Network Materiality

The network is made of cheap plastic, brief protection for young waves as they’re first emitted. Boxes whose only sign of life is a blinking LED, hiding the noise, the speed, the data they channel.

Notes from the Logan Symposium

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Watching the CIJ’s Logan Symposium. From Saturday’s 4pm session, Strategies for Survival.

Annie Machon
“Post-Snowden, when we know that drones can hover up to 2km away and still read what is on your computer, when they can hear remotely from a mile away what you might be saying, the only really secure way of communicating with another human being the ultra paranoid secure way is a pane of glass, one sheet of paper, you write on it under a cover. Then you get the person you want to communicate with to read what you’ve written, under the cover, and then you shred it up, you burn it, you grind it up, and you flush it down the loo. That is the only secure way we now can guarantee that we can communicate privately with each other , we have to be that paranoid.”

[Question] But what about re: facial recognition, numberplate recognition?
“Yes, but it get’s worse: a program called ‘Trapwire’ is a melding of surveillance programs, to produce a realtime predictive behavioural analysis of ways you walk and travel around.”

Jake Appelbaum
“When you use proprietary software (like this absolute fucking garbage Skype software) … when you use things like Skype, when you use things like a mobile phone you are using tools that are collaborating with not only the surveillance state but helping to build a surveillance society, so it’s almost impossible to use them safely.

If we keep this in this doesn’t mean you should never use them because sometimes getting the signal out is more important, but do not believe the fallacy that there’s simply too much data you will simply escape the analysis space, that just will not happen.”

On local anonymity. “You want to think about it in terms of the local network being very unfriendly to you. If you’re using your home network that’s especially the case.”

“You have to think about not only the computer you use and the network you use but the things that are around it, the things that are part of the information society, essentially, that can be used to betray the efforts that can be put in.”

“If you have an iPhone and you live in the United Kingdom then the government has weaponised toolkits to break into your phone and what you need is to live in a free society which, currently, you don’t.”

Regin: State Sponsored Malware


The intercept has a good analysis of GCHQ’s ‘Regin’ Malware, including a breakdown of its likely stealthy, modular installation process.

“The malware, which steals data from infected systems and disguises itself as legitimate Microsoft software, has also been identified on the same European Union computer systems that were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.”

It’s a long term piece of software, and not just in its slow installation, the article reckons it was in development for over a decade and has been spread as widely as “Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Ireland, Belgium, and Iran”.

WiFi Identification(lium)


Libelium’s ‘Meshlium Xtreme’ is a system for detecting mobile devices using their WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, it can function even when the user is moving at speed:

“Due to the reduction of the time between scanning intervals, now vehicle traffic detection rate has increased from 50% to 80% even at a speed of 100 Km/h (62 miles/h).”

It can also, apparently, tell the difference between ‘residents’ and ‘visitants’ despite the “anonymous nature of this technique” with the MAC address unnasociated with “any specific user account or mobile phone number not even to any specific vehicle”, although it is, of course, associated with a specific device.

GCHQ: Cracking The Code

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A lovely piece of propaganda by the BBC from 2010, GCHQ: Cracking the Code. The show, in general, is a puff piece for the agency consisting of wide eyed, positive staff dicussing how important or fullfilling their work is, with occasional asides to mention their ethical reponsibilities and love of oversight, there are also sections of interviews with Ian Lobban, GCHQ’s (former) head.

Towards the end we hear him deny the possibility of the existence of what, thanks to Snowden, we now know exists – a database of everyone’s communications and a wide ranging collection system.

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Non-Place and Identity Creation

Living in a Non-Place, without the burden of his, or any other, history allowed Karimi Nasseri to re-invent his identity:

“Over the years, he has claimed many things about his origins. At one time his mother was Swedish, another time English. Nasseri’s effectively reinvented himself in the Charles de Gaulle airport and denies these days that he’s Iranian, deflecting any conversation about his childhood in Tehran.”

He is now known as ‘Sir, Alfred Mehran’, a name taken, comma and all, from a British Immigration letter. Having no papers, and no official state-based identity is what forced Nasseri to inhabit the airport in the first place. He proved his identity in order to enter, as Augé shows is a necessary part of the Non-Place, but, with his papers stolen, was unable to prove it to leave or enter the next bureaucratic Non-Place in his immigration journey.

Although, for most, Charles de Gaulle airport is a Non-Place it could be argued that for Nasseri as Sir, Alfred Mehran it was the opposite, a Place. Although Nasseri had no history there, it being erased by the loss of his papers and his status as an aylum seeker, disowned by his home country, Mehran was known throughout the airport, it was his home and he built stories and relationships there.

More about Nasseri/Mehran here and here.

(Contemporary) Luddism

However, it is also likely that some people will attack technology directly. Technology is already the primary controlling force in our lives: automated systems run the stock market, algorithms are highly influential forces in deciding Google search results or Netflix recommendations, and sophisticated policing and surveillance techniques keep people from threatening the system without them even knowing it. However, more people are going to realize how much technology influences their lives as they begin to interact with its artificial products on an everyday basis. Consider, for example, how widespread the anti-Facebook sentiment is, or how easily people can attack a company like Google. Before this point in history, technology wasn’t even a cultural topic for discussion. Now it is one of the most common.

Luddites must also constantly ask themselves how their current projects contribute to the overall goal of ending the industrial system. Any projects that do not lead to that goal should be dropped.

– John Jacobi, The Luddite Method

[full text]

Burner Identities

Dropbox has hired a pair of computer vision/machine learning experts as the beginning of a push to aid the organisation, curation and understanding of all “the memories we’re accumulating”. Essentially, there’s a lot of data, but not much information for a machine in a photograph, and providing a machine with access to that information (faces, settings, time of day, etc) means a lot more power for Dropbox.

But what does this mean for users? It means having every photographed moment (or, in Dropbox’s parlance, ‘memory’) analysed and logged – a deep recording of your actions. Not only for Dropbox users, but for those around any Dropbox users wielding a camera, whether you know them or not, being snapped in a crowd by someone who then places that image in Dropbox is going to be enough to place you somewhere, by virtue of your identifiable face. This isn’t necessarily any different to Facebook’s capabilities (and actually, doesn’t necessarily involve the same access to identity) but moving from what one chooses to put on a social network, to, potentially, all of a user’s files and folders is a solid increase in the reach of surveillance.

The mobile phone has been described by Jacob Appelbaum as “a tracking device that lets you make calls”, but it is at least (somewhat) optional (you can choose not to own one, you can turn it off, or place them in a signal blocking pouch), as is your own use of ‘cloud’ services or social networks. Your face, however, is not.

In conjunction with our inability to control what others do with their images and data, and the creation of, essentially, a global network of handheld, networked, surveillance cameras, it becomes difficult to retain anonymity and privacy. We cannot turn off our faces, or choose not to own them, but we can do the equivalent of blocking their signal: cvdazzle is a project looking to ways of fooling facial recognition technology through fashion – with face obscuring hair and makeup, the creation of an “anti-face”.

The face is just one part of this, however; it’s becoming possible to identify people through “intrinsic biometrics”, or how they move. In order to counteract mobile phone based surveillance, cheap pay as you go phones, unlinked to an identity and thrown away after use, are used. These are called burner phones. We need to use this approach for other identity signifiers, we need burner phones and burner faces, burner limbs*, burner voices, in short: whole burner identities.

* Perhaps something like this could help here.

Martin Howse: Earthcodes


Earthcode is a project by Martin Howse exploring the idea of producing a computer integrated with, and constructed from, the earth. The image above is from the Earthboot part of the project, the earth as OS, from the site:

“earthboot boots from the earth.

earthboot returns vampiric technology to the earth.

earthboot enables almost any computer to boot straight from the earth, sidestepping dirty mining actions, and the expensive refining and doping of raw minerals; thus avoiding environmentally wasteful production techniques for the construction of data bearing devices such as hard drives or USB memory sticks

Instead, earthboot boots straight from the earth itself, exploring the being-substrate of contemporary digital technology; the material basis of 21st century computation.

earthboot revives the use of underground flows of electricity or telluric currents which were first exploited as generators of power within the telegraphic communications apparatus of the 19th century.

earthboot proposes a barely functional telluric operating system (OS), exposing the vampirism of current technology. Telluric or underground currents are translated directly into code for an earthbound operating system.

The laptop, or PC, literally boots up directly from the specially designed, earthboot USB device pushed into the earth, running code which is totally dependent on small fluctuations in electric current within the local terrain.

Quite often the earthboot operating system is not always fully functional as expected. Crashing is the price to pay for booting straight from the earth.

A prototype has been constructed based on the ATMEGA32u4 which emulates a USB mass storage device, sampling earth voltages and converting these directly into instructions for an earthbooting computer. Preliminary tests for earthboot have proved successful using code based on the LUFA mass storage example.”

More information here:

Stockhausen / Process

1952 I started working in the studio for musique concrete, of the
French radio. Because I was very intrigued by the possibility to compose
one’s own sound. I was allowed to work in the studio of Pierre Scaeffer: I
made artificial sounds, synthetic sounds, and I composed my first étude:
Étude Concrète. At the same time, I was extremely curious, and went to the
musée de L’homme in Paris with a tape recorder and microphones, and I
recorded all the different instruments of the ethnological department:
Indonesian instruments, Japanese instruments, Chinese instruments; less
European instruments because I knew them better, but even piano sounds…
Then I analysed these sounds one by one, and wrote down the frequencies
which I found and the dynamic level of the partials of the spectra, in order
to know what the sound is made of, what the sound is, as a matter of fact;
what is the difference between a lithophone sound or, let’s say, a Thai gong
sound of a certain pitch. And very slowly I discovered the nature of sounds.
The idea to analyse sounds gave me the idea synthesize sounds. so then I was
looking for synthesizers or the first electronic generators, and I
superimposed vibrations in order to compose spectra: timbres. I do this now,
still, after 43 years.

– From Karlheinz Stockhausen, ‘Advice for Clever Children’

Careful What You Put On The Web


I was going to call a part of my Dissertation ‘Loose Chips…’ but then I couldn’t work out what they might sink, or at least, nothing that rhymed. And then the US Department of Defense had done it in 1998 anyway.

Stands up as pretty good advice though.

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Charles Csuri – Statistics as an Interactive Art Object


From 1975, an essay by Charles Csuri (computer artist, famous for his ‘Random War’ works) on the use of Statistics in art. He talks about the impact of the use of computational technologies in art in two ways. Interaction in art is shown to transform the viewer into an active participant in the works, allowing for a shift in their perception:

A case can be made for the idea that art can alter perception, and that since perception is an active organizing process rather than a passive retention-of-image causation, only by actively participating with the art object can one perceive it—and thus, in perceiving it, change one’s reality structure

He uses the example of the AID (Automatic Interaction Detector) program from 1963 to show how the user can affect the view of data, moving it in three dimensions, and altering it over time, a precursor to many visualisation tools now.

Csuri discusses the impact of information for art too, expressing many of the arguments for the use of ‘Big Data’ that are put forth today namely that “we have developed an enormous capacity to create large data-bases and programs that print out mountains of statistical information. While this capacity is a phenomenal one, we generally have difficulty in knowing how to interpret such data”.

Beyond this, though, he elaborates on the potential of this space for artists in a way that is rarely done in the current fervour for representation:

Rather than looking to the visual form or the external appearance of reality, the artist can now deal directly with content. It is a new conceptual landscape with its mountains, valleys, flat spaces, dark and light with gradations of texture and color. With computers, the artist can look at statistics representing real-world data about every facet of society—its problems reflecting tragic, comic and even surrealistic viewpoints. The artist has opportunities to express his perceptions of reality in a new way.

For Csuri, data and statistics are a new, exciting space for artistic expression, a way of expanding and modulating their perception and expression, a tool to augment, not merely represent, reality.

Read the essay here:

1999 AD

A vision of 1999, from 1967. Some fantastic retro-futurist predictions from the Philco-Ford Corporation.