Seeing things in a different light…

It’s been a while, and Jeremy is not back yet. Panopticam has probably gone for good…

However, just when I was about to start packing to return to Brazil, I received a nice message from someone who visited the blog recently, but also the news (via the Urban Lab) about a new computer game by the Bentham Project, called Panopticon Pandemonium. So, I thought it was worthy a post!

The game recreates Bentham’s prison model, the panopticon, and invites players to try the role of the prison’s governor or guard’s supervisor in keeping prisoners contained and behaving nicely, as well as maintaining the prison in order and financially healthy. Players are said to be guided by Jeremy “himself” who will give advices based on his very writings and thoughts. Here is what they say about the game:

“Based in large part on Bentham’s published works, and unpublished manuscripts being explored by volunteers for UCL’s award-winning Transcribe Bentham initiative, Panopticon Pandemonium will provide players with fresh insights into one of the most controversial aspects of Bentham’s thought”

And I will finish this brief (and probably last) post on this experimental project with the kind message I received from Chris, a mysterious visitor. In the end, I have similar feelings when I look back and think about what was supposed to be only a one-day joke. So, thanks to Chris, all other visitors who sent and didn’t send messages, and also thanks to Jeremy and the Urban Lab!

“Thanks for helping me to see things in a different light” (Chris)

Perhaps Panopticon Pandemonium’s players will also see things differently when they look into “Jeremy’s eyes” seeking advice to control their prisoners…

Panopticon Pandemonium

Panopticon Pandemonium

Where is Jeremy?

It’s been a few months and Jeremy has not opened his eyes again. So, I apologise but I was forced to discontinue this project. If and when the Panopticam gets back online, I will resume the messages to Jeremy and will keep watching the man watching me watching him…

Panopticam and Bentham asleep since February 25th.

Panopticam and Bentham asleep since February 25th.

Facebook doesn’t like privacy!

[Primeiramente #ForaTemer; First of all #TemerOut]

Unfortunately, the Panopticam stopped broadcasting the exact hour I was showing this message. So, the very last image broadcasted from their Twitter and YouTube accounts was the one just before me. The text below was ready since the day before and I was waiting until Jeremy was back online to release it, but after realising they are not going to resuscitate the project before I finish my sabbatical leave, I decided to post it anyway. So, this message was originally planned and delivered on February 24th 2016, and is being released on June 23rd 2016, with no images from the Panopticam…

Day 76: Facebook doesn't like privacy

Day 76: Facebook doesn’t like privacy

Inspiration for this message/quote came from the Channel 4 series called Data Baby, with lots of very interesting reports on issues involving privacy, Internet of Things, social media, surveillance, and obviously big data.

In one of the articles, “Ten reasons we should quit Facebook of good”, I found this quote saying Facebook doesn’t like privacy, despite its long and visible privacy policy. The problem, according to this text, the change the policy too much, sometimes unannounced, all according to their own interests and to adjust new features and avoid being sued later – and, of course, having the right to sell users’ data, which is what really matters to them.

Data is today’s goldmine and privacy settings are always calibrated to the amount of “freedom” companies have to monetise personal data. They will say they’re never interested in content and the actual personal data, and this is true, but they can do a lot more to what is known as metadata (data about data). Ask the NSA and GCHQ what kind of data they collect and the answer is exactly the same (have a look at this: “Phew, NSA Is Just Collecting Metadata”). US  Senator Dianne Feinstein (chair of the Senate intelligence committee) has this to say about NSA bulk metadata collection programmes:

“The call-records program is not surveillance. It does not collect the content of any communication, nor do the records include names or locations. The NSA only collects the type of information found on a telephone bill: phone numbers of calls placed and received, the time of the calls and duration.”

They usually don’t want to read our emails or listen to our phone calls, when all they need to build “profiles” is to know who we’re emailing/phoning or when, where from, and things like that. So, with metadata they have users’ habits, connections, movements, necessities, preferences, consumer records, you name it! Ok, this message isn’t about NSA or GCHQ, but Facebook. So, just imagine what Facebook can do with everything its users post/like/share/comment on their profiles?!

A final update to this message (June 23rd 2016) comes from the funny picture posted by Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently, where it’s possible to spot his own laptop on the background with tape covering its webcam and microphone. If there’s anyone who knows what’s possible to collect from someone else’s computers, I guess this is him…

Zuck's covered camera and mic

Zuck’s covered camera and mic

Jeremy is blind again!

I have to be sorry. My last message was on February 23. Since then the Panopticam went offline and never came back (apart from a quick blink on the 25th with a feed on the YouTube channel).

So, as obvious as it can be, no Panopticam, no messages; no messages, no comments. There is no meaning for this project to continue if I can’t watch Jeremy watching me, watching him…

Let’s see how long his sleep will last this time!

“Discipline is exercised on the bodies of individuals, and security is exercised over a whole population” (M. Foucault)

I am currently writing a book chapter with Lucas Melgaço about informational territorialisation and the complex aspects of the relationship between actions that happen dispersed and splintered over networks of data such as the Internet, and the physical (topological) bounds to those actions.

Part of this paper is focused on discussing the meaning of sovereignty and how this concept is inherently attached to a demarcation of territories through precise boundaries and symbolic elements of identity. The idea is to confront this notion of controlled territories to what goes on online, in the so-called cyberspace, and to analyse various attempts by governments and corporations to transfer their sovereign powers on to the informational space, in the making of informational territories.

I am saying all this because Foucault, in his series of lectures on security, territory and population, relates the constitution of territory to the spatialization of social control and security by showing how the exercise of power is applied in space. This is where I got today’s message from, as for him, “sovereignty is exercised within the borders of a territory, discipline is exercised on the bodies of individuals, and security is exercised over a whole population”.

I will say more about my chapter with Lucas as soon as it comes out…

Day 75: "Discipline is exercised over individuals' bodies [...] security is exercised over the whole population" (M. Foucault)

Day 75: “Discipline is exercised over individuals’ bodies […] security is exercised over the whole population” (M. Foucault)

Who has the rights to be where, when and how?

This message is, in fact, a quote by sociologist Paul Jones during an interview to Mark Townsend for his interesting article published by the Guardian titled “Will privatisation of UK cities rip out their hearts?” earlier this week.

This is part of a series of articles by the Guardian on the privatisation of public spaces in the UK. Townsend’s article focused on Liverpool and its central Liverpool One private development which, obviously, resembles any other privatised development in London or elsewhere in Britain: clean, full of nice cafés, sanitised, and with its own rules when it comes to public gatherings, skating, biking, and, as they usually say, inappropriate “anti-social behaviour”.

The discussion is timing and relevant, as real public spaces are being squeezed to a few ones surrounded by a merchandised city private companies, groups and individuals assume control of large portions of urban land, dictating the kind of behaviour they expect from people “publicly” using “their” places. Then, the issue raises questions about the legitimacy of publicness in today’s city and about the rights to access, experience and share open spaces.

In the end it is, indeed, as Paul Jones stated in his interview, about asking local authorities and city makers “who has the rights to be where, when and how?”. This is the kind of question to be asked when private developers assume every citizen is a potential customer who should have their rights restricted in deciding whether to consume Cocal-Cola or Pepsi, or to go to Starbucks or Costa!

These are times when I caught myself rethinking about a concept I really never liked,  Marc Augé’s famous non-place idea, which he uses to describe, very shortly, homogenised spaces in supermodernity times. Analogously, and using another quote from Townsend’s piece, Anna Minton resonates this notion of places without identity while commenting about Liverpool One:

“But then Liverpool One is not for the people of Liverpool, it’s basically a regional centre where you can drive straight into an underground car park, come out for an all-day shopping experience, head back and not even know you’ve been in Liverpool. It’s like a hermetically sealed bubble that could be anywhere in the world.”

Day 74: Who has the rights to be where, when and how?

Day 74: Who has the rights to be where, when and how?

Do you want to talk to NSA and GCHQ?

Do you know that the British and US embassies in Berlin have active spy stations capable of listening to all communication in the area known as government district? Their spying structures are physically hidden in the buildings of the embassies and are comprised of antenas  and other devices capable of capturing communication signals, even from live mobile phone conversations.

Artists Mathias Jud and Christoph Wachter were invited by the Swiss embassy, just next door to US and UK buildings, to perform a work of art that would question the obscure powers of NSA and GCHQ in a very ironic way. Their answer to the invitation was a project called “can you hear me?” with anonymous open connection to wifi network through antenas installed on the roof of the Swiss embassy, and the possibility for anyone to talk back to NSA and GCHQ. In Jud’s own words: “Well, if they’re listening … let’s talk to them.”

Mathias Jud did an interesting TED talk about this and other installations, and said that for the “can you hear me?” project, they received more than 15,000 messages, including:

“@NSA My neighbours are noisy. Please send a drone strike.”

Day 73: Do you want to talk to NSA and GCHQ?

Day 73: Do you want to talk to NSA and GCHQ?

US wants our devices to have “backdoors”

We have witnessed in the past few days, a heat debate about the judicial requests by the FBI to force Apple, the giant corporation, to open up backdoors on the iPhone. The FBI is trying to unlock the iPhone of one of the killers in the mass shooting spree in San Bernardino, California, last December, and insists Apple should, technically, help them doing so.

Apple, on the other hand, rejected, so far, any demand and said that, even though the FBI is trying to access one single device, the development of this limitation in securing access to iPhones could set a dangerous precedent and compromise electronic security and encryption of every device from then on. Here is what Apple said about the case in an open letter to their customers:

“Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Backdoor is a method of bypassing authentication to enter on a device or system. In other words, it’s a master key that gives its holder access to our personal data. It’s no secret that the US government, through it’s various agencies, wanted all devices to have this kind of hidden access, and it has now found an opportunity to force this to happen via court order and with the excuse of a real sensitive and violent case under investigation.

It’s unusual to see privacy activists on the same side of companies like Apple or Google, but this is happening now and everyone seems uncomfortable with the situation. Reacting to Apple’s letter, Edward Snowden posted yesterday on Twitter that “The FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around.” David Murakami Wood, a well known surveillance scholar said, also on Twitter, that “Big corporations vs. big government is just one Big Brother against another”.

On the technical side, apparently there is a way of protecting the iPhones against unauthorised access, even if a backdoor was built by Apple to help the FBI against its will. On an article to The Intercept, Micah Lee explains how to do so. Lee justifies this saying that

“If it sounds outlandish to worry about government agents trying to crack into your phone, consider that when you travel internationally, agents at the airport or other border crossings can seize, search, and temporarily retain your digital devices — even without any grounds for suspicion. And while a local police officer can’t search your iPhone without a warrant, cops have used their own digital devices to get search warrants within 15 minutes, as a Supreme Court opinion recently noted.”

It seems that, after becoming the holy graal of our personal data for the sake of convenience and a connected life, smartphones are also, finally being turned into one of the ultimate levels of protection to our privacy. Sooner or later, this kind of dispute between agencies with investigatory powers and companies that produce our devices would come to light. It’s highly possible that this is not the last time we will witness this happening. I just hope the debate only grows and things are not dealt with under the table, as sometimes we know they are.

Day 72: US wants our devices to have "backdoors"

Day 72: US wants our devices to have “backdoors”

I connect, therefore I am!

This is how André Lemos and I attempt to discuss, on a recently published paper, what we call informational territorialization, when the power to connect can determine position and ownership in space. The title of the paper is “I connect, therefore I am: places, locales, locations and informational territorialization” and, in our own words:

“We seek to build an understanding of how to think through the different forms of spatiality (territorialization, placemaking, locales, locations, etc.), and the recent developments in the human experience with information and communication technologies, especially those most directly related to, or dependent on, geolocational and control functions.”

What we try to do in this article is to, first, clarify the conceptual boundaries between location, locale, and place, and then reflect on how these geographical dimensions behave in the face of communication, information and the various possibilities of territorialization.

Day 71: I connect, therefore I am!

Day 71: I connect, therefore I am!

Territory is a “political technology”!

Inspiration of today’s message came from the excellent article by Stuart Elden on territorialities titled “Land, Terrain, Territory”. Elden examines the concept of territory beyond the traditional biological and social uses of the term. Territory is approached from the point of view of a sociotechnical construction for the demarcation of land and terrain. Ellen’s work is way too complex to be explained in a few sentences and a couple of paragraphs, so I leave this with his own words and recommend the reading of his very interesting paper…

“Territory can be understood as a political technology: it comprises techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain. Measure and control – the technical and the legal – need to be thought alongside land and terrain. Understanding territory as a political technology is not to define territory once and for all; rather it is to indicate the issues at stake in grasping how it was understood in different historical and geographical contexts.”

Day 70: Territory is a "political technology"!

Day 70: Territory is a “political technology”!

Do you know any stupid ‘smart city’?… I do!

Of course I won’t name any dumb city. In general I think cities are already smart, in a way. In the end, cities are what they are because these are the places where we concentrate efforts, resources (well, not always!), flows, people, etc., to try and make the best of our time (ok, definitely not always!). Anyway, cities were created as agglomerations to help humans optimize the time to travel from point A to point B. And there is all the good things we get from unexpected encounters and from the mixture of differences.

This is changing quickly and the neoliberal city of the 21st century doesn’t like wasting of any kind. Smarter cities, as they’ve been called these days, are efficient systems where connections work to keep things working with no interruptions, no waste of time, no waste of resources, no clashes, no disputes, no questions… it’s supposed to be all about organisation, efficiency, effectiveness, precision and productivity. Smarter in this sense is also related to homogeneity and avoiding differences by steriotyping patterns and standards of behaviour, people, places and activities. I even wonder if soon we’ll cease being citizens and start being urban customers.

Not long ago, the star-architect Rem Koolhaas said that “by calling it smart, our city is condemned to being stupid”. So predictable, so boring, so stupid!… Got it?

Thus, what is the limit of smartness for cities? When do things stop doing things for us and let us be more spontaneous, different, alternative and unconstrained?

Day 69: Do you know any stupid 'smart city'?... I do!

Day 69: Do you know any stupid ‘smart city’?… I do!

I’d rather dérive than be a smart idiot!

Who isn’t tired of this “smart everything” discourse?

I am, and I am also tired of things deciding what’s best for me. I am tired of algorithms trying to guess what I am thinking, suggesting me what it thinks it’s the best route, are the best shops (or even know about our bodies before we do, like I posted yesterday), etc. And I’ve just read the news that Twitter will use algorithms to order users’ timelines, instead of time itself…

So, today’s message is a tribute to the theory of dérive by Guy Debord and his situationist friends. I would rather get lost in the city than having “best routes” calculated all the time by things that think they know me better than I do!

Day 68: I'd rather drive than be a smart idiot!

Day 68: I’d rather drive than be a smart idiot!

Your gadgets know a lot about you!

Carnival in Brazil, servers down (back just as soon as the party finished). Coincidence?…

Anyway, back to normal, I was reading a lot of articles and stories about Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) theses days. One of stories on the media this week was about the possibility of fitness tracking devices knowing its user is pregnant even before any clear body signal of it. The story was about a user reporting problems with his wife’s Fitbit wrist tracker that apparently were getting all readings wrong. After a while the company realised there wasn’t any problem with the product, but that his wife’s body was changing, suggesting she could be pregnant…

This story immediately reminds us the famous Target case when the company asked its statisticians to discover pregnant customers as they are more likely to change their consumer habits, preferably in their second trimestre (when they start shopping for the newcomer).

Any doubt that in this “smart future” our gadgets (and retailers) will know more and more about us and compromise more and more of our privacy and our choices?

Day 67: Your gadgets know a lot about you!

Day 67: Your gadgets know a lot about you!

Stop hunting whistleblowers!

We all know Julian Assange isn’t a whistleblower, he (or Wikileaks) just facilitates the job of these guys. Let’s face it, whistleblowing became a crucial humanitarian service in today’s confusing, blurred and obscure world. In a time when (mega) corporations and powerful governments do lots of things under the table, whistleblowers are a necessary balance in favour of ordinary citizens.

They’ve been around for a long time, but have become more visible recently because of the pervasive nature of electronic communications and the permanent attempt of intelligent agencies and corporations to collect and manipulate information about other people and other government/companies.

We must recognise the importance of organisations such as Wikileaks, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others alike which protect important information and whistleblowers. We must also praise people like Daniel Ellsberg, Katharine Gun, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and many others for coming forward and risking their own lives…

Day 66: Stop hunting whistleblowers!

Day 66: Stop hunting whistleblowers!

And as one of these coincidences, while visiting the vigil in solidarity to Julian Assange at the Ecuador Embassy, I was given a poster to help the protest, that was exactly about stopping the attacks on whistleblowers…

Stop the attack on whistleblowers

Stop the attack on whistleblowers

There was a big hope that Assange would walk free from the embassy today, as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled his deprivation of liberty as arbitrary. However, the British and Swedish governments declared that UN ruling changes nothing, threatening to arrest Assange if he stepped out of the embassy. This is probably an unprecedented decision by major nation-state members against UN recommendation, and sets dangerous prospects for future rulings against dictatorship or abusive regimes, as Ed Snowden tweeted:

“This writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings. Dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set.”

Free Assange!

The message could hardly be other than something related to today’s announcement that Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, is near to end his enforced stay at the Equatorial Embassy later this weak. The UN body on arbitrary detention will rule on Assange’s case on Friday morning. Assange said he will come out either way – free to fly to Ecuador or to be escorted to prison in Britain (and then Sweden). He will step out Friday at noon if the UN rules against his case, but also demands his passport back and free way to Ecuador in case it rules otherwise.

The case of is notorious for the links between the attempts, by many governments but mainly the US, to stop Wikileaks doing what it is famous for (leaking top secret documents and cables), and the person (body and mind) of its founder. Many facts and documents to this story can be found at

I’ve written about the uncommon territorial connections of this story in a paper published in Portuguese a few years ago (I am currently writing an update and expanded version in English) called “Territory and Materiality: Wikileaks and the Control of the Informational Space”. I believe that what is happening to Assange/Wikileaks and, more recently, to Ed Snowden, can also be inspected through the lens of the association between surveillance and space, which will help us further understand important aspects in the geography of surveillance, international/domestic legislation, and geopolitics.

The world (and Jeremy) is waiting to see the end of this three-and-a-half-year drama, hopefully in favour of Assange.

Day 65: Free Assange!

Day 65: Free Assange!