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Participatory SURVEILLANCE & Psychovideography: “Virtual Border Watch”, Pay-CCTV, & Military Ghost Webcams

Posted by Regrette Etcetera on November 10, 2010


– Introduction: “The geo- is now in the video”

– Virtual Deputies on the Texas Border

– A participatory Panopticon on your street?: Citizens ‘Crime Control’ & “Internet Eyes”

– CCTV, Psychovideography & The Cinematic Dream of Surveillance City

– Ghost Webcams in military space

Introduction: “The geo- is now in the video”

As part of a larger Fauxist project on ‘An Anthropology of Telepresence’- investigating UAV’s and colonisation, the NeoConOpticon, Drone wars, Sim Arch-  this publication outlines 4 instances of recent Participatory Surveillance- Texas Border Watch, Asbo TV, Internet Eyes, and Ghost Webcams in military space- & looks at how these relate to the dreams of constant surveillance in Psychovideography (a take on the Situationists Psychogeography, updated for the virtualisation of space in which “The geo- is now in the video”).

This article focuses on participatory surveillance using webcams, and instances that exhibit a mix of public-private deployments, governments and councils teaming up with tech companies to outsource surveillance to the public eye. The use of public subscriber webcams and public access CCTV- citizen surveillance facilitated by government-corporate interests. Citizen patrol and report on borders, criminality (from organised crime, ‘anti-social behaviour’, to shoplifting), and look at the various incentives and motivations etc.

Key terms in this field include:

– Responsibilization,

– Vigilance

– The Securitisation and Criminalisation of immigration

– Sousveillance and Synopticism

The Rise of the “Participatory Panopticon”

Jamais Cascio has written and spoken numerous times about an emerging “Participatory Panopticon” and the cultural shift when consumers themselves assume the reins of societal surveillance through the ubiquity of cell phones, pocket-cams, municipal free wi-fi networks, and the proliferation of mobile communications networks across the urban grid.

Cascio focuses on consumer technologies- namely personal electronic devices- as providing the means for such a shift in scale and nature of surveillance: “In the world of the participatory panopticon, this constant surveillance is done by the citizens themselves, and is done by choice. It’s not imposed on us by a malevolent bureaucracy or faceless corporations. The participatory panopticon will be the emergent result of myriad independent rational decisions, a bottom-up version of the constantly watched society.”

This notion of individual citizens keeping a technological eye on the people in charge is referred to as “sousveillance,” a recent neologism meaning “watching from below”  (in comparison to “surveillance,” meaning “watching from above).” Proponents of the notion see it as an equalizer, making it possible for individual citizens to keep tabs on those in charge.

Whilst We find Cascio’s ideas intriguing- the Little Big Brother- We find structural melds and crossovers of government-corporate, military-industrial and citizen surveillance most interesting, due to its organizing powers, scope and moral compulsion. The following examples of participatory surveillance serve to demonstrate some elements of Our thinking in this area.

Virtual Deputies on the Texas Border

Witness the rise of trans-border videogeographic neighborhood-watch.

'Illegal Immigrants' on Border Watch Webcam

In 2008, the US launched a real-time interactive internet site, the Texas Virtual Border Watch Program, which shows real-time video from the US – Mexico border.

By using this site, anyone who wishes to participate in the US border control can have access to a network of webcams that feed 24/7 live streaming video showing the border. One just needs to sign up to the campaign’s website and the images from the cameras can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an online computer. From the website, it is possible to use a hot line in order to alert the authorities to any activity perceived as ‘suspicious’. An alert is sent to the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, who decide whether to take action.

The programme is governed as a public–private partnership with a company called BlueServo and a $2million donation from the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, in 2008 and another $2million in 2009.

At this point, there are 23 cameras placed at ‘strategic crossing points’. Since the site went live in November 2008, it has received more than 50 million hits, and more than 130,000 people have registered to become ” virtual deputies”. They are located as far afield as Australia, Mexico, Colombia, Israel, New Zealand and the UK.

Another facet of this program is the ability of the public to connect their own cameras to to create local Virtual Neighborhood WatchesSM in order to protect their own homes, neighborhoods, and families from criminal acts. These Virtual Neighborhood WatchesSM can, in turn, be connected to form additional Virtual Community WatchesSM.

Leisure Time

Hence You, Our ever-vigilant reader, are invited to switch on your computer, eat some Val, sit comfortably in your easy chair and start watching. Before you start enjoying your exciting virtual journey, there are two warnings. First, it might not be as exciting as you expected. Most of the time, there is nothing to see on the long deserted borderline. The river is flowing, leaves are shivering in the wind and occasionally some birds are flying past the camera. Whenever you see cows walking on the river banks, it feels like witnessing action. The landscapes are very slow. But indeed, you can just open the window beside the latest episode of True Blood and keep half an eye out for the vampiric illegal aliens in Texas whilst the ‘other vampire drama’ unfolds…

[Phyllis] Waller, a border camera watcher in Oklahoma, said she

spends about an hour each evening after work during the week and a

little more time during the weekend patrolling the border online. Her

other Internet pastime, she said, is watching a site that tracks bald

eagles. “I watch eagles and illegals. That’s a fun thing to do,” she said.

[. . .] “I’m interested in decreasing the number of illegals,” she said. “I

don’t care if they come over as long as they do it legally. I don’t like

the drugs, I don’t like the crime”

(El Paso Times, 11 July 2009).


When Robert Havercamp, a truck driver from South Texas, sees them on

his computer screen, he says: “I don’t know what’s in those duffle bags

but it’s a good, strong possibility . . .” “It could be clothes. It could be mar-

ijuana. It could be cocaine. It could be methamphetamine. Or it could be a

bomb,” he said. “We were invaded in 2001; you want that again?” . . .

“Sometimes I’ll pull an all-nighter, because the bad guys gonna wait

’til late at night to do anything,” Havercamp said

(CBS News, 6 February 2009).


When her baby girl takes an afternoon nap, or on those nights when she

just can’t sleep, Sarah Andrews, 32, tosses off her identity as a suburban

stay-at-home mom and becomes something more exotic: a “virtual

deputy” patrolling the U.S. – Mexico border. From her house in a

suburb of Rochester, New York, Andrews spends at least four hours a

day watching . . . “Today, there’s a couple

vehicles that are parked side by side next to each other,” she said by

phone, her seven-month-old cooing in the background, “but I can’t tell

what’s going on, you know?”

(CNN, 12 March 2009).


“I don’t have to know right from wrong…Perhaps they’re just fishing…”: A BBC interview with Les Stout, Virtual deputy, who expounds many of the key tenets We explore below:

Imperial Interactivity

It is generally the case that the authorities are as creative in harnessing the new technologies for their own purposes as anybody else. For all of the tawdry webcam art, CCTV work and hyperbolic ‘Interactivity’ rhetoric in the contemporary art world (like the field of Bioarts when compared to the innovations of biopiracy, biometrics etc), the practices and draw of BlueServo far outstrip most critical work in the field.

In fact, the description of technologies used on the border (weaponized UAV’s and cyborg vehicles etc), and the essentially static geographical/topographical relationship of the Virtual Border Watch makes the webcams look like a ‘natural’- or even technologically quite modest- new stage in a continuum of technological control. It also seems self-evident, that along with other techniques, the online community would also be harnessed to support borderwork. Even so, since the other forms of technology are strictly controlled by the authorities, in its interactivity the Texas Virtual Border Watch Program proves not to be part of a continuum, but rather a new stage in the politics of surveillance and borderwork.

The program is a perfect example of synopticism: many watching few instead of few watching many (as in the Panopticon, for example).  As Haggerty (2006, p. 33) argues, ‘it matters enormously who is actually conducting surveillance’. The hype about interactivity has been accompanied by critical notions. Andrejevic (2007, p. 213) accurately points out that ‘interactivity is becoming synonymous with asymmetrical forms of monitoring, information gathering, and surveillance’.

VR: Vigilance and Responsibilisation.

Two key terms regarding citizens and surveillance/security culture: Vigilance and Responsibilisation.

The rhetoric of vigilance has increased, and interestingly in this example, vigilance also highlights that citizens are not just mere objects of surveillance (although they very much still are also that), but can work as active agents of surveillance.

Scholars have argued that fear has lately become an omnipresent state of living which “takes root in our motives and purposes, settles in our actions and saturates our daily routines”. Fear is creating a moral pressure towards individuals asking “not only keeping ourselves safe but also in evaluating the conduct of others” (Mythen and Walklate, 2006, p. 136; emphasis added). Thus the BorderWatch programme plays a part in the social construction of suspicion. The programme makes evident that it is “the bordering process, rather than the borders per se” (Newman, 2006, p. 144) that is crucial. Furthermore, fear as a situated experience and fear as a transformation of visual culture are increasingly connected. To capture images (of almost anything/anybody) can easily be explained within the rhetoric of security.

Gradually, the movement of people has been increasingly posed as a risk. In this securitisation of immigration, immigration is perceived as a security problem (Bigo, 2002). This does not necessarily relate to concrete threat (of terrorism) but to perceived unease which is channelled against the Other. Again, this is outsourced to private companies, with profit motives and feeds a growing sector of private  ‘Immigration Prisons’ in the US. The NPR report below explores this further.
see also:

This brings up the issue of responsibilisation. Responsibilisation activities “rest implicitly upon an assumption that the state alone cannot guarantee security” (Herbert, 1999, p. 151). The authorities “actively enlist participation of non-state actors and agencies and thus share the burden of controlling unwanted social phenomena”.

The Texas Virtual Border Watch Program also applies well to the changing idea of the location of borders. As many scholars have argued, borders are currently understood as being spread all around societies rather than locating merely on the border areas. Visual images create interaction between virtual and material spaces, hence blurring different levels of reality. The transborder dimensions of border policing blur the boundaries between internal and external spheres of policing and security policies (Aas, 2005). This phenomenon shifts our attention from ‘the state’ and sovereignty narrowly conceived to more nebulous realms where the sensibilities, ideologies, desires, and numerous other forces that constitute ‘statecraft from below’ are played out’ (Doty, 2007, p. 118).

It is argued that the programme remains ‘cosmetic’ border control and that this echoes the dilemma between economic wellbeing and security issues. As the report above would indicate, such measures, however cosmetic, are part of a greater drive to leverage vigilantism and responsibilization for control and profit.

Finally, a brief look at possible hackings of the web-border. The U.S federal government has intelligence suggesting that drug smugglers themselves have logged on to and used the cameras to make sure that Border Patrol agents are not at a certain location, and then quickly moved loads of drugs across the border at those points (The New York Times/The Lede, 26 March 2009). In the words of William Gibson, that grand-daddy of net-saturation: “The Street finds its own uses for things – uses the manufacturers never imagined”. Other reports find that a substantial number of logged ‘activity reports’ were ‘obviously hoaxes’. Our favourite instance being: “There are some men crossing the water. They have a bottle of tequila and a big hat”  (Homeland Security Newswire, 16 July 2009).

Participatory Panopticon on your street

“Enter the Prime Time television era of couch-potato crime-solving” Subtopia

A London bus-stop ad.

A number of programs involving citizens monitoring CCTV weblinks (& often paying to do so) to stop crime, anti-social activities, ‘terrorism’ and so on, have recently been initiated around the world. Serving to promote models of responsibilization and vigilance, and further to fill in the time before facial recognition and profiling technologies become sophisticated enough to allow supercomputers to do the work themselves?

According to Subtopia, as part of Tony Blair’s new “Respect” (pdf) program to try and legislate “proper social behavior” (a strategy even willing to evict people from their homes), residents of Shoreditch will become the first in Britain to receive “Asbo TV” — television beamed live to their homes from CCTV cameras on the surrounding streets.  In one of the poorest areas in the country, residents will have to pay £3.50 a week for the full package, after installing a little box offering 55 channels of “good old fashioned surveillatopia-surfing fun”.

Billed as a wonderfully oxymoronic “community TV security project”, viewers “will also be able to compare characters they see behaving suspiciously with an on-screen “rogues’ gallery” of local recipients of anti-social behavior orders (Asbos),” the Sunday Times reports. They will then be able to use “an anonymous e-mail tip-off system to report to the police anyone they see breaching an Asbo or committing a crime.”

A notably similar program was announced for the US only a few years ago in the New York Times. The difference is that in the US they plan to force people to watch the system either over their computer or cable system. Though, interestingly, watching it will be classified as ‘public service’ to pay for speeding tickets and eventually as a mandatory function of your civil defense Homeland Security draft duties.

One imagines whole prisons fitted out with CCTV rooms, captive populations… being watched themselves by CCTV… Starting at two hours a week and, if you wish to be paid, upwards of twenty hours a week, you will monitor the cameras for signs of terrorism and also, as admitted in the New York Times piece, for crime.

A third contemporary example is the poetically named ‘Internet Eyes’, this time designed to curb shoplifting (as we well know that no one watches shop cameras).

'Internet Eyes' screenshot.

Internet Eyes is an online “instant event notification system” allowing registered ‘Viewers’ at home to monitor live CCTV feed from ‘Business Customers’, and notify them ‘the instant a crime is observed’. Internet Eyes will apparently pay up to £1,000 to subscribers who regularly report suspicious activity such as shoplifting. (For a  debunking of the company).

7000 people signed up in the first week of operation in England alone, and the company believes that international viewers will further swell the ranks. For example, the different time zones made Australia the ideal location for detecting night-time crime in the UK (“I would love people in Australia to be looking at this,” managing director Tony Morgan says), and conversely, the scheme could also be switched so that UK residents monitored cameras in Australian cities and so on ad nauseaum.

Example of 'Internet Eyes' Interface

One subscriber, Paul from Hammersmith, cited both vigilance and responsibaliztion when he told the BBC News website he thought it was his civic duty to sign up:

“We’re in a time of austerity and there has been a reduction in the budgets of police and local authorities but by doing this, I feel I can help. It will help people feel safe and secure and it’s not like putting a camera in your house. These are in public places. I hate criminality and if I can help stop it, I will.”


Dostoyevsky’s murderer would stand no chance here..

The Fauxists are also interested in the aesthetic/psychological histories and affect of such programs as those discussed above. We have long evinced an interest in psychogeography, which We’ve extended to encompass psychosisgeography, cryptogeography & military urbanism, drug architecture (1 & 2), dream architecture & near death experiences (& etc).

An article by Geoff M. of BLDG BLOG, develops the term ‘psychovideography’- regarding “the videographic psyche of the city”- the psychological effects of generalized and predominantly invisible surveillance- and in discussing the NYC CCTV system mentioned above, Manaugh frames such a project in terms of film/cinema and architecture. His work is worth quoting at length:

“And so now New York City may attempt to install the total cinematic dream that has consumed London’s private security firms for the past three decades, lost as they are in the Warholian ecstasy of filming every last centimeter of urban space, week after month after year, in what is surely the largest outright expenditure of cinematic ambition since… perhaps since film began… But to introduce a new term here, we would find ourselves discussing not *psychogeography* – that outdated fetish of a new crop of uninspired theses, from Princeton to the AA – but *psychovideography*, the videographic psyche of the city. If security firms are the new providers of our urban unconscious, a hundred thousand endless films recording twenty-fours a day, indefinitely, then we should perhaps find that the outdated methodologies of the psychogeographers have hit an impasse. The geo- is now in the video-, as it were, and the -graphy survives just the same. Throw in some 24-hour psycho-, and we begin to see the city through the lens of an unacknowledged avant-garde: a subset of the film industry whose advance front has taken on the guise of security… The response: psychovideography. Endless filming. Install the umbrella of a total cinema and move freely into the next phase of urbanism: fortress urbanism… ‘Security’ is a red herring; we are witnessing instead the triumphal rearing-up of an unconscious cinematic fantasy.”

Subtopia goes on to ask: “in the age of “panoptic urbanism”, with millions of CCTV cameras streaming an ongoing meta-history of all our lives together across an incomprehensibly fragmented screen of cinematic terrestrial optometry, I, too, wonder, would you rather be watched by computers, or people? Can we rely on future detection systems to make accurate judgments in all their algorithmic pattern-gazing automatonist wizardry?”. (See here for hilarious current US army work in the area). Interestingly, these forms of digital criminal anthropometry and biometrics are uncannily like the outdated phrenology and craniometry. with their associated criminological and racialist baggage, the only difference is that the database becomes animated and searches for itself. Possibilities suggest themselves for the performance of a criminal type, a posture, the suspicious tic, and working into the database of nervous behaviours would seem a goldmine for deconstructive dancers…

In literary terms, the experience and cultural/architectural significance of watching these forms of CCTV could be captured in a 1000 page novel called “The Possibility of A Crime” describing part of a floor of a parking garage in blurry grayscale… Or something from late Beckett meets Proust?

Subtopia goes on to discuss possible developments of participatory surveillance involving video-gaming and gamers to work in sim/real space to monitor crime and patrol space. By mixing elements of skill and endurance-based reward and narrative progression with monitoring and surveillance, a generation of tween tweakers could take up the reins of the particpatory surveillance self-state…

Ghost webcams in military space:

(Project Excerpt)

This project investigates the uses and intents of webcams installed on military spaces- former battlefields, installations etc- as part of a project on Cryptogeography, Military Urbanism, and an Anthropology of Telepresence. By interrogating webcams monitoring supposedly haunted military space or ‘equipment’ (like the USS Lexington’s aft engine room Ghost- the webcam showing the “Turbine and miscellaneous gauges of the aft engine room… where the spectre is most often sighted”) or for the ghosts/spirits of battlefiedls- particularly those of mythic-historic, nationalist importance, like the Gettysburg Battlefield Ghostcam (with timelapse compilations), We hope to explore the significance of military ghosts in contemporary politics in terms of belonging, memory, recreationism and monumentality.

Other notable instances of the many haunted battlefields include: Oriskany Battlefield, Shiloh National Military Park, and Stones River BattleField In Murfreesboro TN




“WEbcam Border Patrol”

Koskela, Hille(2010) ‘Did You Spot an Alien? Voluntary Vigilance, Borderwork and the Texas Virtual Border Watch Program’, Space and Polity, 14: 2, 103 — 121

O’Donnell, S.;   Richard, M.;   Turning Municipal Video Surveillance Cameras Into Municipal Webcams Technology and Society, 2006. ISTAS 2006. IEEE International Symposium on 8-10 June 2006

Subtopia/ name “The Panoptic Arcade”  “THURSDAY, JANUARY 12, 2006


Schneier on Security: A blog covering security and security technology. “Now Everyone Gets to Watch the Cameras” January 11, 2006

Hille Koskela  ‘WATCH THE BORDER 24/7, ON YOUR COUCH’ : Texas Virtual Border Watch Program and the politics of informing

Dhruti Shah “CCTV site Internet Eyes hopes to help catch criminals” BBC News, 4 October 2010 Last updated at 03:36 GMT

BBC News “Public to monitor CCTV from home” Tuesday, 6 October 2009 

“Participatory Panopticon at the Border”

NeoConOpticon: The EU Security Industrial Complex “internet-eyes-the-privatisation-of-the-surveillance-society”

JOHN MARKOFF and JOHN SCHWARTZ “Many Tools of Big Brother Are Up and Running” NY Times, December 23, 2002

Is the “Internet Eyes” CCTV web monitoring “game” merely incompetent, or an actual scam ? By wtwu on October 10, 2009

Jamais Cascio “The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon” 4 MAY 05

Alex Jones & Paul Joseph Watson, The Panopticon: A Mass Surveillance Prison For Humanity,, January 11 2006

David Murray “Internet Eyes to pay Australians for spying on UK shoplifters” The Courier-Mail October 15, 2009


One Response to “Participatory SURVEILLANCE & Psychovideography: “Virtual Border Watch”, Pay-CCTV, & Military Ghost Webcams”

  1. john said

    this is a real great post…..ok

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