Last week, i was in Berlin for the talks and screenings organized by the Disruption Network Lab, a platform of events and research focused on art, hacktivism and disruption. DNL opened its program with Eyes from a Distance. On Drone-Systems and their Strategies, a conference that explored the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems. A couple of the talks have already been uploaded online. They will all be there eventually and in the meantime i'm going to dutifully post my notes from the conference.
Starting with the brilliant panel of the first evening. The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, moderated by journalist Laura Lucchini, explored drone strikes under the perspectives of an investigative journalist, a criminal law researcher, an activist and a blogger/journalist who lives in Gaza under the constant surveillance of the Israeli drones (more about her in a later post but go ahead if you're curious...)
The grey zone is of course the dangerous, blurry area where drone attacks operate. The practice of targeted killing by drones raises many questions: "How many civilians have been killed as collateral damage during these strikes?" "And even if we're talking about militants, how can the killings be justified when there has been judicial supervision? "If these drones can reach their targets anywhere, then how is the battlefield defined?" "87 countries (and counting) are now equipped with military drones, which they use mostly for surveillance. Only 3 countries use drones for targeted killings: the U.S., Israel and the UK. Where will this stop?" "And if these targeted killings are illegal, why does Europe keep silent?"
The first panelist was John Goetz, an American investigative journalist and author based in Berlin. He wrote, together with Christian Fuchs, the book Geheimer Krieg (Secret War) which reveals how the war on terror is secretly conducted from covert U.S. bases in Germany.
Goetz's presentation attempted to reconstruct one day of a drone attack in Somalia and as the narrative unfolded, we got to hear about Germany's involvement into these military operations, the way the U.S. gather intelligence in foreign territories and how innocents end up being caught in the line, if not directly targeted due to inaccurate information.
As he explained at the conference (and as an article in The Intercept further confirmed), drone strikes wouldn't be possible without the support of Germany. The Germans might not launch the attacks themselves but they provide intelligence and they coordinate the strikes that target suspected terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, but that also kill civilians.
The U.S. drone war in Africa is controlled from U.S. bases in Germany, namely Ramstein and Stuttgart. Germany is also responsible for gathering human intelligence. There are many Somali immigrants and asylum seekers in Germany and as they arrive, they are asked about streets, shops, location of members of Al-Shabaab, etc. Any information that could be used by the "War on Terror" is immediately relayed to U.S. intelligence officers.
The second speaker was Chantal Meloni, a criminal lawyer and the author of Is there a Court for Gaza? A Test Bench for International Justice, a book about the crimes perpetrated during the Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip.
Meloni put the issue of targeted killing by drones into a legal framework.
Since 2004, up to 5,500 people have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. These are countries the U.S. is not officially at war with.
Killing has supplanted capture as the centerpiece of the U.S. counter terrorism strategy. Opposition to drone killing is growing but it is not as effective as the opposition to torture was. A reason for that might be that the legal framework for drone strikes is more complex.
Drone strikes have escalated under the Obama administration and they are characterized by a lack of transparency: states don't disclose who has been killed, why and who are the collateral casualties. Obama doesn't disclose the identity of the people on the kill list. There is no public presentation of evidence, nor any judicial oversight. The level of opacity is actually ridiculous. The little information we have is provided by media reports, leaks or testimonies.
An analysis by the human rights organization Reprieve found that US operators targeting 41 men have killed an estimated 1,147 people. So who are the 1,106 individuals? We don't know, most of them remain unnamed. What is sure is that the collateral damage shows that drones are not as 'surgically precise' as the U.S. claims.
Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, sums up the situation: "Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials."
We associate the start of the drone attacks with the U.S. and their post-9/11 counter-terrorist strategy but the military use of drones started long before that, in Israel, a country that has the longest track record for targeted killing (aka "targeted prevention") of Palestinians. Targeted killings can be defined as the state-sponsored practice of eliminating enemies outside the territory.
Nowadays, most of the drones sold around the world are used for surveillance purposes but it has been forecast that in 10 years every country will have armed drones.
60% of the world export of drones come from Israel. Israeli manufacturer Elbit is producing the best selling model: the Hermes drone which was used in the latest attacks on Gaza. 37% of the killings that occurred during the attacks on Gaza can be attributed to drones.
One can see the appeal of drones for governments and policy makers: they are relatively cheap, they are claimed to be 'surgically precise', they make it easy to kill without any risk and they allow the army to reach their target in areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. But do their use comply with the martial law?
Targeted killings are generally unlawful under international laws.
The laws under war time are more permissible regarding the use of lethal forces. However, the right to use armed force is not unlimited. Civilians, for example, need to be protected from direct attacks.
States have thus expanded the concept of war on the battlefield as to include situations that should in fact be regulated by law enforcement agencies. The 'war on terror' is a total war for which no end nor boundaries is conceived. The number of enemies is infinite too. Governments justify the use of lethal forces by claiming that this is 'anticipatory self-defense' but, under the laws applicable under war time, the self-defense argument allows killing only when all other solutions, such as capture, have been exhausted. Most targeted killings outside the battlefield constitute thus premeditated deprivations of life, violations of the right to life.
When killings cannot be justified they constitute war crimes and other states have the duty to investigate and not leave dormant this huge accountability vacuum.
Tactical Technology Collective, Unseen War (Exposing the Invisible)
The final speaker was Marek Tuszynski, the co-founder of Tactical Tech, an organization 'dedicated to the use of information in activism.'
Tuszynski's talk focused on a series of short documentaries called Exposing the Invisible. The films look at the investigative work of journalists, artists, reporters, activists and technologists who explore publicly accessible data in order counter mainstream reports and go further than traditional journalistic investigations. One of the documentaries, Unseen War examines the physical, moral and political invisibility of US drone strikes in Pakistan.
He argued that counter powers should build their own intelligence practice.
The operations in Pakistan might be located far away but they concern us because
But there's no reason to be passive, we need to protect ourselves because surveillance doesn't require machines flying above our heads, we are already providing a vast quantity of valuable indormation when we use social media and that data can be used to analyse our digital behaviour. To protect yourself from intrusion to privacy, check out Tactical Tech's Security in-a-Box website.
Image on the homepage cnet.
Berlin-based artists Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud have installed WLAN / WiFi mesh network with can antennas on the roofs of the Academy of Arts and the Swiss Embassy, both located in the heart of "NSA's Secret Spy Hub" in the city. The network is at the disposal of passersby who would like to communicate anonymously and even send messages to operatives of the NSA and GCHQ intelligence who might lurk inside the nearby British Embassy and Embassy of the United States.
The installation is a direct reference to Edward Snowden's revelations that the U.S.' NSA, the UK's GCHQ and other key partners were operating a network of electronic spy posts hidden within the fabric of diplomatic buildings around the world.
Wachter and Jud's DIY can antennas don't hide themselves. They stand in plain sight between the camouflaged US and British listening posts and their network stretches over the administrative district of Berlin.
At the point at which the interception of Angela Merkel's cell phone occurred, the open network of anonymous communication options now unfolds as a legal and legitimate response to rigid restrictions on our freedoms and hidden, secret surveillance.
Messages can be sent to the intelligence agencies on the frequencies that are intercepted by the NSA and GCHQ. These personal messages include activist and political contributions, ironic disclosure of embarrassing intimacy, and calls for resistance. Many appeals are aimed directly at the surveillance operatives asking them to switch sides and become whistleblowers.
Mathias Jud was kind enough to answer my questions about the installation:
Hi Mathias! How did you get the authorizations to install the antennas? By the way, did you ask for authorisations?
The whole region is under special protection as it is next to the Parliament and the German Federal Chancellery. Surveillance, Police and Security are omnipresent. During our build up of the antenna tower a special Police helicopter with a pivoting surveillance cam was circling above us.
We also asked the Academy of Arts that is located next to the US embassy at the Brandenburg Gate. (The Academy of Arts is not an university, but an international 'master' academy of artists that was funded by a former Prussian king, and an art museum and collection.) Klaus Staeck, the President of the Academy and himself an active political graphic designer was very fond of the idea and promoted it together with Birgit Hein, the chief of the section Visual Arts.
In the last year we spent a lot of time discussing this project to be able to realise it. It is completely legal, and has the approval of the Swiss ambassador, the Swiss foreign office. The members of the Academy of the Arts discussed this project in their annual meeting and voted in favour of it. The German Federal Chancellery has been informed by the Swiss embassy.
Although our constitutional rights are restricted in the non-protest zone in the government district, there is no restriction of digital communication. With our qaul.net network that is the technological basis of the "Can you hear me?" installation we can experience a completely user-based network without any service provider as gate keeper and regulatory force in the network.
You organize guided tours. What do you show people exactly?
Guided tours are a possibility to discuss the project with us and to experience the special rules in the government district and the restricted zones in front of the embassies. We experience together the mesh network, and the area. We show how we built the antennas, discuss the network, the artwork and the philosophy behind it.
You also encourage people to send messages to operatives of the NSA and GCHQ intelligence, is that correct? how do you know how to reach them?
There is a special veneered wall at the US embassy, clearly discovered by infrared cameras where, according to the Snowden files, the listening post of the NSA is located. The GCHQ has a white radome where, according to the Snowden files, the listening post of the British is located.
Our antenna-tower on the roof of the Academy of the Arts is right in the middle of these listening posts and has a clear connection to them.
All messages in the WIFI mesh network are sent unencrypted to all participants in the network.
See also: Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev's PRISM: The Beacon Frame. Speculative NSA Network Surveillance Equipment which was swiftly censored.)
Notes about A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars , Laboral's new exhibition that addresses the ethical and legal ambiguity of drones, mass surveillance and war at a distance.
Drones are very much part of today's culture. You can buy one on amazon and fly it as if it were a sophisticated kite. You also probably read how they are (or will be) used to deliver urgent medical supplies, shoot movies, monitor crops, track wildlife or gather information after a natural or manmade disaster.
In many people's minds, hobbyist and civilian uses of UAVs have overtaken the military role and origins of drones. No surprise here as what governments are doing with drones, who they are killing and how is a mystery for the public. And even often for government officials, as this video shown by curator Juha van' t Zelfde during Laboral's drone conference illustrates:
Drones have been operating and killing since the early 2000s. Yet, we still have fairly few or no statistics regarding civilian casualties. The Bureau of Investigative Journalist does a great job at counting strikes and casualties in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Data gets blurry when it comes to attacks in other countries such as Afghanistan. And a lack of transparency goes hand in hand with a lack of accountability. The wars are fought in remote countries by invisible technologies operated in the name of people who have only a very limited knowledge of what is happening 'on the war front' and this situation contrasts with the ability that satellite images have given us to see and explore the world. The irony is illustrated by James Bridle's ongoing series of aerial photographs of military surveillance drones, found via online maps accessible to everyone.
The title A screaming comes across the sky is taken from Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow, which explores the social and political context behind the development of the V-2 rocket, the first long-range ballistic missile and the first man-made object to enter the fringes of space. The rocket was developed by the German military during World War II to attack Allied cities as a form of retaliation for the ever-increasing Allied bombings against German cities. Today's technologies of war, such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, and their laser-guided Hellfire missiles, bear resemblance to the V-2 in their ability to operate unseen and to strike without warning.
In the post-PRISM age of mass surveillance and invisible war, artists, alongside journalists, whistleblowers and activists, reveal the technological infrastructures that enable events like drone-strikes to occur.
I've now seen quite a few exhibitions that explored the politics, ethics and meanings of drones. A screaming comes across the sky manages to bring a fresh and compelling perspective on the issue by taking sometimes a more oblique, metaphorical approach to drones. While the curator selected some of the most iconic works dealing directly with drones today, he also looked at artists who are interested in questions of surveillance and control but in a rather poetical, symbolic or even sometimes humourous way.
Martha Rosler's Theater of Drones is a great introduction to the subject of drone warfare. The banner installation was first exhibited in Charlottesville, the first city in the United States to pass a law restricting the use of drones in its airspace
Talking about the drones, Rosler said: "They appear to make war invisible, but of course in the countries that we're bombing, and where people are being killed, they are a terror fact of everyday life. They don't terrorize us, because we have this classic split, which we also had during the Vietnam War of over here and over there are two different worlds, and they're not really connected."
The banners list a series of chilling facts about drones: "The Air Force has plotted the drone future to 2047. The Pentagon plans to increase funding by 700% over the next decade." "Since 2004, drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,115 people in Pakistan. Fewer than 2 percent of the victims are high-profile targets. The rest are civilians, and alleged combatants. " And this little gem of a quote by a Pentagon official:
"They don't get hungry. They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."
The same room also showed works developed by fabLAB Asturias. The prototypes, platforms and maps bring the drone issue into a context closer to citizens' daily interests and experiences (a dedicated post about fabLAB's drone experiments is coming up!) Their projects also remind the public that the U.S> military doesn't have the monopoly of questionable use of drones. Using them for surveillance, border control and in military contexts is very much part of the European agenda as well.
Quick tour of the other works on show:
As part of his ongoing research on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Lot Amoros placed posters around Egypt to inform people how to protect themselves from Israel's Heron drones. Israel is the world's leading exporter of military drones. As this video shows, Israeli drones and other weapons meet with great success on the international market as they have been repeatedly tried and tested on Palestinians.
The instructions of the Dronism document were directly quoted from real Al-Qaida drone documents. All al-Qaida references or aggressive languages were removed and replaced with peaceful instructions for the sole purpose of offering innocent civilians a series of tools to protect themselves from unmanned aerial vehicles, using common materials and trash to construct frequency inhibitors, camera blinders, etc.
Amoros also intended to send the instructions to Palestine on board a tiny DIY drone. It turned out that flying the quadcopter over the border into Palestinian territory was too dangerous. The artist and activist did however succeed to send the instructions via underground tunnels.
I was so glad to get another chance to see Grasso's wonderful On Air again. , The film, shot in 2009 in The United Arab Emirates, looks at traditional hawk hunting. The bird in the movie is equipped with light and sophisticated surveillance equipment. Once let to roam free above the land, it becomes a spying tool, recording every dune and village it flies over. The images are fascinating but they are also threatening.
The movie and its paranoia-inducing music reminds us that a technique to use pigeons for aerial photography of enemy lines during wars was developed as early as 1907. The practice might not have vanished completely. A few years ago, articles reported that Iranian security forces had captured a pair of "spy pigeons," not far from one of the country's nuclear processing plants.
Which brings us nicely to Alicia Framis's History of Drones. Her taxidermied work presents the pigeon as the predecessor of today's drones. In 1908, German apothecary Julius Neubronner patented aerial photography by means of a pigeon photographer. The invention was tried out for military air surveillance in the First World War and later.
Besides actually being used in military contexts as a means of surveillance and collecting intelligence, they were indeed unmanned aerial instruments, which might had a different historical importance if it wasn't for the quick and strong progress in the field of aviation. In this new work, Framis creates a light-hearted reminder of the evolution of aerial espionage.
MQ1 Predator Drone Shadow
Check out the video below for more details about Bridle's interest in drones:
The talk is available in spanish as well.
Really like this work. I wrote about it Here.
A video showing 56 remote-controlled toy helicopters taking to the sky to great chaos.
A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars is at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre) until 12 April 2015. In collaboration with Lighthouse.
Related stories: Flone, The Flying Phone, A dystopian performance for drones, KGB, CIA black sites and drone performance. This must be an exhibition by Suzanne Treister, Under the Shadow of the Drone and The Digital Now - 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity'.
Last year, news emerged that Russia's agency responsible for the Kremlin security was buying electric typewriters and "expanding the practice of creating paper documents" in a bid to prevent leaks from computer hardware. A few months later, The Guardian was forced to destroy the computer equipment that stored the NSA files provided by Edward Snowden. Diego Trujillo Pisanty saw reminiscence of the Cold War in these two stories and in other current news related to state espionage.
His This Tape Will Self Destruct machine prints self destructing documents. The documents merge images and texts extracted from Cold War fictions with excerpts from current secret documents. A short amount of time after they've left the machine, these documents burst into fire and their content is gone forever.
What is the paper made of? How come it 'auto-combusts'?
The paper is normal thermal paper used in receipt printers. As the document is printed it is treated with glycerol and a potassium salt. When these two substances mix at the end of the process they react exothermically to produce fire, this reaction ignites the paper and the heat also blackens any unburnt parts of the document as it is printed on thermal paper. The chemistry behind this is actually a common GCSE demonstration so it's nothing too complicated.
i'd also like to understand how the documents are generated. They are "a mixture of images and texts extracted from Cold War fictions paired up with excerpts from current secret documents". Are they generated randomly? do you design them yourself?
I designed (or more accurately curated) the documents myself based on relationships I saw between images and texts. For example one of the documents contains the famous Mission: Impossible (1966) phrase:
"As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."
Presented next to an excerpt from an NSA leaked document reading:
Other documents focused more on visual aesthetics of devices and architecture, for example the parallel between the circular composition of the war room in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and the GCHQ 'doughnut' building.
Where do these images and texts from Cold War fictions come from? And where do you find the current secret ones?
The images and texts from Cold War fiction come from watching many hours of (usually very bad) Cold War film and television and manually curating extracts that relate to previously revised contemporary secret documents. Most of the extracts come from the early 007 films (Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker), the Mission: Impossible 1960s television series, Macgyver as well as other fiction films of the era such as The Conversation and Dr. Strangelove.
I initially intended to work with the original files leaked by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning but even after they have been covered in the news it is very hard to find the primary sources for them. The current secret documents I used come from different places, mainly non-government organizations and news agencies. Many came from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their repository of NSA primary sources (https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/nsadocs). Some others came from The Guardian and their similar list of U.S. embassy cables summaries (now taken down but formerly http://www.theguardian.com/world/series/us-embassy-cables-the-documents) and The Intercept (https://firstlook.org/theintercept/documents/). Other documents were found throughout the web from all sorts of sources and forums with varying degrees of credibility.
Why did you decide to work with Cold War fictions documents instead of actual CW documents?
I did for a while focus on Cold War declassified documents, for example I did some reading around the STASI archive and even some pre-Cold war sources such as the recently disclosed Manhattan District History (https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan_district.jsp). However most of these documents did not seem as relevant as some of the things discussed in fiction. I think that in the Cold War way of thinking an omniscient machine capable of spying on everyone seemed like a holy grail. This comes across in discussions of satellite imagery and long distance radio networks in many films and television series.
I also find it interesting to think that the rhetoric in these fictions could have done some of the ideological groundwork that led to mass online surveillance. It seems that in many of these franchises (007, Mission: Impossible, Macgyver, etc.) it's fine for the government to spy, impersonate and assassinate local and foreign citizens if they have reason to believe that they are suspicious. The 'good guys' in these series overthrow governments, kill criminals without trial and have no regards for international agreements and human rights, but they do it all for the sake of national security so it becomes justifiable. This is where I see a real link between the fiction and a reality in which citizens are prepared to accept that unregulated surveillance is good because it will stop 'the bad guys'.
Do you see relationship with the 300 Years Time Bomb? because news and secrets are explosive in their own way too..
I see a link in the popular culture that both of these projects take from, I would say that action cinema was very relevant to my generation and that this ends up showing in my work. I also see a relationship in the way I explored the way we assign value to things based on their lifespan. The 300 Year Time Bomb gained historical value by existing 300 years whereas a self destructing document gains value by existing for a very short amount of time, meaning that only a privileged person will be able to read it.
I hadn't actively thought of the secret as explosive but I think it is implicit when I say that "The release of the NSA files will likely be part of this decade's history". I think that Snowden's leaked documents have caused a sort of explosion resulting in an accelerated process of questioning the ethics around online technologies, digital democracies and personal rights online.
Ghostradio, by Pamela Neuwirth, Franz Xaver and Markus Decker, is a physical mechanism that generates random numbers through chance. The works is an intriguing comment on the mass-surveillance of our everyday digital moves:
At the moment, information exchanges on the internet are either in plaintext, or they use, for 'secure' transmission, encryption. For cryptograpic methods to be safe it is essential to create a very good random key. Usually these keys are produced by pseudorandom generators. As they are produced by algorithms, they are not really random, and can be outguessed with the help of powerful computers.
And this is where ghostradio comes in. The device produces real random numbers. Referring to the use of chance in art and to the Second Order cybernetics of Heinz von Förster, Ghostradio deploys feedback and quantum effects to create random numbers from the boundaries of reality and beyond. Ghostradio publishes the resulting random number datastream for the generation of cryptographic keys. This will release the public from the current state of surveillance.
I discovered Ghostradio a few weeks ago in Riga. The installation was part of Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an
Ghostradio sounded suitably mysterious and dark. So i contacted the artists for a quick Q&A:
What makes the random number produced by the ghostradio more 'real' than the random key usually produced to ensure the safety of cryptographic communication?
The ghostradio randomness is not more real than the randomness calculated in industry made computers. But it is a different approach and the mechanism has a systematic and theoretical complexity but is technically easy to understand. This prevents manipulative elements to be inserted in, so backdoors are unlikely, compared to the calculations of randomness, where someone needs higher math knowledge to understand the mechanisms.
With the ghostradio project we try to discuss this issues of trust, which underlies such security structures, either you believe in the security of a system or not. You, as a untrained person, will never know. We personally rather distrust all public known models of the crypto warfare, than believe in it, and that was the motivation to dig into this field.
Funnily enough, we do see this relationship of trust everywhere in our constructed reality. Maybe today's most prominent religious system is, for instance, the banking sector. This makes us think about dollar note in the movie They Live.
The project description mentions that "we are publishing this random numbers datastream for cryptographic key generation." Where are you publishing it? Can we get access to it?
Yes, we publish each day, as long as a exhibition lasts and therefore the ghostradio mechanism is in service, a 2gb random binary on the web. You can access it via the address http://www.firstfloor.org/ghostradio/web/random.html and each month we do a special signal radio broadcast on air, on the local radio station FRO, and distribute a 2h long random signal of our prototype machines.
Can you describe the exhibition setting? What it is made of and what is the purpose of each part?
ghostradio is a metaphysical geometric setup. We do have a feedback noise signal accelerated to the speed of light. This signal is broadcast over 3 metaphysical antennas,
The light speed and the antennas open a string into the multiverse of our doppelgänger, we know nothing about, the ghost. the thunderstorm generator is a source of uncertainty,
I was interested by the fact that the text that describes the work focuses on the need to protect ourselves from surveillance rather than piracy. Is surveillance the new/another form of piracy?
In the daily communication experience, surveillance interface technologies are invasive. Piracy on the other hand are matters of corporate politics, concerned about their market shares, and so on. In that sense, both terminologies for us are not directly comparable. Although the corporations and the surveillance space serve each other.
In legal terms we do see the mass-surveillance as a criminal constant, that goes along with the constant state of emergency and might be legally for a state within the material law. Otherwise we don't see much difference to the act of piracy.
As supporters of the idea of a open information society we do like the utopia of the free information flow, where all data are save and there's no need to protect them because no one is after them. In that sense the communication is safe but not private, a trustful relationship in a fictional open knowledge-based society.
Check out the ghostradio at the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.
Jennifer Lyn Morone has turned herself into a corporation and collection of marketable goods and services. Everything she is biologically and intellectually, everything she does, learns or creates has the potential to be turned into profits. Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc is a graduation project in Design Interactions but as Jennifer underlines, this is not a speculative project.
JLM Inc is a new business established to determine the value of an individual. The corporation derives value from three sources and legally protects and bestows rights upon the total output of Jennifer Lyn Morone:
1. Past experiences and present capabilities. These are offered as biological, physical and mental services such as genes, labour, creativity, blood, sweat and tears.
JLM Inc is not only an audacious long term performance, it is also an thought-provoking exploration into personal data exploitation by corporations and governments. The projects is an extreme form of capitalism which might ironically enable an individual to regain some ownership of and power over their own data. Jennifer Lyn Morone Inc is obviously a very personal venture but the designer is also beta testing on herself an app, the Database of ME or DOME, that will ensure that your identity and data can be collected and stored for you and only you.
A few questions (amongst the dozens i wanted to ask) to Jennifer:
Hi Jennifer! I obviously laughed when i read the sentence 'This is not a Speculative Project' in the gallery. So you really managed to become an Incorporated Person? How did you do that? Is this a standard, banal process?
It's nice to know that the sign worked as it was intended. I feel that there's a limit to the impact that speculative work can have as it can't be directly compared to a current reality. This was my way of addressing the audience just to make it clear that the project is real and actively negotiating several problems that we are faced with today and that need to be addressed.
So, yes, I really have become an Incorporated Person. The process has not been standard or banal at all but that's probably because I am not in business school setting up a business to sell something. Rather, I was on a critical design course reappropriating capitalist and corporate strategy to make being a person a business.
In November 2013 I starting looking into the details to incorporate, which seemed deceptively simple: choose the business name; decide what kind legal entity you want your business to be (I became a C-corporation); figure out where to incorporate (I did it in Delaware); find a registered agent; fill out some forms; and then pay. All of this, however, required a significant amount of research for me to even understand what the legal and financial implications of my decisions would be. For example: what being a C-corp versus an S-corp entails, how valuation of companies works, what are the benefits to incorporating in Delaware compared to other States, how shares work and how the price per share is determined (which I find completely illogical).
I used the research, combined it with my intention and fused it into a business plan where I had to define what my mission is, what I stand for, and what my vision is and how I plan to achieve these by being the business (person) I will be. Repurposing the corporate mentality even further required me to stop thinking like an individual about what I want and need but what other people want and what can I offer to meet their needs. This helped me to determine my services.
What I found interesting is that it is quite common for people to incorporate before they even know what they want to do. They can do this because, in Delaware where the majority of major corporations are located, all you need to state in the articles is that "The purpose of the corporation is to engage in any lawful activity for which corporations may be organized under the General Corporation Law of Delaware". This is also the common way of describing what the company will do so as not to limit the ways in which it can make money.
Now that I have incorporated myself, I have legally created another person with my name in the eyes of the law. In the USA my corporate self now has not only the same but even more rights and benefits than I do as an individual. My corporate self takes on any responsibility and I am not liable for its actions or debt, only my initial investments. This is why we see companies able to go bankrupt, get bailouts or get away with ruthlessness without anyone being charged or responsible for what happens.
As the founder of my corporation I turn over my skills, capital, possessions and intellectual property to it and these become its assets and increase its value. My identity (name, appearance and IP addresses) become the brand and are trademarked; my mental abilities (knowledge) as processes and strategies; my physical abilities as equipment; my biological functions as products, my data is the corporations property and the shares are my potential. These all become assets that I can now capitalise on. My debt is turned into the corporations liability, which actually increases the company's value if it were to be sold.
By issuing shares I can raise capital, based purely on my potential success. In exchange the shareholder has partial ownership of my corporation. I wanted to do this to expose that shares in no way reflect the true value of a company, only its perceived value based on popularity and that stock markets are pure gambling.
As the founder I can set the price of the shares extremely low, the usual amount advised in 10,000,000 shares at $0.001 or $0.0001 per share, I opted for the latter. After that I applied for a tax number (EIN), which takes about an hour to receive. Then you have to set up a bank account after which you can buy your shares, usually at least a third of the shares, and reserve about 10-15% for stock equity to pay for any services needed. Then you look at what the corporation's assets are, what's your inventory, and include the work that has gone in so far and put a number to it. A valuation has to be done to then determine what the new price per share will be and this can be done by someone who is an experienced investor or a venture capitalist, but they basically just take that number that you have got and multiply it by 10 and then divide that by the number of shares.
How do you put value on things such as Education RCA and Live and work in Germany? And why is living and working in Germany proportionally more valuable than living and working in France?
Those prices actually have no reflection of how valuable the experiences have been. What the numbers represent are of what my life has cost so far divided up into periods of time based and how much I either earned or what was paid for me to live and learn. These become my base values, the initial investment, on top of which I can begin adding the intangible (knowledge, personality, skills which are very hard to put a price on) I gained from these experiences and tangible assets (possessions/inventory, both internally - i.e. blood and externally - i.e. computer) that I acquired or continually produce. This gives me a starting point to know what my production costs are so I can determine an honest price for my services.
The cost of my education, how much I received after my father passed and how much I earned in France and Germany (to answer your question: France was significantly less since I worked for an ex-partner and didn't receive a salary but also didn't pay rent) I knew already. What I didn't know and never thought to ask before was how much I cost my parents, purely financially, from conception to the age of 18. I asked my mother and she came back to me with this number with inflation figured in. I've since set aside shares for her.
It is an interesting perspective to now have. Often we think about what we don't have or aren't receiving. By calculating how much money has gone into my existence as input I then took a look at what my output has been, what I've actually done with that, and I wasn't terribly impressed. In capitalism individuals are meant to consume as much input as possible, while corporations can't survive unless their output is both useful and greater than their input, which needs to be relevant and not wasteful of time or money.
Could you explain us the purpose of the DOME app? How does it insure that your own information remains your property?
The philosopher John Locke stated that a person's natural and inalienable rights are "life, liberty, and property": that "everyone is entitled to live once they are created", that "everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn't conflict with the first right" and that "everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain so long as it doesn't conflict with the first two rights". Today, I believe that the data a person creates should be considered their property: it has a monetary value in the economic system that our lives are structured around. So I see data as a resource that people create and that is currently being exploited.
Governments were created to protect people and their rights but as we are living in a time of crony capitalism, where economic success is dependent on close relationships between business people and government officials, I think it will be a long time before any policy or solutions will be established. Instead what we are seeing are efforts made to better track and monitor our actions to get a clearer picture of how to better target our consumptive behaviour. This is what I consider data slavery.
Right now, as a hyper-connected network society, each person creates a trail of data that is being used and profited on mostly for advertising purposes. People are now referred to as consumers and statistics and government and Industry pay substantial sums for our information.
So as a form of protest and in an effort to revolt against this, I am using subversive tactics to reclaim what I feel should be a person's rights by incorporating my identity and creating DOME (Database of Me) as a way to take ownership and control of my property. Now that I am a corporation any data that I create that is linked to my name, IP address and appearance is copyrighted or trademarked and therefore subject to litigation if used without my permission...think of how Getty gets the rights to images and if you use it without their permission or having paid you get a fine. So any photo I take, any email I write, any call, text, web search, cctv footage of me that is stored on someone else's, company's or government's sever does not have the right to be there or to be used, sold, leased or traded.
DOME's function, in its simplest form, is an app that acts as a firewall between you and other servers. You use all of the same services, apps and interfaces you do today but you also have your own server and the app operates quietly in the background of any device you use, making two copies of the data you transmit. One hard copy goes to your database, the other is encrypted and goes to its intended destination but can't be used beyond that. In DOME's complete form it is a customisable app that still does what the simpler form does but with its own applications so that a person can communicate, share photos, socialise, navigate, search for information, and record external sensors such as biosignals. So people would need to have their own server or a data locker on a shared server and download the app on their computers and phones.
For the purpose of this project all of my personal data collected with DOME is being displayed on the tracking page. This is to show and make a clear distinction that there are real lives behind the data, which is something that I think is critically missed in this data discussion. Right now there is only a portion of my information compared to what will eventually be there. It will being streamed in real-time to mimic how the NSA, GCHQ, Google, and others view our information now and it is public because I want to draw attention to how exposed we currently are.
I am also using it to measure my "operations" to monitor and track productivity and efficiency in the same way that corporations normally do. Spy software and keyloggers are becoming very commonplace mostly used by companies on their employees, jealous partners to their loved ones and parents to their children.
Currently, I am the first and only beta tester. I am using myself as the case study to capture as much data about myself as possible, store it all in one place to see how much a person can actually generate, and then correlate it to see which combinations are valuable.
Given the growing market for information if people have ownership and control of their data they should be the ones compensated for it, not other companies. So beyond any success with DOME I have the intention to build a Platform, or try to work with others who are heading in this direction as well, as a cooperative Data Broker. People would use DOME and have an overview of their information as a data portfolio from which they could choose, if they want, to send as packaged data sets to the Platform as an investment for a known purpose. The Platform would then combine different people's information, as this increases the value of the data, and then sell it to the approved markets. Those that contribute their information would then get a return on their investment. This is not necessarily the best solution, it is only a fairer alternative to the system that is in place now.
Do you think that an individual has more to lose or more to gain from this extension of capitalism to their own person? Because on the one hand, they regain some power. On the other hand, the idea seems a bit perverse.
What I am doing is quite outside the realm of ordinary behaviour but we are made to behave in what I consider quite a perverse way because of the economic system in place. Which I am in awe of as it is not really what I would have expected after millennia of evolution.
But here we are and it is obvious that Capitalism works best for Capitalists. So, I am experimenting, with myself as the subject, to push the limits to the extreme to provoke change. The way in which I am doing it is merely reflecting how things are and where they seem to be heading. Systems and governments have been adjusted and overthrown before, the problem with this one is that it works too well for the ones running it but not well enough for the rest...and the disparity is growing wider.
Theoretically, I think a person would have more to gain as a corporation as long as capitalism is in place. In practice you might have to ask me that in a year, five or even 10 years time. People change, adapt, and continue to learn throughout their lives which is much more sustainable and scalable than the way companies operate. Together we are very diverse and alone unique because of the experiences we go through which create our most valuable asset, our individual perspectives. We all have assets and potential, but for many only a small percentage is even used and rarely for one's own benefit. If my friends and family became corporations I know exactly who I would use and for what and I know who I would invest in, not only because of what they can do but because of who they are.
If people were to write a business plan like I did they would most likely benefit in some way and definitely gain a greater perspective. But unless they take on the legal and financial implications like I have they won't truly change the way they live and how they engage with others. Technically speaking, all becoming a corporation really comes down to is looking at what you do and what you want to do and applying the same terminology, strategy and framework that corporations use to make money. I think that there will always be perversion as long we need to gain or earn money, or some form of currency, to meet our basic needs.
Could you describe to us the kind of services you are offering for free or those you are offering in exchange of money?
It really depends on who is asking and what they are asking for and is also affected by supply and demand. My services are categorised under mental, physical or biological, under which are combinations of features such as problem solving, compassion, strength, coordination, heat, and bodily functions. So when I offer something for free it's because I produce it anyway and have no use for it myself and there is no demand, so it's waste. If there starts to be a demand then it's no longer waste but a byproduct which I can sell. If there's something that is going to require depleting a resource, which would be measured by time, money and energy spent, in order to do it; such as consoling a friend and trying to help him through his problems for a few hours, then it will either be an exchange or invoiced. For example if this friend who often asks to meet to talk about his relationship problems is also there for me when I need consoling or help then it's an exchange. But if he is never there for me when I need it, then I would send him an invoice.
Another example compared to how we are used to working now would be if a firm or company wants me for some mental services, say creativity and knowledge, then it would be similar to acquiring a consultant, but I would calculate my price based on what the knowledge cost to produce (education and experience) and calculate in my overhead costs, what I lost in time and energy against what I may have gained in value such as enjoyment or if I learned something new. If I there was value I gained I would deduct that from the price.
Oh! i just saw you're offering free urine! Is it ironic or would the urine be of any use to the buyer?
It's both! There's irony in the whole project, I've just dealt with it very pragmatically. We are bound to our bodies, some ways it's an extension of our mind, in other ways it operates without us even having to think about it, in either case you are in it for as long as you live, or as long as it keeps up. It is 100% yours but there are external factors such as laws and taboos that condition you to use your bodies and the valuable things they do in very specific and deemed acceptable ways. Companies on the other hand don't work this way. As I described above in how a waste might turn into a profitable byproduct, it depends on supply and demand.
So if you look at the body as equipment with quite mechanical operations, it produces things like urine systematically. As I am just starting I don't have any customers. So I am copying how businesses give free promotions to attract potential buyers. In my research I came across people that were looking to buy urine for drug tests. There is also the potential to sell to labs of companies that are developing bio-fuel cells to power phones. Who knows who else might want it.
As there's a pretty steady supply, which can be increased to an extent, if there started to be a demand that was more than I could supply then I could increase the price. If the demand is equal to the supply then I would price it based on what I saw people would pay and keep it competitive to bottled synthetic urine, yes there is such a thing. I could also increase my profit margin by only drinking tap water.
So, there's irony on several levels: to illustrate the exploitative aspect of capitalism on resources and what this looks like at the extreme level of and by the individual; the ways in which we are conditioned to use our bodies and what we are 'allowed' to do with them; and the fact that you can potentially sell anything as long as there's a willing buyer.
There is also another level of sincerity, in that the more manual your work is the less you are paid. When times are really tough, women in particular have had to resort to selling their bodies for money, with sex, pulling teeth, hair. I saw many people online looking to sell their kidney to help a friend in financial need. I also went to start a clinical drug trial and found that there are many healthy and educated young people who are now doing this for additional income. In face of an increasingly specialised workforce and automation of manual jobs people have to be resourceful and will have to look at what they have and what they can offer to live from.
Do you have a marketing plan that will ensure that people are eager to get those services and that you will make a profit rapidly?
I do have a marketing strategy as it was part of the business plan. My initial customers or users of my services will be everyone I engage with and know now. For example, if you wanted to interview me after the launch you would have to go through my website, check my calendar and block my time with the type service you want. You can then check my progress with the tracking page to make sure I'm doing what you asked of me. It would probably be an exchange as you are promoting me and helping me reach a wider audience, which would increase the value of me as a company and therefore effect my share price, creating profit for the shareholders.
My website will be monetised on the use and tracking page with banner ads to click on displaying things I own and want to sell, services I'm promoting and other people's services. That will be similar to the way Google AdSense works with affiliate marketing but instead of products and companies it will be with people I know are looking for work or have just done something that's available to the public, such as an exhibition or a book.
I plan to create some revenue also from endorsements to promote events I might attend, clothes I might wear, restaurants I might eat at and products I might use. This is to reflect how celebrities and athletes are used to influence the public and how product placement only happens when it has been paid to be seen. However, as normal people, we actually buy things and become walking billboards if logos or the brand's identity are obvious.
Finally, there is the profitable but time consuming endeavor of pursuing intellectual property infringements. The profit of this will depend on whether my lawyer will charge me fees or if he will take a percentage from cases won.
In the video you present yourself dressed as a businessman. Why not highlight the fact that you're a woman?
This project takes its stance in criticism to the capitalist system of which I can not think of a more iconic image than the man's business suit. When you see a man in a business suit you know his job is to make money. I wanted to highlight that I am reappropriating the Capitalist's role and strategy by embodying this uniform. There is a very schizophrenic nature to this project and through it I must play many different roles and not all of them will fit. The clips in the back are used to represent this and indicate that I am making this role fit me and not the other way around.
I think that it is still obvious in the video that I am a woman. If I had accentuated this fact by dressing up in a female business outfit or a sexy dress then I still would still be playing a role. Actually, over the course of this project so far the fact that I am a woman has already come in the way a few times and with people I considered friends. One wanted to help with contextualising the philosophical nature of the project. Our communications became muddy because he developed feelings, which was uncomfortable to say the least. Then he became greedy after speaking with people about the project and aggressively stated that he deserved a large proportion of shares. And finally, he was dishonest about how he used money I gave him to set up the my server. The second set-back, which was directly because I am a woman, was with a friend that I pitched to as a potential investor, since he's squandering lots of money to build a spaceship so he can go to the moon in a few years. At first he was very interested, up until the point that he realised I was not going to sleep with him.
It looks to me like the project has just begun and you are going to learn and experience a lot in the coming months. Or will JML Inc disappear beyond the graduation show?
Yes, this project has just begun and there is so much work still to be done before launching. Over the summer I will be at Innovation RCA's launchpad where I will have a business mentor and work more on the marketing plan. I will also be holding a crowdfunding campaign for DOME and will soon do a friends and family round of shareholders for JLM Inc.
I am looking forward to many aspects of the project such as exposing the loopholes that big corporations use to their benefit and challenging norms that we are conditioned to. I have already learned many things and gained a greater understanding of our economic system, which brings a clarity to why our society and culture are as they are.
This project has the potential to go on indefinitely as I am using my life as the subject. And just as life goes, it's hard to say what the outcome will be.
Film: director- Ilona Gaynor