Sousveillance proves that we should adapt into the new world without privacy


Photo by Jay Whang

Jay Whang

Photo by Jay Whang
Photo by Jay Whang
More than six months after Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency’s corruption, privacy-right activists and civil libertarians certain that they are living in a world that George Orwell predicted. The government monitors people’s life to see who’s naughty or nice, and list out the the most suspicious looking pacifists they could find.
President Barack Obama’s approval ratings fell down, PATRIOT ACT author Jim Sensenbrenner now fights against the monster he created, along with American Civil Liberty Union, and people rally outside in Washington D.C. and demand their “freedom” back.
The documents Snowden stole reveal NSA spies everywhere and suspects anyone they want. One of the documents showed they also spied on political figures including German chancellor Angela Merkel, United Nation secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, activist Noam Chomsky, and even newly elected Roman Catholic Pope Francis. Recently, there have been conspiracy theories that NSA blackmailed companies like Microsoft, Verizon and Facebook to get the users’ information as much as they could, and even eavesdrop on game players’ online interaction.
For me, I wasn’t very much surprised; I was kind of aware of government surveillance before the scandal (thanks to Michael Moore). As a high schooler, I never felt its aggression, though I feel sorry for people who are affected by unconstitutional law. Around that time, I was a frequent user of Vine, a mobile app that allows to make and post short video clip, and hooked by the reality show Kitchen Nightmare right after the infamous Amy’s Baking Company episode.
In the middle of technological progression, people record anything as much they can, upload it on sites such as YouTube or Facebook and earn Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. This got me interested in the idea of inverse surveillance only conducted by the people, rather than the state. It already exists and it’s called sousveillance. This may sounds like a good alternative to the current surveillance system, but actually it still take people’s privacy away for the sake of safeness.
In 1991, George Holliday recorded the group of police officers beating a black man named Rodney King in middle of the night, and the home video shocked the nation since Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm film of President Kennedy’s assassination. This became the prime example of modern sousveillance: exposing the society corruption through the lenses of layman’s camera.
More than a decade after Holliday’s recording of Rodney King’s beating, more people shoot video that are not-so-ordinary in everyday life. To list it out, this includes “Don’t tase me bro” from Florida, the shooting of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale station, David Rockefeller in Chile, Russian meteor caught on dashcam, a police officer pepper spraying a college student, and the most famous one that affected one politician’s campaign, Mitt Romney’s 47% video recorded by the bartender.
The increases of video footage featuring unusual things that rarely happen in everyday life lead to the state banning civilians’ taping of police officers, and lead to 16 years in jail for “wiretapping”, more longer than rape cases. This seems strange considering there will be more cameras that can shoot person’s point of view (most noticeably, the Google glasses).
Now this may sounds like a great idea because some of the sousveillance cases helped bringing justice to people’s misbehavior in our society. However, with people releasing videos and pictures of injustice in public may also prove that world wide surveillance conducted by people themselves may inevitable after all. And the only way to survive it is to adapt into this new world that we created.
In 1999, Sci-fi author and futurist David Brin wrote a book titled The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom, which he predicted that cameras will grow more smaller and more people will buy this convenient technology (using Moore’s law as an example). Well if you look at today, his prediction of people’s Do-It-Yourself mass surveillance came true in frightening way.
When Kodak introduced cameras that are cheap and easily portable, anyone could take photography as a hobby. But on the down side, public photography still gave people the creeps, and they look at amateur photographers as awkward and strange. Today, no one bothered by people carrying around internet connected camera in public.
There’s this YouTube channel called The Surveillance Camera Man, whose author filmed everything with his video camera, confront people in public places, and people react in panic. After watching his videos of annoyed people, I can tell that he made a point about sousveillance in the era of damaged civil liberty. He’s showing us people have become comfortable with being recorded from above, and not upsetted by the proliferation of surveillance.
As future technology goes, someday we could record every moments of our life since our birth, and forget about our unsettling feeling of being watched by every single people of the world. It’s more likely that we will adapt and become as comfortable with sousveillance as we have with surveillance.