Centre for Internet & Society

This paper sheds light on the issues and challenges associated with lateral surveillance mechanisms.


The pandemic has brought to light several fissures in existing patterns of governance-focussing on governmentality that snatches autonomy from the citizen and enmeshes it within existing power structures. Datafication through the phenomenon of lateral surveillance has been pushed across the globe as a way of combating human challenges in the 21st century, including those brought about by the pandemic.

Lateral surveillance is the act of ‘watching over’. Lateral surveillance differs from typical surveillance as the power dynamic between the one watching and the one being watched is not structural or hierarchical but more decentralized and balanced. The surveillance takes place between individuals themselves, without the involvement of any organizational entity such as the government. Looking back, the initiatives which encouraged lateral surveillance originated in the form of neighbourhood watch schemes and community policing initiatives in the United States and later spread across the world. These neighbourhood watch schemes enabled individuals to become the ‘eyes and ears’ of law enforcement agencies. With the advancements in technology, these neighbourhood watch and community building  initiatives have transformed into easily accessible mobile applications, operated by law enforcement agencies or private entities, to mobilize citizens to monitor their surroundings or provide them with information sharing platforms to enable peer to peer or citizen communication.  Though they aim to help in  reducing the crime rates, improving the quality of life, building community pride and unity, they actually have many negative effects on people. This paper seeks to analyze the societal and legal implications of such technologies and provides recommendations to governments so that citizens’ rights are kept as a bare minimum threshold and not an option in a checklist. 

While the essay released in May 2020 focused on the impact of lateral surveillance during COVID’19, this paper focuses largely on the history and evolution of lateral surveillance and the technologisation of the same. This paper  also sheds light on the effects of lateral surveillance on the society and the challenges it poses to certain fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.   

Read the full paper here.


The research was submitted for review in May 2020 and accepted for publication in June 2020.





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