Priveillance: Equiveillance, Covidized Surveillance and Dark Sousveillance

McLuhan Centre Working Group

The word “surveillance” is of Latin and French origin, and means “watching” (“veillance”) from “above” (“sur”). The English word “oversight” translates to French as “surveillance” [Google Translate].

Surveillance (oversight) typically involves an entity of higher authority monitoring an entity of lower authority, i.e. the powerful watching the vulnerable. The inequity of surveillance is well-known, even in popular culture, e.g. Margaret Atwood's dystopian concept of “UNDER HIS EYE”. Virginia Eubanks wrote about surveillance in her groundbreaking 2018 book Automating Inequality: “People of color, migrants, unpopular religious groups, sexual minorities, the poor, and other oppressed and exploited populations bear a much higher burden of monitoring and tracking than advantaged groups.”.

The reciprocal of surveillance is called “undersight” or “sousveillance”[Freshwater2015][Bradshaw2013][Vertegaal2008][Bakir2010][Ganascia2010][Weston2009][Mann 2002], from the French prefix “sous”, meaning “under”. Sousveillance forms a necessary counterpart to surveillance, as outlined by Dawn Freshwater et al.[Freshwater2015]. She, and others, argue that surveillance contains an inherent inequity that is characterized by a predominantly “male gaze”: a “white, male gaze in the CCTV control room, having a particular bias”[Galivc2017]. Surveillance tends to target predominantly black[Browne2015], poor[Ferguson2017], and other vulnerable groups.

The philosophy of open-science, and of open-and-inclusive research, is to encourage people of all races, abilities, and educational backgrounds, including children, to participate in not just learning, but also teaching and research!

Equiveillance is Fair, just, and equal sensing at the intersection of surveillance and sousveillance.

The McLuhan Working Group on "Equiveillance..." will explore how we can replace the unjust aspects of surveillance with a fair and just “equi-veillance” as we design smart cities, smart healthcare, and other sensory infrastructures that are worn, carried, or embedded in the architecture and cities around us. We must consider the interplay between the technologies that become part of us and the technologies all around us, e.g. smart camera-based streetlights that help police enforce social-distancing. We wish to also explore new technologies like real-time water-quality sensors we can wear to track pollution while we swim, and help enforce indigenous water rights, i.e. empowering individuals to “sousveil” their environment (“citizen science” as equi-veillance).

The working group will build upon Simone Browne's concept of “Dark Sousveillance” [][Browne2015] and the work of Kelly Ross on racialized sousveillance and address important fundamental questions regarding overtness of sousveillance (e.g. a kind of “don't ask don't tell” code of conduct among “cyborgs”), including the rights of those with memory impairments who require a wearable camera-based memory aid.

Equiveillance: fair and just sensing/sight

It is important to remember that sousveillance is not the same thing as counter-veillance. For example, a person can be in favour of both veillances (i.e. in favour of equiveillance), or a person or organization can favour one veillance over the other, or be opposed to both (i.e. be in favour of counter-veillance). The Veillance Graph (or Veillance Compass), illustrated below, shows this concept:

Equiveillance is the fair equitable equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance, i.e. approximately equal proportions of both veillances.

The most fundamental issue that faces humanity is the realationship between privacy and veillance (both sur- and sous-veillance), i.e. the relationship between "Big Data" and "little data" == the relationship between power and corruption, and absolute power and absolute corruption == knowledge is power, and absolute knowledge is absolute power!

Our world is shifting from "senseless to sensible", i.e. from that which does not sense ("senseless"), to that which has the capacity to sense ("sensible").

This is happening along three axes: the "Vironment", "Virtuality", and "Veillance", as pictured below:

Businesses that produce goods and services balanced along all three axes will succeed in the marketplace. Businesses that are out-of-balance (e.g. GOOGlass which is intimate body-worn technology, close to the origin on the "Vironment" axis but too "Big" on the Virtuality and Veillance axes, i.e. "Big Data" of Surveillance), will tend to fail in the marketplace.

Priveillance™: Intersection of Equiveillance with Privacy

Priveillance™ is our broad-encompassing series of inventions, protocols, and best-practices. Priveillance is at the intersection of surveillance, sousveillance, and privacy:


At the intersection of Surveillance and Sousveillance is Equiveillance. Equiveillance is a fair, just, and equal sensing, i.e. when surveillance and sousveillance are both present. An example is when police record citizens but citizens also record police. In this way neither party is able to easily falsify the record without resulting in increased scrutiny from where the records differ [Houwing and van Eck, 2020]. Another example is with machine intelligence. Presently machines sense us but their inner workings are often shrouded in secrecy. Examples include "smart cities" that function like giant machines that sense us but reveal very little about themselves. We need to mitigate the one-sided nature of AI and machine learning through equiveillance. In this situation, equiveillance is also known as "explainable AI" or "understandable AI" or "comprehensible AI", and going further, we wish to build machines and machine intelligence that are/is auditable by end-users. See rightmost in the figure below:

The human mind and body form a feedback loop with efferent and afferent nerves. Today humans and technology are inextricably intertwined. We wear technologies like shoes, clothing, wristwatches, and eyeglasses that are getting more and more technologically advanced. Thus most of us today are "Humachines" with senses that are augmented by sensors. This forms a fractal (self-similar) architecture where our technologies function like our nervous system in a way that not only senses us, but allows us to sense. This reciprocal nature of sensing and being sensed should occur at every physical scale. When we convene in cities, the city itself is a machine of sorts that senses us (Surveillance). This is where we must also advocate for equiveillance, i.e. to also have Sousveillance (to be able to sense, and not just be sensed).

Equiveillant systems are systems that ensure a closed-loop feedback with roughly equal surveillance and sousveillance signal paths, giving rise to a form of human-machine interaction known as "Humanistic Intelligence" (HI)[Minsky, et al, 2013], as illustrated below:


Security calls to mind security forces and security patrols, i.e. when we hear the words "call security", we might expect a shoplifter to be taken in handcuffs by the police. Another image of security is a bank vault or jail cell.

At the intersection of Privacy and Surveillance is Security. For example, police cameras often serve the needs only of police, and the stated reason for not making the video feeds available to others is "privacy" ["Plan would give San Diego police sole access to Smart Streetlight cameras", San Diego Union-Tribune, Sept 4, 2020]. Another example is the Privacy Commissioner of Alberta who authorized the installation of cameras in the locker rooms and changerooms of Talisman Centre where people were recorded naked and changing their clothes. The privacy commissioner said this was OK as long as only police or other authorized entities could view the video recordings ["Cameras can stay in Talisman's locker room, says commissioner", CBC News, Mar 22, 2007], and as long as it helped reduce theft from lockers.


The word "security" is of Latin origin and means "without care" from "se" which means "without" and "curity" which means "care".

At the intersection of Privacy and Sousveillance we have a new concept that we call "Suicurity", i.e. self-care, from the Latin prefix "Sui" meaning "self" ["Personal Devices Enable 'Suicurity'", IEEE Technology and Society, 2014, 33(2), p14-22].

An example of Suicurity would be to design better lockers and better combination locks rather than installing surveillance cameras in changerooms.


At the intersection of Privacy and Equiveillance (i.e. at the center of all three circles) is what we proffer to call Priveillance™, i.e. the boundary between sensing and not sensing, seeing and not seeing, etc., in the service of humanity. Ultimately, priveillance is what we wish to strive for, i.e. taking into account privacy, security, and trust, as well as suicurity, and reciprocal trust.

Our world contains large numbers of sensors, e.g. surveillance cameras, as well as the cameras inside devices like light fixtures, streetlights, handwash faucets, and other fixtures and appliances. These range from the 128-pixel or 1024-pixel cameras used in automatic handwash faucets and the automatic flushomters in toilets and urinals (U.S. Patent 8355822 + see intro to the Sightfield paper), to the gigapixel cameras used in citywide surveillance systems for police and homeland security. Surveillant systems are not well understood by the people "beneath" them, e.g. at present the devices are only understood by those watching from "above" (e.g. the machines or large entities like governments and corporations watching us).

Surveillance tends to have, associated with it, an inherent hypocrisy, e.g. "we're watching you but you can't watch us". Those who study surveillance (e.g. photograph surveillance cameras) are often told that photography is prohibited. See for example the following figure:

Like many establishments where surveillance is used extensively, cell phones are both prohibited and required (e.g. to read the QR codes on the products in stores where cameras are not allowed):

The opposite of hypocrisy is integrity. Thus we can safely say that surveillance tends to have, associated with it, an inherent lack of integrity. Take, for example, the video surveillance recordings from when killed (shot 7 times) the wrong person (mistaken identity) on the london subway. The police seized all the recording media from all of the surveillance cameras in the area, and claimed all the recordings were blank (even though transit officials had already seen the recordings of this shooting):

The opposite of surveillance is sousveillance. "Surveillance" is a French word that means "oversight" == from "sur" which means "over", and "veillance" which means "sight". Thus in English, "surveillance" means "oversight" and "sousveillance" means "undersight". So when you hear someone say "the police need more oversight" or "government needs more oversight", they're really asking for more SURveillance on top of the existing SURveillance. But who watches the watchers? The answer is undersight (sousveillance). The opposite of oversight is undersight.

Sousveillant systems (systems of or pertaining to undersight) make systems visible and comprehensible to end users.

Sousveillance is a general design philosophy that should be built into a wide range of goods and services.

Sousveillant systems are systems that enbody and enbrace this undersight, i.e. that make their inner workings and function and use clearly visible to end users (i.e. those on the bottom of the socio-governance-coroporate hierarchy).

This design philosophy makes business sense in a world where people are losing their trust of government bureaucracy and large corporations.

Examples of sousveillant systems are systems that are auditable or understandable by the general public, and by end users. Our Priveillance effort provides and builds upon a number of research contributions based on sousveillant systems, and we can form an important business enterprise around systems including:
•"alethiometric systems" == systems that function as alethiometers ("truth meters");
•"NotRecord™" == being able to retroactively ask permission to record something in the past (e.g. being able to get permission to record an excerpt from a movie or event or crime that you saw last week);
•Sightfield-compliant imaging: imaging that adheres to standards of public auditability by anyone member of the public (or any official or bylaw enforcer, etc.) with a veillometer (see related inventions Veillance Wand and Veillometer);
•Auditable sensing;
•SMARTWORLD IoT + Wearables.

See also, related invention Alibi Sousveillance.

Example commercial applications:

Wearable camera systems, Personal Safety Devices, Open Source software (i.e. products that are visible and comprehensible to an end user), and various cryptographic protocols to ensure sousveillance and "Privillance by Design" (akin to Cavoukian's "Privacy by Design", but on the relationship between privacy and veillance, not just privacy alone).

We have been working on building the SMARTWORLD IoT + Wearables (Internet of Things + Wearable Computing) alliance == a business aliance and itself a business that certifies Priveillance-compliant devices and our aim is to protect both privacy and also sensory integrity (e.g. the right of individuals to wear a seeing aid or computer vision system, even in spaces like movie theatres where cameras are forbidden). Since establishments like department stores, McDonalds restaurants, movie theatres, and the like, cannot legally exclude a person with a seeing aid, there is a real situation with wearable computing and the whole reason the wearable computing industry has been failing and delayed is issues of priveillance.

How do we protect privacy and intellectual property while obeying the law at the same time? That is the answer provided by Priveillance™!

Priveillance also introduces the idea of suicurity in addition to security. Security is a Latin word that means "without care". "Se" means "without" and "curity" means "care". Thus the closest English translation to "security" is "carelessness". A suitable opposite would be "curity", but more specifically let us consider "suicurity" (see link to suicurity paper below).


The inevitability of the transition from a surveillance-society to a veillance-society: Moral and economic grounding for sousveillance;
Suicurity instead of Security;