If you have any comments or if you want to provide any additional information about sousveillance, please email to mailto:Jean-Gabriel@ganascia.name

The Great Catopticon

The Catopticon1, 2 is inspired by the Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. It's design has been greatly influenced by Surveiller et punir from Michel Foucault. However, while the Bentham's Panopticon was a surveillance achitecture, the Catopticon summarizes the organization of a sousveillance3 society.


From surveillance to sousveillance


* Sur-veillance: the watcher is above those who are watched, e.g. Penitentiary-Houses, Prisons, Manufactories, Mad-Houses, Lazarettos, Hospitals, Schools etc.


* Sous-veillance: the watchers are socially below those who are watched, e.g. using their mobile phone people who are attending a demonstration in the street where policemen are beating youths can immediately take pictures of the scene and diffuse them through the web.


* Equi-veillance: equilibrium between sousveillance and surveillance that is produced by modern IT

Architecture of Surveillance

The Panopticon, i.e. the Architecture of Surveillance is built as a ring around a central tower, where observers can see all prisoners’ actions. The cells are transparent: they receive and transmit the sunlight in such a way that the inspector may observe every movement of a prisoner without being viewed. In addition, prisoners are totally isolated from each others.


To summarize, the three main Panopticon principles are:

  1. the total transparency of cells,

  2. the fundamental dissymmetry, which makes the observer watch all the prisoners, without being watched, and

  3. the isolation of the prisoners who can’t communicate each others.

Architecture of Sousveillance

By analogy and by contrast to the three surveillance principles on which Panopticon is based, there are three fundamental principles of sousveillance that are:

  1. the total transparency of society,

  2. the fundamental symmetry, which gives everybody the ability to watch – and consequently to control – everybody, and

  3. the total communication, which makes everyone able to exchange to everyone.


In practice, it means that there is no hierarchy in the Catopticon, i.e. in the architecture of sousveillance, since nobody inhabits the central tower, and that everyone may communicate to everyone in a total transparency. This structure differs radically from the Panopticon schema. The design of an edifice that renders possible such a total communication among its inhabitants is here derived from Panopticon schema. This architecture of sousveillance, which obeys to the three above mentioned principles, replaces the Panopticon watchtower by an empty mirror-tower that renders everyone able to communicate with everyone. It is based on the notion of "reflectionism"; a word invented by Steve Mann to describe the procedures using technology as mirrors against bureaucratic organizations. Since this architecture is a derivation of Panopticon based on mirrors, we decided to call it Catopticon (from the catoptrics, the study of light reflection and mirrors).

Extension of the Catopticon

The Catopticon architecture that is derived from the Panopticon architecture supposes, implicitly, that it is also restricted to a building. As a consequence, its size is also limited. With the information and communication technologies, the structure of both Panopticon and the Catopticon may be expanded in huge proportions. Nowadays, neither Catopticon nor Panopticons are restricted to a local area.

Geographical Extension


Modern information technologies, e.g. webcams or wearable computing, render now possible the extension of Catopticon to the global human society throughout the entire planet. More precisely, new devices, for instance the Jennifer Ringley’s ''JenniCam'' or the Steve Mann’s ''EyeTap'', are designed to record continuously personal information and to retrieve it anytime, anywhere, throughout the globe. As a consequence, it is possible for anyone to get information about anyone, which corresponds exactly to the principle of sousveillance on which is based Catopticon.

Let us remark that, simultaneously to this extension of Catopticon to the global society throughout the entire planet, Panopticons themselves may be considerably extended. Nevertheless, we can also prove that, by nature, Panopticons cannot be extended to the entire society, since they have been designed to correct and to reform people and it is – at least in principle – transitory.

Extension to the Virtual World

In parallel to its physical extension to the entire planet, Catopticon has also been enlarged to the infosphere: not only human, but other informational organisms – the so-called inforgs4 – belong to Catopticon. More generally, a modern Catopticon is part of a virtual world built on the infosphere. Equipped with artificial intelligence techniques, inforgs may freely communicate among each others; some of them are humans while others may be artificial intelligent agents, virtual robots or chatterbots. All human beings, artificial intelligent agents and other inforgs, belong to Catopticon. Nevertheless, even if Catopticon can be extended to the infosphere, it is not sure that it contains all the infosphere. This point needs a further discussion.


Note that Panopticons may also be extended to the overall infosphere with the use of new information technologies. But, the meaning of both extensions, the extension of Panopticon and the extension of Catopticon, differ. Since the inhabitants of the Panopticon periphery, i.e. the cells, cannot communicate to each others, no matter the presence of artificial agents there. In contrast, artificial agents that would have been admitted in the watchtower could act as efficient controllers. These agents could continuously check that the activities of the inhabitants of the periphery are conforming to the rules. Consequently, it would considerably decrease the amount of work of the official warder. In the future, one could even imagine that for the sake of equality nobody would allow anyone, except artificial agents, to act as controllers.

Sousveillance Devices

The JenniCam


Jennifer Ringley had installed webcams in her student bedroom and then, during seven years, from April 1996 until the end of 2003, she has continuously diffused views of her intimacy on the web. She quickly became very popular. There were more than five millions visits per day on her website, which has been seen as a social phenomenon.She5 herself has been considered not only as a young exhibitionist but also as a conceptual artist who could anticipate the future state of a society. She developed a special webcam, the so-called “JenniCAM”, giving her the opportunity to continuously broadcast videos on a personal weblog.

The EyeTap

Steve Mann designed a new device called the “EyeTap”6 worn in front of an eye and acting both as a camera, which captures the continuous visual flows, and as a screen that displays computer-generated imagery, the latter coming from other “EyeTaps” or from any visual recorder.


The Internet Eyes


Internet Eyes is an online video notification system in which all voluntary citizens can participate. Everybody can watch pictures from the cameras from everywhere and notify any “anti-social behaviors”, shoplifting, burglary, vandalism etc. that he is perceiving. The viewers' activities are converted in points according to their usefulness, i.e. depending on their contribution to prevent crimes or to arrest criminals. At the end of the month, the highest scoring viewers received reward money. In the logic of surveillance that was introduced by Jeremy Bentham some supervisors controled the whole society. Here is a totally different logic where everybody is watching everybody. It is a typical sousveillance organization.




With the Android operating system, Google offers to everybody many free of charge services that are clearly the expression of a generalized sousveillance. For instance, it becomes now possible for everybody to access to his/her email, diary or contacts everywhere, from everywhere, from every machine they have (i.e. home computer, mobile phone, etc.). And, it is proposed to continuously exchange emails, agenda and contacts with all your friends. Moreover, with Google maps, it is also possible to have a free GPS system that allow you to get you position, to plan your itinerary and to exchange information about your location with your friends.

A Few Contemporaneous Examples of Sousveillance

Munbai Attacks

Everybody remembers when, the end of 2008, during the Mumbai attacks, terrorists used Twitter, Flicker and other social web technologies, by amplifying the scope of their action through the international medias, and, in a more active manner, by exchanging and obtaining strategic information about the current situation.

Among the many papers published on this topic, the interested reader may refer to the Telegraph (see The Telegraph)



In Iran, June 20, 2009, Neda, a young 26 year old woman was killed by a bullet in the chest launched by the paramilitary Basij militia during a demonstration to protest the results of the presidential election. In the totalitarian regimes of the past, this news would have been quickly suppressed and nobody would have known nothing. Today, even the black crows of the theocratic Muslim power cannot hide it: with Twitter, the event was relayed instantly all around the world and all, whether in Paris, New York, London, in Canberra, in Bamako or Tokyo could live almost directly. The name Neda, which means "call" in Persian, became the symbol of democratic protest in Iran.

Paris Subway

In Paris subway, travelers of the line 13, very often delayed, have decided to exchange information with their mobile phones using the Twitter messaging facilities (cf. http://twitter.com/ligne13).


Two Policeman Arrested

Two policemen arrested in flagrante delicto of stealing in a phone shop the Friday 4th of December 2009 in Paris (Xe arrondissement), were indicted for aggravated robbery in a meeting on the basis of video surveillance images.

The images of a video camera, revealed by Europe1.fr show the two men entering a phone shop in the Louis Blanc street exhibiting an armband police and their professional card.
They appeared in the shop the head covered with a cap. Then, pretending to carry out an identity check, they went behind the counter and they stole phone cards before leaving the store.7




Portmanteau of the two words sex and texting, sexting8 designates the electronic exchange of videos or photos, primarily via phones. According to different sources, for instance to a survey published in Cosmogirl, many contemporaneous teenagers and young adults have electronically sent pictures of themselves nude or semi-nude. Those picture can then be reused for blackmail or vengeance, causing serious psychological traumas. Moreover, some people who exchanged photos of their friends were accused of pedophilia, since those materials are considered as children pornography. As a conclusion, the sexting clearly indicates de limits of sousveillance that cannot easily be generalized to all aspects of sexual activity.


A new website, ChatRoulette offers to everybody the possibility of being instantly connected through a webcams and a microphone with a random chat partner, with the ability to skip to someone new with the click of a button. This website has been designed by a young teenager under the age of 179. Tens of thousands of people are already supporters of this new form of exhibitionism throughout the world. Interested people may read an excellent paper of the New York Magazine entitled The Human Shuffle - Is ChatRoulette the future of the Internet or its distant past? (read more)



Anne suffers of a major cerebral deficiency. She cannot speak; she don't walk and she is unable to feed by herself. Her father want to give her a chance to exist in the present world. He decided to introduce a webcam in her room and to build a web site10 casting flows of images of his daughter. This is a characteristic and emblematic example of the generalized sousveillance, which makes possible for everybody to see picture of various disabilities. Her father argues that it will make people more sensitive to the existence of people suffering handicaps. Does the spectacle of the everyday life of handicapped people, with their difficulties to eat properly, to speak and to walk, really makes us understand the intimate life of those people?11 For more detailed discussion of this point, see the excellent interview of Jean-Louis Fournier (cf. leParisien.fr).

Facebook provides alibi for a robbery suspect

A 19 years old man, Rodney Bradford, has been arrested and held for 12 days for an armed robbery on October the 17th of two people in the Brooklyn housing project where he lives. He has then been exonerated thanks to a status update he posted on social networking site Facebook. The message on Rodney Bradford's Facebook page, posted at 11:49 a.m. on Oct. 17, asked where his pancakes were. The words were typed from a computer in his father's apartment in Harlem. For more detail, see, for instance, sky news or Libération (in french).

The Thierry Henry's Hand Ball


Thierry Henry, one of the world best soccer players, has been accused on the faith of video records12 to have cheated with a hand ball during a match of the world cup final that opposed France to Ireland the 18th of november 2009. A few minutes before the end of the match, Thierry Henry gave the ball to William Gallas who marked the final point, which has qualified France while excluding Ireland to the world cup 2009. The referee has fully accepted the point, but the video replay from the game shows that Henry has used his hand to stop the ball going out of play in extra time before he passed to William Gallas. The diffusion of the pictures of the match has convinced everybody that Thierry Henry was a cheater, even if its handball was not fully intentional. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI), many newspapers13 and numbers of people all over the world have requested a replay of the controversial game, against the referee decision and the governing body of world football, FIFA. From this point of view, it's a typical case of sousveillance where the official decision has been discussed, because of the world wide diffusion of information.

Political Life

During the past few months, there have been some public affairs in the world that are directly related to the generalized sousveillance. Here are a few examples of them.

Alain Duhamel


In November 2006, a few months before the March 2007 French presidential election, M. Alain Duhamel, a politic commentator, was invited to participate to an academic debate in the Paris school of political sciences. During his intervention, he criticized the campaign of one presidential candidate, M. François Bayrou14 But, to weaken his critics against the politician, he said incidentally that he would vote for him. It happened that someone made a non-authorized video record of M. Duhamel’s intervention (see the video) and diffused it on the web some months later, in February 2007. Having being accused to publicly support M. François Bayrou, Alain Duhamel was condemned to stop his activities of political commentator in the media during the presidential election campaign. This example shows how the so-called sousveillance leads to the confusion between an academic freedom of speech and an official declaration in the public sphere. This could have tragic consequences for us, as academics, if our debates and discussions would be permanently diffused to everybody in the world.

Brice Hortefeux

Brice Hortefeux is a French politician. He is the present Minister of Interior in France. During the 2009 UMP Summer school, at Seignosse in Landes, posing for a photo with a young UMP activist of North African origin, he said: "It does not correspond at all to the prototype. We always need to have one. When there is one, okay. It is when there are many that there are problems." The scene was filmed by a team of Public Senate that decided not to diffuse it. However, the video of this exchange has been operated by Le Monde newspaper (see ''Le Monde'' paper)15) and it raised controversy. The young North African UMP activist who is on the photo said that this video betrays the Minister of Interior in particular, that "It was completely out of context. My county clerk joked with the minister because he speaks Auvergne and that's where we were."16 The left party calls for the minister's resignation.


Rachida Dati


Rachida Dati, is a well-known french politician who has been Keeper of Seals and Minister of Justice (2007-2009) in France before having being elected at the European Parliament in June 2009. It seems that this election has been perceived by the former Minister as some kind of exile, because she had to resign from her Minister position and leave the french politician microcosm in Paris. After having being filmed by the M6 TV channel, she forgot her microphone when she called a friend, so the conversation was recorded unwittingly. The resulting recording contains some funny commentaries where Rachida Dati said how tedious was to live in Strasbourg and to attend sessions in the European parliament. Those records17 have been broadcast throughout the web and downloaded by many people. Undoubtedly, this is a typical case of sousveillance.

Gordon Brown's Open Mic

Grandmother Gillian Duffy, 66, met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a campaign stop in the northern town of Rochdale and questioned him about the influx of eastern European immigrants who have come to Britain. Many people in Great Britain are angry that immigrants are taking jobs at a time when Britain's unemployment level is soaring. More than 1 million eastern Europeans have moved to Britain since the EU gained new members such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania in 2004, but many have since left during the bruising recession. Brown brushed the question aside and explained that Britons were also working in eastern Europe, leaving in his car in a hurry and forgetting to turn off his microphone. "That was a disaster, they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous," Brown is heard saying. Asked what Duffy had said to upset him, Brown told the aide: "Everything. She's just a sort of bigoted woman."

Brown's gaffe was immediately broadcast and he was then grilled about it on a televised radio show. Slumped over with his head in his hand, Brown said he realized he had made a mistake and regretted the remarks. "He's an educated person, why has he come out with words like that?" Duffy said. "He's calling an ordinary woman who's just come up and asked questions ... a bigot."18 Duffy said Brown had initially appeared receptive as they discussed policy. "I thought he was understanding but he wasn't, was he?" said Duffy, who said she had planned to vote Labour but would now most likely abstain. Brown later telephoned Duffy to apologize, then unexpectedly showed up at her home. Smiling broadly but awkwardly, Brown emerged 40 minutes later and said Duffy had accepted his apology. Duffy stayed in her house and refused to face the cameras. "She has accepted that there was a misunderstanding and she has accepted my apology," Brown told reporters. "If you like, I am a penitent sinner."19.


According to most of the observers, the political consequences of Brown's blunder could be severe for his next election!

The "Mata Hari" of the Digital Age


Ekaterina Gerasimova has a toned body and beautiful blue eyes. She is a charming girl. She pretends to works as a model and it maybe be true; but she is also a spy in the pay of the Russian government. She is looking for well-known opponents to the Kremlin. Viktor Shenderovich, a journalist and the script writer for a satirical Russian newspaper was one of those. Alexander Potkin and Eduard Limonov, nationalist politicians, and Mikhail Fishman, editor of Newsweek's Russian edition were also among them. She invited all those famous Russian opponents at her home where webcams recorded unbeknownst to them. Then the video records were broadcasted on the web. The guests were shown in ridiculous situations, for example, completely naked with a hat or sniffing cocaine. Ekaterina has seduced half a dozen prominent critics of the Russian government, inflicting huge damage to their reputations when she later releases video footage of their cocaine-fueled trysts.


Gov 2.0

Since he has been elected, President Obama has promoted the 'Government 2.0' (Gov 2.0) or the Open Government by making all the public data transparent and easily accessible to everybody. Through the Gov 2.0, President Obama has wanted to reconnect “we, the people of the United State” and the government. For instance, since February 2009, all the informations about the way public founds are used, about the frauds and the abuses and about public policy are given in the recovery.gov web site that is intended to “Track the Money” and to show, on maps, “where the Money is Going”. In a similar spirit the website data.gov provide access to all the data bases that are used by public services. For instance, data about toxics release inventory or clinical trials of drugs are now accessible to all citizens who can exploit them by themselves or with machines. The promoted Gov 2.0 is a typical case or sousveillance, that has been generalized to the administration of the overall state of the biggest and more influential nation in the world.




In France, for a few months now, a public website, NosDeputes.fr, makes the informations about all the parliamentary representative available to everybody20. For instance, there are graphics on which it is possible to easily visualize the activity of each one of the member of the parliament, i.e. the number of sessions he attended, the number of oral or written questions he asked, the number of long or breve interventions he made etc. Each day, the activity of a randomly chosen member of the parliament is shown. It is also possible to visualize, on demand, the activity of any other member of the parliament. More generally, he website renders accessible all the raw data with all the interventions (more than 300 000) and questions (more than 50 000) of deputies. It is also possible to access to all the contributions of all parliamentary to a debate concerning a particular public issues, for instance about the intellectual property on the Internet. Last but not the least, everybody can add commentary to the individual description of each deputy.

  1. Ganascia J.-G., "The Great Catopticon", in Proceedings of the 8th International Conference of Computer Ethics Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE), 26-28 June 2009, Corfu, Greece (2009) (pdf file) (1)

  2. For more detail, the people who read french can consult ''Voir et pouvoir: qui nous surveille?'', Editions Le Pommier, 2009 (2)

  3. The notion of sousveillance has been introduced by Steve Mann. For more detail, see Mann, S., Nolan, J., Wellman, B. (2003), Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments, Surveillance & Society 1(3): 331-355, http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/ojs/index.php/journal - http://wearcam.org/sousveillance.pdf (3)

  4. Charles Ess (ed.), « Luciano Floridi’s philosophy of information and information ethics : critical reflections and the state of the art », special issue of Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 10, n° 2-3, septembre 2008. (4)

  5. The interested reader may refer to the Wikipedia article about Jennifer Ringley - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Ringley (5)

  6. Interested readers may read the “EyeTap” home page (http://wearables.blu.org/) or the wikipedia article dedicated to the “EyeTap” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EyeTap) (6)

  7. For more details, let have a look to the Libération paper (click here) or to the Europe1 web page (click here) that are written in French, or to the video (click here) (7)

  8. see a video on YouTube about sexting, which explains that sexting is not a word -- click here (8)

  9. Those who want to know more about the ChatRoulette's creator may read the folowing paper of the New York Magazine: click here (9)

  10. It is possible to consult it at the following URL: http://www.doudouworld.com/ (10)

  11. For more details, the reader can consult newspapers articles about Anne, for instance leParisian.fr paper (11)

  12. See also the French version of the Thierry Henry's Hand Ball here (12)

  13. See for instance the paper of the Guardian accusing Thierry Henry to be a cheater (13)

  14. François Bayrou was one of the candidates to the French presidential election in 2007. He got 18,57% of the votes in the first round, and was positioned just after Nicolas Sarkozy (31,18%) and Ségolène Royal (25,87%) (14)

  15. The video is freely accessible through YouTube click here (15)

  16. Here is an interview of the young North African (16)

  17. The Rachida Dati records are available here (17)

  18. Here is the record of Gorgon Brown Gaffe video short version, video full version (18)

  19. Gordon Brown's Apologize video (19)

  20. For more details, see the excellent paper written by Olivier Blondeau and Laurence Allard and entitled "nosdeputes.fr : « Mr Hacker goes to the Parliament… »". The interested reader can contact the Fondation pour l'Innovation Politique to get a copy of the paper (20)

Catopticon (last edited 2010-10-17 20:10:14 by GustaveGanascia)