Anyone who’s stepped out in the city has a good idea of how much officially sanctioned surveillance we’re exposed to daily. Increasingly, individuals are also surveilling themselves (aka lifelogging, terabyting, sousveilling) by using cameras and other devices to record all the data of their lives.

Coveillance is a term made popular in a 2003 paper for Surveillance & Society by sociologist Barry Wellman and co-authors to describe the phenomenon of networked individuals observing and recording each other’s lives. The idea is that we are transparent and accountable to one another. Would we behave better knowing someone nearby may post our foibles on YouTube and then tweet it to the world?

Coveillance could also reduce the need for government surveillance and offer us more protection as we move between communities, the authors suggest.

Barry Wellman is co-author, with Lee Rainie, of the new book Networked: The New Social Operating System (MIT Press, May 2012).