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Roger Clarke's 'Sci-Fi and Surveillance'

Surveillance in Speculative Fiction
Appendix 3: Counterveillance and Sousveillance

Version of 11 October 2009

This is an Appendix to the paper entitled 'Surveillance in Speculative Fiction'

Roger Clarke **

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This Appendix identifies and provides outline descriptions of measures that undermine or subvert the kinds of surveillance techniques outlined in the previous two Appendices, together with reverse surveillance techniques.

Bill Christensen's web-site identifies and documents a wide range of instances of surveillance devices depicted in the science fiction literature.

This document provides extracts from the site that relate to countervillance and sousveillance, in chronological order, oldest first. Relatively recent instances have been mostly omitted, unless they appear to add something of significance.

The sub-sections are:

1. Counter-Surveillance

This section focusses on means of defeating surveillance measures.

Spoofing of Traffic-Monitoring Camera

"She fumbled in the storage compartment on the instrument board and fumbled, apparently purposelessly. But the registration number which the traffic control automatically photographed as she left the controlway was not the number in which the car was registered" - Methuselah's Children, Robert Heinlein, Astounding Science-Fiction, 1941

Spy-proof office

'Spy-beams trained upon it received neither a suspicious silence nor an even more suspicious static. They received, rather, a conversation constructed at random out of a vast stock of innocuous phrases in various tone and voices. And undetectably so' - Foundation, Isaac Asimov, Doubleday, 1951

Radiant Shield

A pad of woven metal around the shoulder and chest - The Houses of Iszm, Jack Vance, Better Publications, 1954

Probe Screen Hood

A device that blocks attempts to see into the contents of the brain mind - The Hood Maker ('Immunity'), Philip K. Dick, Imagination, 1955


Small, compact-like object that will detect if a is microphone is close enough to pick up conversation - Cities in Flight, James Blish, Avon, 1957

2. Sousveillance

This section focusses on a particular form of counter-surveillance usefully described as sousveillance (sous = beneath cf. sur = above), or reverse-surveillance.

The Unsleeping Eye

The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (UK title), The Unsleeping Eye (US title), D.G. Compton, 1973. Filmed as La mort en direct / Death Watch (1980)


Steve Mann initiated his wearable camera thread of invention c. 1980 (Mann 1997).

True-Vu Lenses

'Oldsters used electronic sun hats and True-Vu goggles to surveil young people and any other trouble makers. The goggles would record whatever the wearer was watching, and then upload it to a secure location (in case anything happened)' - Earth, David Brin, Bantam, 1990


Term coined c. 1995 for the use of optic technologies to observe those in authority. It is from the French words for 'sous' (below) and 'veiller' (to watch) (Mann et al. 2003, Mann 2009).

Alibi Archive

A recording made of transmissions from a personal implant that perceived everything that happened to that individual - Hominids (Neanderthal Parallax), Robert J. Sawyer, Analog Science Fiction, 2003

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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