical surveillance policies through to artists seeking to provoke the public to think more deeply or differently about data flows.

    Veillance (mutual watching).
    – Raise people’s awareness that they are being watched, but that they might also be able to watch back. This involves raising awareness not just of surveillance cameras but also of digital flows of personal data; reaching a conclusion on whether or not such watching is beneficial or harmful to self and society; and then knowing what, if anything, can be done about this.

    - Sousveillance demands that individuals who sousveil are a participant in the activity being watched, as well as able to control the capture, storage, transmission and dissemination of their data. But are people even aware of whether they have full control over all of these aspects of the data flow? Eg at what point does a selfie recorded on your mobile phone and uploaded to the Cloud cease to be sousveillance?

    Hierarchical sousveillance (directed against authority figures).
    – Through sousveillance, people can resist or confront surveillance that they find ethically problematic. Typically, this involves watching the watchers, and finding ways to achieve greater transparency of power-holders (eg through mobile phone cameras, protestors can capture the activity of police at a demonstration). To what extent is such sousveillance desirable and feasible?

    Personal sousveillance (directed at self).
    – This is where people engage with, and take ownership of, their own data about them selves/environment. Through this, people might become more creative and have greater insight into their own lives. Eg keeping a life-log through a wearable camera like Narrative Clip (which automatically takes a photo every 30 seconds) might make you more aware of what you actually get up to during the day.

    Univeillance (one-party consent).
    - This is where one person sousveils others (eg on a mobile phone camera, or Google Glass-styled wearable camera) without their consent. What are the practices and ethics of univeillance? Is this the sort of society we want to live in? How are norms regarding univeillance developing, as technology makes such practices potentially common-place?

    McVeillance (surveillance plus ban on sousveillance).
    - Consider the practices and ethics of state or commercial surveillance of self without reciprocal sousveillance of state/commerce by self. Under what circumstances do we want such surveillance, and when do these practices become unacceptable?

    Counterveillance (blocking watching).
    - Consider the practices and ethics of detecting and preventing any form of veillance, eg through masking the self (eg face covering), or through deflecting surveillance (eg Adam Harvey’s anti-paparazzi clutch bag that deflects flash photography; eg through encrypting own data). How feasible and desirable are counterveillance practices?

    Equiveillance (a balance between surveillance and sousveillance).
    - Is equiveillance desirable or possible? Eg how many sousveillant cameras are equal to one surveillant camera? Consider, in your own lives if the forces of surveillance and sousveillance balance each other out.