Monday, 25 August 2014

In The Window - 'If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear' - Kypros Kyprianou

As you walk past AirSpace Gallery's window over the next few days, you might get a sense that you're being watched. You might not be able to put your finger on it , but you're sure that someone has their eye on you.

Responding to the ever-intrusive government prying into the affairs of everyday citizens, sparked by the Edward Snowdon case, Kypros Kyprianou has installed a comic-book rendering of a bygone surveillance era. The life-size figure, at once peculiarly realistic, but on closer inspection, somewhat ridiculous, as you see the slightly pathetic stuffed construction, with its classroom materials - papier-mâché, ping pong balls and poster paint - suggests a pointlessness and waste of energy in the activity, while reminding us that individual freedoms are hard won, and important to safeguard.

'If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear' runs until September 6th. Don't be spooked!

 If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” is a phrase attributed to everyone from Joseph Goebbels to George Orwell. It was repeated more recently by William Hague to justify the UK’s intelligence agencies harvesting of digital communication - though I am unsure who Hague was quoting from when he repeated it to deliver his reassurance.

In 2009, another student of Orwell, Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old American who had been reading “Nineteen Eighty Four” on his Amazon Kindle for his summer assignment lost all his digital annotations when the file vanished from his device. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.

The irony of Amazon remotely deleting copies of Orwell’s book over a copyright violation was not lost on many commentators - in Orwell’s book government censors destroy news articles embarrassing to Big Brother, sending them down an incineration “memory hole.”

Unless Gawronski was jotting down the overthrow of government in the margins, I doubt he had anything to hide, and the publicity from the incident would surely mean he had nothing to fear over handing in his assignment late.

Transposing this scenario from digital to physical space would entail something along the lines of a company representative breaking into Gawronski’s house, destroying the book and notes, then leaving an explanatory missive.

This scenario would have caused consternation in many sections of the press. Yet, when David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald was detained at Heathrow airport and made to hand over his laptop and encryption keys, reaction was rather more subdued. Greenwald had been working with Edward Snowden, releasing material on NSA and GCHQ spying activities. The judges presiding over this case accepted the detention was "an indirect interference with press freedom" but was justified by "very pressing" interests of “national security”.

Snowden’s releases in part detailed how national security agents purposefully weaken encryption, the very things that allow someone to purchase an e-book online with some degree of security. Other releases document a total surveillance doctrine, one which allows state actors to read whatever you are reading.

Both corporate and governmental organisations routinely collect vast amounts of data on individuals and therefore the connections between them - echoing another era that attempted to provide total national security through spying on its citizenry.

Wolfgang Schmidt was a former lieutenant colonel in the Stasi – the German Democratic Republic’s secret police during the Cold War. For him, Snowden’s revelations are impressive  - “So much information, on so many people,” he said. “You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true.”

“It is the height of naiveté to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

When what we freely choose to read is no longer anonymous, we can no longer freely choose to read. - Kypros Kyprianou

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