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Protesters’ Reactions to Video Surveillance of Demonstrations: Counter-Moves, Security Cultures, and the Spiral of Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance

Ullrich, Peter; Knopp, Philipp

This article analyses protesters’ reactions to police video surveillance of demonstrations in Germany. Theoretically, we draw on the concept of a “spiral of surveillance and counter-surveillance” to understand the interaction processes which—intentionally or not—contribute to the deepening of the “surveillant assemblage” in the field of protest policing. After introducing video surveillance and its importance for selective protest policing, we discuss concepts of counter-surveillance. Widening the individualist scope of former research on “neutralisation techniques,” collective and interactive dimensions are added to cover the full counter-surveillance repertoire. We identified six basic categories of counter-surveillance moves: consider cameras, disguise, attack, hide, sousveillance, and cooperation. They can be classified along the axes of (a) degree of cooperation with the police, and (b) directedness (inwards/outward). It becomes obvious that activists are not predominantly deterred by video surveillance but adapt to the situation. If and how certain counter-surveillance moves are applied depends on the degree of exposure, perceptions of conflict dynamics, political interpretations, and on how these factors are processed in the respective security cultures. Security cultures, which are grounded in the respective relations between protest groups and police, are collective sets of practices and interpretive patterns aimed at securing safety and/or anonymity of activists as well as making their claims visible. Thus, they are productive power effects, resulting from the very conditions under which protest takes place in contemporary surveillance societies. This article elaborates on these ambiguities and unintended effects with regard to sousveillance and disguise techniques, such as masking or uniform clothing. The analysis is based on qualitative data collected between 2011 and 2016 consisting of group discussions and interviews with activists from different political spectra, journalists, politicians, and police officers, as well as observations of demonstrations and document analyses of movement literature.
Published in: Surveillance & society, 10.24908/s&s.v16i2.6823, University of Newcastle, Arts & Humanities Research Fund and Faculty of Law Environment