Security workshop bring ‘sousveillance’ under the lens

Wearable cameras and portable technologies might seem like creations reserved for the likes of James Bond or Jason Bourne. Such devices, however, were the focus of the recent Sixth Workshop on the Social Implications of National Security, which examined the use of camera technologies by and against law enforcement.

The event, convened by Associate Professor Katina Michael and held at the University of Sydney, was entitled ‘Sousveillance and Point of View Technologies in Law Enforcement’.

Over 50 delegates attended including former Privacy Commissioners of Australia, prosecutors and barristers of the high court, members of the Queensland and Victorian police, private investigators, spy equipment vendors, National Information and Communications Technologies Australia (NICTA) representatives, educational technologists, the Commissioner for Law Enforcement Data Security, members of the Australian Privacy Foundation and academics from across the country.

When asked about the term ‘sousveillance’, Professor Katina Michael said it was coined and developed by Steve Mann, Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

“It refers to the inverse panopticon. Rather than watching from above like Big Brother, it is watching from below, usually through small wearable or portable technologies. The recent riots, however, have demonstrated the path towards crowd-sourced sousveillance,”she said.

“The workshop investigated the use of sousveillance by law enforcement for evidence-based gathering as well as its use against law enforcement by everyday citizens. The ways in which we have witnessed the proliferation of overt and covert surveillance technologies has set the stage for the re-evaluation of existing laws and practices.”

Professor Michael said the recent riots in London and Vancouver where thousands of citizens submitted footage of the events was a good example of why regulatory measures were needed.

“The need for regulation was put forward by Professor Roger Clarke as a solution to the growing problem of ‘who has the right to photograph or record who’ and ‘what is done with that data once taken’ as each state has its own legislation regarding surveillance and/or listening devices”.

The workshop series was proposed by Professor Michael at a 2005 sponsored event of the Research Network for a Secure Australia (RNSA). It has looked at a variety of themes in the past, including: information security measures, überveillance, evidence-based policy, covert policing, location-based services, and now point-of-view technologies.

A highlight of this year’s event was the attendance of well-known Canadian sociologists Professors Kevin Haggerty and David Lyon, who gave a keynote address and invited paper. Professor Haggerty spoke on the ‘Monitoring of Police by Police’ and Professor Lyon on the concept of the ‘Omniscient Gaze’.

The workshop also featured presentations by UOW PhD candidate Alexander Hayes and area experts Mark Lyell, Richard Kay, Professor Nick O’Brien, Associate Professor Darren Palmer, and Dr Saskia Hufnagel.

Topics included ‘The Rise of Body Worn Video’, ‘The Impact of Social Media on Covert Policing’, ‘Surveillance, Policing and the Control of Territory’, ‘Observing Crowd-sourced Surveillance Through the Eyes of the German Basic Law’ and the ‘Pros and Cons of POV Technology in Law Enforcement’.

Outcomes from the workshop will be published in a special issue of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine at the end of 2012, which will be co-edited by Professors Michael and Andrew Goldsmith.

The event was sponsored by the RNSA (in its last months of operation), the Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention (CTCP), and the Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research (IIBSOR).

By:Jenna Bradwell.


  • The recent Sixth Annual Workshop on the Social Implications of National Security examined the use of camera technologies by and against law enforcement.

  • Keynote speaker Professor Kevin Haggerty, invited speaker Professor David Lyon and plenary speaker Mark Lyell at the event.

  • Associate Professor David Palmer, Professor David Lyon and Professor Katina Michael at the workshop.