Since Edward Snowden revealed how everything and everyone is constantly monitored and how personal data is stored and analysed, we are more conscious than ever before of the internet as a surveilled space. But most of us do not possess the techniques and skills to recognise or understand online surveillance.
In the Reading Room of 26 November 2015 artist and hacker Paolo Cirio demonstrated how the mechanisms behind online surveillance can be made visible through artistic interventions. This was followed by a public discussion about ‘the right to be forgotten’, a recent ruling that allows people to request Google to remove personal information from search results.
The evening began with an intervention on the street. Cirio and the public placed two Street Ghosts – blurry images of people that can be seen on the Google Street View images of Het Nieuwe Instituut – on the building’s façade. The Street Ghosts – the first in Rotterdam – are located exactly where Google’s cameras photographed them. These ‘ghosts’ confront us with the presence of cameras all around us. We are always being watched.
Following the intervention, Paolo Cirio gave an introduction to his work on the sixth floor. The audience itself was shown on monitors and could also see the city below. Cirio explained the Reading Room’s subject for the evening, ‘the right to be forgotten’, after which he and the audience read and assessed cases from the Google Transparency Report. The cases that members of the public had requested to be ‘forgotten’ were then symbolically destroyed in a paper shredder.
Respondents Evelyn Austin (Bits of Freedom) and Daniël de Zeeuw (PhD Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis) had prepared questions based on their specific backgrounds. Evelyn Austin asked Paolo Cirio where we can expect change in terms of digital freedom to originate: from politicians, business or the people? Daniël de Zeeuw asked how we are to make sense of the dichotomy between social media and online privacy: on the one hand we want an active online social life, in which we are anything but anonymous, and on the other hand we want to ensure our privacy.
You can listen to Paolo Cirio’s responses at the top of this page.
Paolo Cirio is an artist whose work questions subjects such as privacy, intellectual property rights, the economy and democracy. He has previously made interventions as part of his Street Ghost project in various cities in Europe and the United States.
On The Guardian website you can read and see over ‘the right to be forgotten’.
Paolo Cirio works with information systems that impact the dynamics of social structures. Cirio's artworks investigate fields such as privacy, copyright, economy and democracy affected by communication networks. He shows his conceptual works through prints, installations, videos, online performances and interventions in the public space. Cirio has exhibited in international museums and institutions and has won numerous prestigious awards. His artworks have been covered by hundreds of media outlets.
The Reading Room is a series of evening exploring contemporary forms of reading. It is a place to decipher and interpret the world with its countless languages, signs and systems, including ideas and things that are hard to identify, let alone read. Guided by a researcher, designer or scholar, a small audience will reflect upon a text, a design, an object or a series of images. This is an evening of intimate and provocative conversations.