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The Participatory Panopticon and Human Rights: WITNESS' Experience Supporting Video Advocacy
Unformatted Document Text:  brand name in Asia, surpassing even Coke 19 . The latest statistics indicate that there is now one cellphone account for every two people on earth 20 . If we think back to March 3, 1991, multiple elements came together serendipitously to create what we now know as the ‘Rodney King’ incident. On the one hand, there were the elements required for George Holliday to film the material: the technological capacity to create images, and the lucky presence of someone willing and able to film that moment with the camera nearby. On the other hand, distribution was facilitated by a media-friendly and salient issue and by graphically violent material that could easily capture the essence of the violation in a minute of footage that was of interest to the primary distribution venues at the time, i.e. network and cable television. Bringing us forward to the present, we are in a moment where in many industrialized countries and in much of the Global South a growing number of individual citizens now possess the technological capacity to film in the form of a cell-phone and carry it with them at all times. Many other activists worldwide -- even in less cell-phone friendly environments -- could be empowered with a camera such as a Flip Pure Digital camera that records reasonably high-quality video images for less than $100 21 . As a consequence, technological capacity and the “ready witness” are now commonplace. Cultural expectations are also changing towards a model in which it is taken for granted that anyone can create a piece of media, and via online video sharing and social networking sites and the ‘i-witness’ appeals of media entities to send in footage, there are apparent ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ distribution venues for much of this material. that did not exist before. The presence of a camera in every concerned citizen’s hand poses profound questions and creates powerful opportunities for the future of human rights video and human rights advocacy: issues of agency, action and audience become even more pertinent. WITNESS’ founder Peter Gabriel, has repeatedly talked of his vision of Big Brother in reverse, where rather than Big Brother watching, there are a million Little Sisters and Little Brothers with the capacity to have their voice heard, not let a human rights abuse go undocumented and to hold their oppressors accountable. For human rights activists this is a powerful vision of how life could be different. 22 A variety of terms - including sousveillance, equiveillance, ubiquitous sensing and the participatory panopticon 23 - have been proposed 24 for this emerging phenomenon of the reversal of surveillance in societies facilitated by technological innovation in terms of DRAFT NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION The Participatory Panopticon and Human Rights: WITNESS' Experience Supporting Video Advocacy 11

Authors: Gregory, Sam.
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brand name in Asia, surpassing even Coke
. The latest statistics indicate that there is now one 
cellphone account for every two people on earth
. If we think back to March 3, 1991, multiple 
elements came together serendipitously to create what we now know as the ‘Rodney King’ 
incident. On the one hand, there were the elements required for George Holliday to film the 
material: the technological capacity to create images, and the lucky presence of someone willing 
and able to film that moment with the camera nearby. On the other hand, distribution was 
facilitated by a media-friendly and salient issue and by graphically violent material that could 
easily capture the essence of the violation in a minute of footage that was of interest to the 
primary distribution venues at the time, i.e. network and cable television.  Bringing us forward to 
the present, we are in a moment where in many industrialized countries and in much of the 
Global South a growing number of individual citizens now possess the technological capacity to 
film in the form of a cell-phone and carry it with them at all times. Many other activists 
worldwide -- even in less cell-phone friendly environments -- could be empowered with a 
camera such as a Flip Pure Digital camera that records reasonably high-quality video images for 
less than $100
.   As a consequence, technological capacity and the “ready witness” are now 
commonplace. Cultural expectations are also changing towards a model in which it is taken for 
granted that anyone can create a piece of media, and via online video sharing and social 
networking sites and the ‘i-witness’ appeals of media entities to send in footage, there are 
apparent ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ distribution venues for much of this material. that did not 
exist before. 
The presence of a camera in every concerned citizen’s hand poses profound questions 
and creates powerful opportunities for the future of human rights video and human rights 
advocacy: issues of agency, action and audience become even more pertinent. WITNESS’ 
founder Peter Gabriel, has repeatedly talked of his vision of Big Brother in reverse, where rather 
than Big Brother watching, there are a million Little Sisters and Little Brothers with the capacity 
to have their voice heard, not let a human rights abuse go undocumented and to hold their 
oppressors accountable.  For human rights activists this is a powerful vision of how life could be 
different.
A variety of terms - including sousveillance, equiveillance, ubiquitous sensing and the 
participatory panopticon
 - have been proposed
 for this emerging phenomenon of the reversal 
of surveillance in societies  facilitated by technological innovation in terms of 
DRAFT NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION
The Participatory Panopticon and Human Rights: WITNESS' Experience Supporting Video Advocacy
11


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