ScareMail in The Guardian
Since launching ScareMail a couple weeks ago, there has been a significant amount of media coverage. I’ve been thinking a lot about how ScareMail has been discussed across various types of media, including articles, comments, commentary, and social media sites like Reddit. I expect to post some writing about this soon. In the meantime, here is a list of a few interesting quotes. Following that are links to the major articles themselves.
…creative civil disobedience in the digital age. –Slate
Grosser … is the unrivaled king of ominous gibberish. –Chicago Tribune
…don’t blame us when the feds knock on your door. –FastCoExist
Articles About ScareMail
A newspaper columnist at the Chicago Tribune asked me this week if ScareMail is “potentially dangerous,” and whether it is “somewhat similar to jamming legitimate eavesdropping devices.” My response follows:
No, ScareMail is not dangerous. It’s an artwork about how systems interact with systems, about the role of language within those systems, how software enables surveillance, and about the challenges to privacy and free speech in the current political climate. On this last point, ScareMail draws attention to a flaw in the NSA’s thinking—that words in an email are the same thing as intent. Further, ScareMail proposes a model of privacy built on visibility and noise as opposed to one built on encryption and silence.
ScareMail also demonstrates that very few people feel comfortable challenging the NSA; after thousands of visitors to the ScareMail website and international press attention, ScareMail has had few downloads. The number of people still using it after that initial download is probably much smaller. Clearly people are interested in challenging the NSA in some way, but not by attracting too much attention to themselves.
Whether one could be private within ScareMail’s model is debatable. What is less debatable is that those with nefarious intent are unlikely to use ScareMail. They don’t want to attract NSA attention. They’re more likely to use encryption and to avoid commercial email services based in the USA. In other words, the NSA’s mass email surveillance isn’t catching who they want anyway.
Before the Internet, surveillance was a targeted operation, based on probable cause and the result of a warrant signed by a judge. This makes sense as it fits our due process clause of the Constitution and maintains appropriate checks and balances on police power.
What doesn’t make sense is taking advantage of new communications technologies in order to conduct mass unchecked surveillance on everyone without any sense of probable cause or due process. Searching our electronic text for keywords draws all kinds of people into government focus without any cause. ScareMail demonstrates this clearly, as any mail caught because of its ScareMail signature is an email whose “scary” words have no meaning.
PRISM Breakup at Eyebeam
I’m very happy to share that my latest work, ScareMail, is premiering as part of the PRISM Breakup show opening at Eyebeam in New York, NY. From the show website:
On October 4–6, 2013, Eyebeam will host the first event of its kind, PRISM Breakup, a series of art and technology events dedicated to exploring and providing forms of protection from surveillance. This event came about in part from Eyebeam’s mission to support the work of artists who critically expose technologies and examine their relationship to society, as well as offering continued support to its alumni following their residencies. The gathering will bring together a wide spectrum of artists, hackers, academics, activists, security analysts and journalists for a long weekend of meaningful conversation, hands-on workshops, and an art exhibition that will be open October 4–12.
This is the kind of thing Eyebeam excels at—if you’re in NYC between Oct 4-12, I highly recommend you stop by! The show is coordinated by Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Allison Burtch, Aurelia Moser, and Ramsey Nasser.
Grosser Interviewed by ArtBookGuy
This summer I was interviewed by Michael Corbin, also known as ArtBookGuy. It was a great conversation, and we covered a variety of topics including new media, software, Facebook, presentism, artistic labor, why we always want more, robots, and the point of art. If these topics sound intriguing, take a look at Ben Grosser: New Media.
If you aren’t familiar with ArtBookGuy, he has amassed an impressive collection of artist interviews. They don’t have the stilted, formal feel of many of the genre, but are instead in a conversational style that follows threads wherever they go. There’s lots to learn here! ArtBookGuy has also interviewed a couple of my friends: Patrick Hammie and Flounder Lee.
Many thanks to Michael for the great conversation and for contributing to the artist community in this way.
Within: National Self-Portrait Exhibition at 33 Contemporary in Chicago
My work Self Portrait, from my Flexible Pixels Project, will be part of the upcoming show Within: 9th Annual National Self-Portrait Exhibition in Chicago. The show, curated by Sergio Gomez, features small works less than 12×12″ in size. Held at the 33 Contemporary Gallery in the Zhou B. Art Center, the show runs from July 19 to August 10. The opening is on July 19 from 7-1opm.