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Roger Clarke's 'Auto-Surveillance'


Notes of 24 December 2020, Postscript of 23 September 2022

Roger Clarke **

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My Use of the Term, since 2007

My earliest use of the term appears to be this passage (Clarke 2007): "A development in recent years has been the emergent phenomenon of what might be called auto-physical surveillance. This is enabled by means of devices that are attached to the person (whether loosely but reliably, as with a mobile phone, or tightly as with an anklet, or even embedded). Rather than the modern connotation of 'automated', the prefix 'auto-' is intended here to convey its original meaning of 'self-' ... The Categorisation of Surveillance: 3) By Whom? The surveillance may be conducted by the individual who is the subject of the surveillance ...".

The context was a review of the Michaels' 'überveillance' notion, which "was first published in lecture notes (Michael M.G. 2006). ... A useful working definition that they offer is "an above and beyond omnipresent 24/7 surveillance where the explicit concerns for misinformation, misinterpretation, and information manipulation, are ever more multiplied and where potentially the technology is embedded into our body" (Michael & Michael 2006, p. 361) ...".

The 'auto-surveillance' notion also appeared in an unpublished wotk, 'A Framework for Surveillance Analysis' (Clarke 2009a). It appears in some slide-sets that were derived from that text, e.g. Slide 7 from a Keynote on 'Surveillance in Speculative Fiction' (Clarke 2009b).

I again mentioned auto-surveillance in a retrospective interview on dataveillance (Michael M.G. 2013):

"Here are some of the important aspects that have emerged during the last 25 years:

The concept broadened from physical surveillance of the human body to also encompass auto-dataveillance, the generation of data about oneself by a device closely associated with you, whether carried near, on or in one's body.

Some instances of 'self-reporting' occur in another article (Michael & Clarke 2013), but we missed the opportunity to bring the 'auto-surveillance' term into play. I also make a brief mention of it in an article on the digital surveillance economy (Clarke 2019).


I've coined a few neologisms, of which 'dataveillance' was pretty successful, and 'dissidentity' and 'entifier' less so. However, I emphatically did not coin 'auto-surveillance', nor was I the first to use it to refer to the ideas described above.

The term 'surveillance' was imported into English from French about 1800, in the context of Jeremy Bentham's 'panopticon' design. The term has remained in use in French, in a variety of contexts. The term 'auto-surveillance' is applied to what in English would be described as 'self-monitoring of biometrics', e.g. by diabetics. The concept is the same, but the impact on behaviour in that case is limited to management by the individual of that person's own body chemistry, whereas the social science use extends to impacts on, and particularly suppression of, many aspects of economic, social and political behaviour.

The term 'auto-surveillance' has seen use in the USA for the monitoring of automobiles. The earliest use I've found in English in the sense in which I use it is in an Encyclopaedia entry by Gary Marx (Marx 2005), and again in an article shortly afterwards: "Some features of the maximum security society are: ... 7) a self-monitored society, in which auto-surveillance under the constant uncertainty of discovery plays a prominent role, ..." (Marx 2006).

A reasonable surmise is that Gary Marx carried the term across to English, given his publication of a relevant article in French (Marx 1988), which contains the term.

It has since been used by many commentators on the prison metaphor, e.g. "The digitalised subject is a panopticon in itself. Through self-quantification and the quantification of the self, the individual is subject to perpetual auto-surveillance" (Michno 2019).


In 3Q22, I became aware of an endeavour in De Moya & Pallud (2020) to popularise an essentially equivalent term to auto-surveillance, 'heautopticon', meaning '(comprehensive) (micro-)surveillance of oneself'.

The context was a Foucauldian analysis of texts discussing the 'self-quantification' phenomenon - that is to say the gifting by individuals of measurements of their own bodily behaviour to third parties through the use of devices and associated service such as Fitbit. At that stage, it had achieved 38 mentions in Google Scholar's catchment, compared with 4,180 for 'auto-surveillance'.

I haven't been able to quickly establish whether Foucault himself used either of the terms, although investigation of the concept is frequently ascribed to him. (The word 'autosurveillance' appears in French dictionaries, but not 'heautopticon').

De Moya J.-F. & Pallud J. (2020) 'From panopticon to heautopticon: A new form of surveillance introduced by quantified-self practices' Infor Syst J 30 (2020) 940-976

Reference List

Clarke R. (2007) 'What '+berveillance' Is, and What To Do About It' Proc. 2nd RNSA Workshop on the Social Implications of National Security - From Dataveillance to +berveillance, 29 October 2007, University of Wollongong. Revised version published as 'What is +berveillance? (And What Should Be Done About It?)' IEEE Technology and Society 29, 2 (Summer 2010) 17-25 , PrePrint at

Clarke R. (2009a) 'A Framework for Surveillance Analysis' Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, August 2009, at

Clarke R. (2009b) 'Surveillance in Speculative Fiction: Have Our Artists Been Sufficiently Imaginative?' Proc. Access & Privacy Workshop, Toronto, 27 October 2009, PrePrint at

Clarke R. (2019) 'Risks Inherent in the Digital Surveillance Economy: A Research Agenda' Journal of Information Technology 34,1 (Mar 2019) 59-80, PrePrint at

Marx G.T. (1988) ' La société de sécurité maximale' Déviance et société 12-2 (1988) 147-166, at

Marx G.T. (2005) 'Surveillance and Society' Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 2005, PrePrint at

Marx G.T. (2006) 'Soft Surveillance: A Growth of Mandatory Volunteerism in Collecting Personal Information -- "Hey Buddy Can You Spare a DNA?"' Fast Capitalism 2, 1 (2006), at

Michael K. & Clarke R. (2013) 'Location and Tracking of Mobile Devices: +berveillance Stalks the Streets' Computer Law & Security Review 29, 3 (June 2013) 216-228, PrePrint at

Michael M.G. (2006) 'Consequences of innovation' lecture notes no. 13 for IACT405/905 - Information Technology and Innovation, School of Information Technology and Computer Science, University of Wollongong, Australia, 2006, unpublished

Michael M.G. (2013) 'From Dataveillance to Ueberveillance' Interview in Michael K. & Michael M.G. (eds.) 'Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants: Emerging Technologies', IGI Global, 2014, pp. 18-31, PrePrint at

Michael M.G. & Michael K. (2006) 'National security: The social implications of the politics of transparency' Prometheus 24, 4 (December 2006) 359-363

Michno M.H. (2019) 'Panopticon Forever: A short review of technology and power' The Gaudie, 14 Oct 2019, at


During conversations with Jasmine Guffond in December 2020, in relation to an interview about the Dataveillance concept, I referred to 'auto-surveillance'. Jasmine asked me for more detail about the idea, and I was surprised to discover that neither I nor anyone else had put a straightforward explanation in a readily-locatable place. So I went back and re-constructed my own utterings, undertook a little exercise in etymo-archaeology, and discovered what appear to be the term's origins.

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor associated with the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation in UNSW Law., and a Visiting Professor in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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