Thursday, April 14, 2005

Canada's favourite eccentric cyborg, Steve Mann, in Wired News

Wired News: Surveillance Works Both Ways
I need to find more serious debate about surveillance. Such performances as Mann's are more than merely interesting and quirky. They're thought provoking and sometimes disturbing. They're obviously meant to be so. What are they proving? That we're mostly relatively comfortable with surveillance, as long as the camera isn't big? What is the value of making minimum-wage-earning clerks, managers, and store patrons uncomfortable? Then again, how else does one critique surveillance in any noticeable format? Surveillance in the dark Kafka-esque sense of a cold and punitive government bureaucracy monitoring citizens' actions certainly is worth critiquing. But is the potential for monitoring property necessarily evil? (see, for example, the BoingBoing post Hit-and-run garage creep caught. Here's a long excerpt from the Wired News article:
"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.

Following wearable computing guru Steve Mann into a downtown Seattle shopping mall, about two dozen conference attendees, some of them armed with handheld cameras, snapped photos of smoked-glass ceiling domes in Nordstrom and Gap stores, which may or may not have contained cameras.[...]

"The idea of surveillance that's powerful even if it's not actually present was in line with the theme of this year's CFP conference -- the Panopticon. The Panopticon was a model prison envisioned by philosopher Jeremy Bentham that used a smoked-glass oval guard tower to induce discipline and good behavior in prisoners who could never be certain if they were being watched.

"The mere possibility that someone might be watching prisoners would be enough to alter their behavior, ensuring, in the words of French philosopher Michel Foucault, that the effect of surveillance would be ongoing even if the surveillance itself wasn't. The mere perception of power would 'render its actual exercise unnecessary.'

"Mann, a University of Toronto professor who helped found MIT Media Lab's Wearable Computing Project, has made it a mission to make people more aware of the surveillance around them -- in the form of cameras concealed in store smoke detectors, smoked-glass domes, illuminated door exit signs and even stuffed animals sitting on store shelf displays -- by engaging in what he calls 'equiveillance through sousveillance.'"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slides from the conference keynote, opening plenary panel (Steve Mann, David Brin, Latanya Sweeney, and others) are in

Pictures are
, including pictures of the dome sewing party where many well known volunteers such as John Gilmore, Jon Pincus, Deborah Pierce, etc., helped to make 500 maybecameras, one for each conference attendee. Some of the maybecameras had wireless transmitters to send live video offsite, but attendees did not know whether or not they were watching.

For more background information on the maybecamera sousveillance project, see .

7:21 PM  
Blogger Allison Muri said...

These are great photos! Thanks for the link. There's a bit of a problem with the link, which appears invisible--the wearcam project is at

7:08 PM  

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