Sana Fatani /// Toronto Observer

The people’s right to record

Professor Steven Mann and researcher Ryan Janzen urge Toronto Police Board to help change camera recording policies

Professor Steven Mann and researcher Ryan Janzen present at conference room at Toronto Police headquarters
Professor Steven Mann and researcher Ryan Janzen present at conference room at Toronto Police headquarters (Professor Steven Mann and researcher Ryan Janzen presenting)

Canada’s cyborg has joined forces with the Toronto Police Board to introduce a new concept that can help improve civil laws.

University of Toronto Professor, Steven Mann, often called “the father of wearable computers,” founded the wearable computing lab at MIT 20 years ago. He has designed and built computer technologies for the past 35 years. Mann wears the EyeTap device, a vision aid he invented which dubbed him Canada’s cyborg.

On Oct 9., Mann, together with PhD candidate, Ryan Janzen presented the idea of the “equivalence principle” to the Toronto Police Board. The principle demands equal rights for police, private entities and civilians to use recording devices.

“When you go to a supermarket they often say ‘no cameras allowed, no photos’ and they have all these surveillance cameras,” Mann said.

Mann puts forth a new concept he calls “sousveillance” next to “surveillance” as being the opposite end of one coin, where one should not be able to operate without the other.

The word “surveillance” comes from French origin that roughly translates to oversight in English. Mann argues that society needs “sousveilliance”, sous meaning below in French and brings in the concept of undersight. An equal right to oversee and undersee establishes the “axiom of equivalence”.

“If A prohibits B from recording, then A should be prohibited in a court of law to use it’s recording,” he said.

Mann argues that legally allowing one entity to record another person using surveillance cameras and dismissing the right of the person being recorded to record back is hypocritical. He also suggests that the recording entity’s surveillance can be unreliable.

“I wanted to put forth that when data lacks integrity it should be inadmissible in court,” Mann said.

The equivalence principle came to Mann after being assaulted for wearing his vision aid in a McDonalds in Paris, France. That McDonalds location refused to use their surveillance footage and instead relied on employee testimonies.

Since then, Mann has collaberated with the world’s largest technical society, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and pursued legislative action in New York to pass the Mann-Wassel Law based on his equivalence principle.

“ We say sousveillers of the world unite,” Mann said. “We need undersight, a society with oversight only is an over sight on our part,”

Toronto Police Board Chief, Alok Mukherjee along with board members Andrew Pringle and Mary Moliner have demonstrated interest in the proposal. Implementation of the proposal is still pending.