CSIA (Crowd-Sourced Intelligence Agency) is an interactive piece that offers users the opportunity to become a surveillance entity through an online interface. The online interface replicates the surveillance techniques used by intelligence agencies, which have been gathered through leaked documents and FOIA requests.
The project aims to help the public understand how these agencies are applying this online surveillance, as well as highlighting its limitations and the way this process violates people's privacy. The project monitors social media and shows the analyzing automated process that everything we put online undergoes, rating them on a "national security threat scale". Posts are automatically labeled as suspicious or not, then presented to users for review. Users also have the option to put themselves onto the system's watchlist and see whether their posts are considered as threats or not.
This project is particularly relevant after the recent scandals about leaks on surveillance processes by the NSA. Making this process transparent is critical in itself, as seeing how intrusive and error-prone this system often is might make one think twice about ever posting anything on social media.
The piece, overall, brings up the issue of whether we can trust automated decisions when it comes to such important topics. As explained by the website adaf.gr, the issue brought up by systematic data processing and collection is the following:
"The “collect it all” approach of these intelligence agencies has created a need for automated processing, assuming that software will find patterns imperceptible to human analysts. Computers running machine-learning algorithms can automate judgment, labeling tens of thousands of posts per second. But if there are problems with the way an algorithm is trained, mistakes will be replicated. If human agents are not trained to properly analyze social media posts for threats to national security, how could an algorithm possibly perform any better?" (http://2016.adaf.gr/event/crowd-sourced-intelligence-agency/)
Another piece that deals with surveillance and turns the tables around is Sheriff Software by artist Dries Depoorter. This piece does not offer to watch people's social media activity, but rather their real-life actions in real time through CCTV cameras. The users can use the cameras to spot people jaywalking, then users can decide whether to send a screenshot of the person jaywalking to the police or not.
This project, unlike CSIA, offers the opportunity of agency to the users. CSIA unveils the process of surveillance and the automated decision-making process applied by algorithms, highlighting the lack of human agency within the processing of this data. On the other hand, Sheriff Software offers full agency to the users to decide whether people under surveillance will be punished or not.
Another project dealing directly with NSA surveillance is Can you hear me by Christopher Wachter and Mathias Jud. They have installed a transmitter on the roof of the Swiss embassy in Berlin which allows the public to send messages directly to the NSA that is collecting information from the nearby US embassy. Just like CSIA, the project is a direct response to the Edward Snowden scandal, why revealed the NSA's illegal diplomatic spying practices and overall surveillance issues by intelligence agencies. However, instead of only exposing the intrusive surveillance techniques, allow for direct activism and calls for resistance by giving a voice to the public. Interestingly, a lot of messages are directly aimed at the surveillance operatives and try to convince them to switch sides, use the inside knowledge they have and become whistleblowers.
Athens Digital Arts Festival - 2016
Digital Muddy Expanded Media Festival - 2016
MediaLive - 2016
New Gallery in Calgary - 2015