"Stay Vigilant": Copwatching in Germany
Surveillance & Society
In the US, forms of sousveillance have been part of the repertoire of black liberation movements since the times of slavery. Opposing racialized surveillance by inverting the gaze of the oppressor can be an empowering practice for marginalized populations, yet it also raises important questions: Could sousveillance inadvertently support the ideology of surveillance? When does "dark sousveillance" (Browne 2015: 21) succeed in criticizing and subverting the status quo of racialized surveillance?
... ized surveillance? How do activists negotiate the risk of providing even more data that can be de-contextualized, misinterpreted, and, ultimately, even used against practitioners of sousveillance? I will address these questions with regard to current copwatching practices in Germany. Using the project Cop Map as a case study, I will examine both the potentially liberating power and ambiguities of sousveillance as well as critical factors for success. Cop Map (https://www.cop-map.com), a German copwatching website designed by two artivist collectives, allows citizens to report police presence and racial profiling while ensuring data protection for users of the app. Cop Map is directed against increased state surveillance and police powers, but also reaches out to organizations that mainly address racial profiling. Building on intersectional alliances and networks of solidarity, sousveillance can create spaces to counter racist police practices and raise awareness—especially if embedded in broader efforts and organizational structures to combat (police) surveillance and protect data privacy. The subversive potential of forms of "surveillance from below" is complex, culturally and historically contingent, and predicated on their contextualization within broader movements.