Security Theater

Over at the New York Times, Matt Ritchel asks why we still have to take out our laptops at security screenings even though many of them are scarcely bigger than tablets. The TSA refuses to explain, citing security concerns. After rejecting a series of possible lines of reasoning, Ritchel finds an anonymous security expert who is willing to tell him that it is nothing more than "security theater," an effort to make us feel that something is being done to protect us. 

The feebleness of this effort aside—after all, who really feels the TSA is effective at anything besides the catching the most primitive efforts, building long lines at the airport, and existing as a form of republican social welfare—it points to something that I allude to in the Situated Technologies Pamphlet I just completed with Helen Nissenbaum.

Network culture clearly has a drive toward openness and transparency. The freedom of sharing and ease of building upon information encourages that. At the same time, there are plenty of individuals and institutions with power who see that freedom as something for the Muppets of the world while they themselves hide behind the curtains. To them, our own haplessly naïve transparency is something to exploit from their citadels, be they in the government or in finance. In turn, we have to hope that those in power won't abuse it too badly, that taking out laptops at the security line as a ritual is the worst of it.     

We're still early in all this and just as the Democrats adopted civil rights as a mission in the 1950s, one day these issues may be taken up by political parties. Until then, it's not just up to power to stay vigilant, it's up to us to stay vigilant of power.

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surveillance society

One of my perennial concerns is the growth of surveillance under network culture. I wanted to share two articles with you today, the first from Naomi Klein, who writes about the use of American surveillance technologies in the repression of dissidents in China’s All-Seeing Eye, the second a call to action by Bruce Schneier entitled Our Data, Ourselves. Maybe it’s that a generation that never experienced 1984 as a date in the future can’t conceive of the dangers of surevillance society. Maybe it’s that because the current administration has largely confined activities against citizens who aren’t "typical Americans." Maybe it’s that the Iron Curtain has been gone for so long. Maybe it’s that the Myspace generation is already used to constant exposure of their intimate activities.

Whatever the reason, to imagine that surveillance culture is innocent is naïve. For modernists like Hannes Meyer, transparency was something to build into public buildings so that politicians couldn’t operate behind closed doors anymore, not a means by which to repress the people. Times have changed, apparently. Nobody sees inside the Oval Office, but we have waned, our bodies transparent to  technology.

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wmna on trevor paglen

Over at We Make Money Not Art, Regine has a great recap of Trevor Paglen’s research on the black world of CIA-run torture taxis, secret government installations, and classified government projects. Regine writes "His artistic work deliberately blurs the lines between social science, contemporary art, and other more obscure disciplines in order to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to interpret the world around us." See here.

I brought Trevor to the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design as part of the New Spaces, New Cartographers series I organized when I was Forum president in 2004 and was greatly impressed by the research he did. In an era in which our lives become as transparent as the government becomes opaque, Trevor shows us how we can turn the tables a little.

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paranoia, institutionalized

At the Washington Post (via Wired), you can read about yet another instance of unreasonable behavior by the post-9/11 national security state, in this case, the unlawful harrassment of a photographer shooting a random installation that turns out to be the DARPA headquarters.

Through actions such as this one—or the calculatingly demeaning but ineffectual "remove your shoes" security measures at the airport—the Bush-Cheney regime builds a regime of fear.

Then again, perhaps their fears are warranted…after all, a bunch of photographers, plane spotters, and the like, could cause a great deal of trouble.

On the positive side, I had zero harrassment while I was taking photographs for the infrastructural city book in Los Angeles, including this one, not far from city hall.

little tokyo showgirls

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