Surveillance as Performance Art
Hasan Elahi has been making his every movement public, after being detained by the FBI (and then cleared) when entering the country:
For the next few months, every trip Elahi took, he’d call his FBI agent and give the routing, so he didn’t get detained along the way. He realized, after a point—why just tell the FBI—why not tell everyone?
So he hacked his cellphone into a tracking bracelet which he wears on his ankle, reporting his movements on a map—log onto his site and you can see that he’s in Camden. But he’s gone further, trying to document his life in a series of photos: the airports he passes through, the meals he eats, the bathrooms he uses. The result is a photographic record of his daily life which would be very hard to falsify. We all know photos can be digitally altered… but altering as many photos as Elahi puts online would require a whole team trying to build this alternative path through the world.
Elahi also puts other apsects of his life online, including his banking records. This gives a record of his purchases, which complements the photographs. He doesn’t put the phone records online, because it would compromise the privacy of the people he talks with, and some friends have asked him to stop visiting, but he views the self-surveillance both as an art form and as his perpetual alibi for the next time the FBI questions him.
At the same time, he’s stretching the limits of surveillance systems, taking advantage of non-places. He flew to Singapore for four days and never left the airport, never clearing customs. For four days, he was noplace—he’d fallen off the map, which is precisely what the FBI and others worry about. But he documented every noodle and every toilet along the way.
This is extreme, but the level of surveillance is likely to be the norm. It won’t be on a public website available to everyone, but it will be available to governments and corporations.