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Jean-Gabriel Ganascia “The Generalized Sousveillance Society”

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Ganascia, Jean-Gabriel 2010. The Generalized Sousveillance Society. Social Science Information 49(3): 1-19

Nowadays, many of our contemporaries, especially children and teenagers, are less concerned about privacy and more  about  authenticity  (Manach,  2009).  More  than  anything,  they  fear anonymity and want to be distinguished from others. (4)

If we were in a surveillance society, this type of attitude would have been unconscious and poten-tially dangerous because authorities would have been able to scan all those records and to take advantage of that information to justify their repression of individuals. However, in our contemporary world, those tendencies have a different interpretation, since they are viewed as freedom. (4-5)

In  the  case  of  sousveillance,  the watchers  are  socially  below  those  who  are  watched,  while  in  the  case  of surveillance it is the opposite, they are above. Note  that  the  original  notion  of  sousveillance  promoted  by  Steve  Mann signifies that every watcher would voluntarily give free access to all infor-mation  recorded. (5)

Here, the concept of sousveillance has been generalized to include individuals sharing personal data and anonymous records generated by automatic devices, i.e. security camera systems, video surveillance, CCTV, etc. Accordingly, sousveillance is dependent not only on arbitrary individual wills, but also on the rules by which the automatic recording devices publicly deliver the information they capture. (5-6)

Since those new  techniques  enable  everybody  to  be  a  potential  source  of  information, they appear to promote individual autonomy. (7)

As a consequence, the extension of the sphere of exchanges is now twofold: it has  been  extended  geographically  to  the  entire  planet  and,  from  an  onto-logical point of view, from the world of human beings – and more generally, the world of living entities – to the world of ‘inforgs’.

Surveillance  societies  were  centralized,  based  on  a  hierarchical  social structure, and localized in a physical building. By contrast, the generalized sousveillance  society  is  equally  distributed,  strictly  egalitarian  and  delo-calized  over  the  entire  planet.  In  order  to  examine  in  further  depth  the structure of this generalized sousveillance society, the following sections discuss an architecture that, in contrast to the architecture of the Panopticon, which was designed for surveillance, is made for sousveillance: this is the ‘Catopticon’. (8)

3 principles of catopticon:

– total transparency of society,

–  fundamental equality, which gives everybody the ability to watch – and consequently to control – everybody,

–  total communication, which enables everyone to exchange with everyone else. (9)

Note that the equality apparent in the archi-tecture of the Catopticon, where the central tower is unoccupied, does not mean that power is equally distributed. New groups are imposing their power in the social space occupied by the Catopticon. However, the legitimization of those new powers is very different from those in the Panopticon. In particular, the authority of knowledge is disappearing. (10)

For  instance,  in  the mid-1980s,  one  of  the  first  works  in  computer  ethics,  by  Roger  Mason (Mason, 1986), summed up the computer ethics topics with the PAPA acronym, which stands for Privacy, Accuracy, Property, Access. All four topics can easily  be  understood  with  respect  to  the  characteristic  structure  of  the Panopticon, misuse of which has to be prevented. (11)

In  the  case  of  the  extended  Catopticon,  privacy  is  not  the  first  concern, since the challenge is not to hide, but to emerge from anonymity and to be distinguished  from  among  the  vast  number  of  individuals. (12)

The notion of accuracy refers to those who authenticate information. In the  case  of  the  Panopticon,  the  ethical  challenge  was  to  find  independent accreditation institutions – or persons – who are not involved in the govern-ment.  In  the  case  of  the  Catopticon,  the  question  is  not  exactly  who  –  or which institution – is able to validate information, since everybody is inde-pendent. It is about trust, i.e. about what makes people trust – or distrust – a person or an institution (Taddeo, 2009). (12)

Therefore, while in the Panopticon property referred to the value of information, in the Catopticon, it corresponds to new economic rules, which rely on attention, i.e. on the strategies that help people to retain the attention of their contemporaries and not on strategies that help to sell goods. This raises many ethical questions that we shall not develop here. (12)

The last PAPA topic is access, i.e. the amount and the nature of the infor-mation  to  which  anyone  can  have  access.  In  the  case  of  the  Catopticon, everybody potentially has access to all information. Some questions concern accessibility, i.e. the material possibility to access the Infosphere. (12)

From this standpoint, the social space is no longer a cen-tralized structure orchestrated by a group of authorized persons, i.e. politi-cians enlightened by academics, which is the image of the Panopticon, but is  a  completely  decentralized  environment  where  multiple  social  groups oppose  each  other  and  where  each  one  goes  it  alone.  In  other  words,  thesocial space appears to be organized as a typical Catopticon structure. (17)

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