understanding the importance and impact of anonymity and authentication in a networked society
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Steve Mann 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Mann
Assistant Professor – University of Toronto

e-mail: mann(at)eecg.toronto.edu

ANON interviews Dr. Steve Mann
April, 2004


ANON: Your research seems to be the inverse of privacy…you broadcast what you see! Can you explain how you came to be interested in this?

STEVE MANN: I started connecting things to my body during my childhood. I approached the computer as a mediating element, as a form of visual art. I found that I was harassed because of this. I experienced peer and institutionalized discrimination. The latter intensified over time. Institutionalized discrimination is more of an issue for the cyborg. Rather than run away from the problem, I decided to try and understand and question it. That is what got me interested in the balance between sousveillance and surveillance.

ANON: What is sousveillance and how is different from surveillance? How are these concepts related to anonymity?

STEVE MANN: Surveillance means watching from above. It is generally perpetrated by a person who is not a party to the activity being surveilled. Sousveillance is watching from below. It is less hierarchical than surveillance. Instead of police officers surveilling citizens, a citizen could sousveil the police. The Rodney King video is an example of sousveillance. Equiveillance is the equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance. This ties into the equilibrium between anonymity and authentication. I started out with a framework where we were looking at a balance in the sense that the balance was traditionally absent, i.e. only the God's Eye view of surveillance.

Sousveillance brings that down to Earth. It allows people in the crowd to record. There is more of a bi-directionality with sousveillance. Surveillance is corrosive to society. The presence of sousveillance reduces the need for surveillance. In a sousveillance society, people all know what everybody's up to.

ANON: Do you consider sousveillance to be a form of civil disobedience?

STEVE MANN: Not at all. Recording a baby's first steps, for example, is not a form of civil disobedience. Sousveillance could accidentally end up being civil disobedience. For example, you're living life and are attacked by a security guard for whatever reason - if you record it, it could be a form of civil disobedience. People have also started to engage in theatrical sousveillance. The Surveillance Camera Players in New York who perform in front cameras may or may not fit the definition of civil disobedience. A glog is also a form of sousveillance that may not be civil disobedience.

ANON: What are the ethical implications of surveilling people through camouflaged cameras such as the eyetap?

STEVE MANN: Sousveillance raises the same kinds of ethical questions as surveillance. These are all things that have to be worked out. I'm just suggesting this is a new intellectual landscape that needs to be explored.

ANON: Has the increasingly intimate interface between human and machine altered the definition of personhood? What about the definition of machinehood?

STEVE MANN: I find it offensive to think of humans and computers as separate. Humanistic intelligences is a system that is inextricably intertwined with a human. The computer is not separate from the person, but part of the person - like clothing perhaps. A computer is an extension of one’s self and I prefer not to probe the boundary between machine and person as though they were separate entities.

ANON: What sort of legal protections should exist for users of wearable computing?

STEVE MANN: Legal protection is not accessible to the average person - it is expensive and takes 3-4 years. Given this state of affairs, maybe we should be looking at the relevance of legal protections. In terms of wearable computers, if someone does not want me to record my experience - they should assume responsibility for what they want to do. So if an officer shuts down someone's glog, then the officer has to assume responsibility for inhibiting a form of evidence gathering.


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