[ser-vey-luh ns, -veyl-yuh ns]


a watch kept over a person, group, etc., especially over a suspect, prisoner, or the like: The suspects were under police surveillance.
continuous observation of a place, person, group, or ongoing activity in order to gather information: video cameras used for covert surveillance.See also electronic surveillance.
attentive observation, as to oversee and direct someone or something: increased surveillance of patients with chronic liver disease.

Origin of surveillance

1790–1800; < French, equivalent to surveill(er) to watch over (sur- sur-1 + veiller < Latin vigilāre to watch; see vigil) + -ance -ance
Related formscoun·ter·sur·veil·lance, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for surveillance

Contemporary Examples of surveillance

Historical Examples of surveillance

  • It was only during a pause for breath that he became aware of the surveillance.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • Was it the consciousness of this surveillance that made every one keep the house?

    A Day's Ride

    Charles James Lever

  • It was the citoyen Beauvisage, of the Committee of Surveillance.

    The Gods are Athirst

    Anatole France

  • After awhile, he became conscious that he was under a sort of surveillance.

    White Lies

    Charles Reade

  • And then, released from surveillance, exhausted in mind and body—he fell again.

    The Lowest Rung

    Mary Cholmondeley

British Dictionary definitions for surveillance



close observation or supervision maintained over a person, group, etc, esp one in custody or under suspicion
Derived Formssurveillant, adjective, noun

Word Origin for surveillance

C19: from French, from surveiller to watch over, from sur- 1 + veiller to keep watch (from Latin vigilāre; see vigil)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for surveillance

1802, from French surveillance "oversight, supervision, a watch," noun of action from surveiller "oversee, watch," from sur- "over" + veiller "to watch," from Latin vigilare, from vigil "watchful" (see vigil). Seemingly a word of the Terror in France.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

surveillance in Medicine




Close observation of a person or group, especially one under suspicion.
The act of observing or the condition of being observed.
The collection, collation, analysis, and dissemination of data.
A type of observational study that involves continuous monitoring of disease occurrence within a population.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.