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24/7 Art and the FBI

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Chris Vallance | 14:46 UK time, Saturday, 26 May 2007

Up All Night recently featured an interview with the artist Hasan Elahi. Elahi is helping Big Brother to do their job, photographing, tagging, logging and monitoring his every move. Why? well shortly after 9/11 Elahi became the focus of attention for various agencies, after he was falsely accused of storing explosives in a locker and then fleeing on September 12th (both claims were completely untrue Elahi is a perfectly respectable US citizen) Ethan Zuckerman explains the rest:

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.

So by constantly monitoring himself he's able to demonstrate his innocence. In effect Hasan is a test case for the transparent society in which every action is monitored and recorded 24/7 not by big brother but by individuals, on phones, camera's and computers. O'Reilly Radar points to another interesting case of DIY surveillance . Their analysis of the potential role of democratised surveillance includes this quote:
As YouTube proves, we are far more adept at watching each other than the government could possibly be. In the future, it's not "Big Brother" that will be watching us, but millions of Little Brothers

It's not a reassuring vision, although there is something to be said for watching them watching us. But the real difficulty with Hasan's approach comes when we wish to take ourselves off-grid perhaps for entirely reasonable reasons, then, of course, the question becomes, what have you got to hide?


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