06 12 2001
Digital Political Irony
An interview with Heath Bunting
Heath Bunting is a member of IRATIONAL.ORG, an international system for deploying "irrational" information, services and products for the displaced and roaming. He spoke to World-Information.Org about CCTV and the reinvention of political irony.
Q: In the center of London it is already possible to track an individual's complete itinerary between any two points, using Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Systems. You have been doing two projects targeting the CCTV surveillance system. What were the strategies you applied? Can you possibly hide from it?
A: I think trying to hide from CCTV is almost impossible, the same way it's impossible trying to encode your e-mail and movements. So in case of CCTV or anything you're trying to dodge, it's better to add extra information. It is possible to outsmart surveillance systems by adding extra information. I kind of like the surveillance camera players (http://www.notbored.org/the-scp.html) because they're embracing that. I wouldn't say they're doing anything particularly dangerous to the state but they like developing techniques, which could be used.
Q: The same invisible theatre strategies have proved to be quite successful for political activism i.e. with invisible theater the German Lufthansa was quite successfully set under pressure by a small activist group, to stop the deportation of refugees (http://www.deportation-alliance.com). This approach is quite different to the usual form of demonstrations; it’s somehow a more ironic form of protest. Do you think this is more efficient?
A: The point is things become institutionalized, like the demonstrations here in Austria every Thursday. You have to think, if you really want to change things or just seem to change things. If you want to affect change you have to be a kind of ninja warrior; you have to double things, subvert yourself and always be changing. If you want to effect change as a minority, you have to be so sly.
Q: IRATIONAL.ORG also did some projects, targeting companies, by turning their own branding strategies back against themselves. Did this project actually inflict changes within these companies, also in a political sense?
A: Well that's hard to determine. The companies tried to prevent the work being published and a lot of the work is still published. Over the past month there was a piece of work by Rachel Baker from IRATIONAL.ORG that was discovered by the company - it was a copy of their web page. But it's been there three years (http://www.irational.org/tm/pdf/brand.html).
The company's reason to be is to track down copyright infringement. But in this case, instead of tracking down infringements against Coca-Cola, they found that they had been infringed. Normally they would shut down you server, et cetera, et cetera - but by turning things around and playing some games with them they had to give up. The way we did that was, first of all, when we realized they were starting proceedings against us, we made it so that they couldn't see the website. We worked out where their office network was and so they had to go to other places to see it. So we kind of trained them into the habit of going to other situations like to look from other computers. And then we erased this, so that only they could see it in their office. So they could never ever really know, where they could see it. So technically we weren't publishing it as only they could see it. They'd have to test from every computer in the world. They could never prove it and so they gave up. And then we would just put it online again. If they'd start again we would do the same trick - or maybe start another one.
Q: What was your political motivation behind the project?
A: Personally - I mean I don't speak for IRATIONAL.ORG or the person who is making that work - fundamentally I think that all property in the representation should be destroyed. Those concepts are temporary tools for negotiating problems like the laws. The laws are a way to solve problems and are not there to be obeyed strictly. So everything from ownership of name, of words, of animals, of land, possibly of humans, should be questioned and contested all the time. That's what I do: I’m a compulsive questioner.
Q: With the intention to make progress in the political debate, political activist sometimes enter into strange alliances with commercial companies, and then the interests of the companies suddenly coincide with the interests of human right activists. What is your opinion on those kinds of tactics?
A: I think there is a classic tactic in turning something against itself, to get in the sub and then it stabs you with its tail. But that has to be a temporary thing and it's very quick that any program would soon become part of the system itself. So whenever you do a thing like that, you have to abandon it immediately when you get the sense that its time is past. That's probably the only way to destroy things, to turn them against themselves, unless you have a much bigger system to crush it.