The End of Privacy? Data Retention in Australia

As of Wednesday October 14 2015, Australia will be subject to data retention laws. Every platform we use as communication will now be monitored by government agencies. It is our metadata that these agencies are targeting, which (over the two year period that it is required to be retained for by our service providers) will expose the patterns of our communication: “…private email, SMS and fixed-line caller traffic, consumer, work and professional activities and habits, …commercial transactions and monetised subscriptions or downloads, [and] exactly who you communicate with, and how often.” Whilst it is not necessarily the content of our communications that will be monitored, it is what we have done.

The severity of the legislation is evident in the two year jail sentence punishable for those who are caught revealing information about instances of metadata access. But why is it that Australians are now subject to what other Western countries have rejected as being unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy?

Arguably, there are two reasons for metadata collection – neither of which the Federal Government has been transparent about. The first as a regime of national security in the war on terrorism, and the second as a method of putting an end to copyright infringement and piracy.

There are ways to circumvent data retention, however, that are completely legal as Scott Ludlam writes:

  1. Choose strong passwords and do not use the same password for every account you access;
  2. Rather than texting in its natural sense, use a data encrypting service which will not leave a trace with certain service providers;
  3. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which ‘scrambles’ the information of your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or issues the status of ‘not set’, wherein the metadata cannot be pinpointed to account for who, where, or when something was communicated online;
  4.  Use Tor Softwear which masks your web browsing; and
  5. Keep informed.

Remix Projection and Presentation

The method in which we – as (novice) remix artists – project and present our work is important to how an audience perceives, enjoys and communicates with the remixed art. The experiences artwork can offer are significant. 

Ryoji Ikeda’s Datamatics (2005) is one example of an outstanding audience experience – one that is not confined to the basis of social media websites. Datamatics is Ikeda’s experiment in materialising pure data, that is transforming the intangible data that pervades technology into artworks that are perceptible to the senses audiovisual concerts, installations, publications and CD releases. Focusing, however, on Ikeda’s experiment of installations, the designed atmospheres of light imagery that embodied a relationship, connection, and pairing with sounds, brought to life the concept of foley. The matching of what is seen to what is heard is important to the narrative of an artwork. Ideka created a world that wasn’t restricted by a screen. It was open to the space it inhabited and surrounded its audience.

Similary,  the music video Michel Gondry directed to Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers (2003) makes tangible what is digital and what is digital tangible, even with its restriction to the screen where we can view it. Gondry’s portrayal of a woman waking up and dancing through her day (an explanation of the most literal meaning to be derived from the video) compliments the use of dated filters with the physical rendition of these frames to create confusion amongst the audience. The elusive nature of such confusion is exaggerated from the director’s creation of subjectivity through pairing the imagery in the video with sounds to dictate a relationship or connection with each. The audiences’ confusion is, however, enjoyable as they wish to make sense of what is going on within the video and its almost cheesy ideas that look to be glitched in the low definition budget.

What makes for good representations of remix culture is the idea behind the artwork and the personal aesthetic or voice the artist attaches to it. Nevertheless, there is value in copying ideas. Something can be made better. It can be made different. It can be made unrecognisable. 

Channels Festival: 18-27 September 2015 [Melbourne]

The Australian Video Art Festival, Channels, is held biennial and is back for the second time in Melbourne. It features contemporary video practices from local and international artists through exhibitions, screenings, talks, performances and workshops. A fitting festival in our stage of exploring remix culture as Channels showcases remixed video art that provides an understanding of the practice, its interpretations, and its rise as an influential medium.

1989 – Taylor… er, rather – Ryan Adams

Where in remix culture, to keep the transformations of the original away from copyright law and to keep the art online it has to be significantly evolved from its starting point, Ryan Adams has completely disregarded the novice level tactics, recording Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ in his own style to give it a new meaning.

The New Aesthetic

We can’t work or operate outside of the ‘spectacle’ – the dictation of our everyday lives by commerce and capitalism – so we have to work with it.

The ‘new aesthetic’ as it can be referenced is the visualisation of ‘glitch imagery’. It is the visual and auditory appreciation and deliberate utilisation of technology that is non-functioning to create art that reflects this description; it is “busted” in the sense that it should not be working, or is ‘glitchy’ or pixilated or simply static.

Glitch imagery, movement and sound are compelling to an audience because it wants to be questioned. Whilst the artwork itself may not require a deeper meaning or hidden narrative, the audience takes an interest in what is going on and wants to make sense of it. Andy Warhol, however, explained that the look of such artworks do not always require a deeper meaning as the audience would like to believe. It can be just the look of the surface that is important as it is the superficial level of the artwork that society is interested in after all. Everything beyond the level of superficiality is incomprehensible.

For example, the YouTube video created by Jason Salavon entitled The Late Night Triad (2003) (below) features episodes of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Late Show with David Letterman layered upon one another to create a ghosting effect that portrays each instalment of the series’ as being presented in the same format. This is what we as an audience understand from the remix itself, but it is only at the surface level. What is beyond this is beyond comprehension.

Situationists and Brandalism

Forming in 1957, the idea of the ‘spectacle’ world motioned by the European Situationist International organisation imposed an antagonistic view of remix culture that focuses on recuperation and détournement, and tactics of psychogeography to restore what has been lost to capitalism in its new consumerist form.

The ‘spectacle’ is the idea that everything we consume, do, say, hear, and think is taken up by the commerce and capitalist drive society we inhabit. Whilst, ‘in the ol’ days’ the culture of the Western world was exhibited between our family and friends, and the written word, the ‘spectacle’ has absorbed this behaviour and ‘mediated’ it: it has created a society of online communicators and brand-influenced identities. The Situationists formulated this concept to suggest that we now live in a culture without communication because everything we do communicate about is saturated with the influence of brands and corporations; we are the link between the two.

We, however, do not want to be owned by these brands and corporations which is where recuperation and détournement fit into the equation. Recuperation is the process in which politically radical ideas and images (the basis of remix culture) are appropriated and transformed within media culture to become interpreted with a different connotation in mainstream culture. Détournement, however, is the technique of turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself. Both recuperation and détournement are the essence of remix culture. These brands and corporations are our tools to get by everyday – from our smartphones to our shoes – and they are controlling our lives. Whilst they are remixing, they’re banning us from being apart of the conversation unless we are acting as consumers, rather than creators. This is the implication of our media.

The Situationists developed a tactic of psychogeography entitled dérive to emphasise drifting around urban environments without being a consumer to undo the ‘spectacle’ for a moment in our lives. To drop one’s usual motives for movement and action to be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters found there. The notion of brandalism, however, was another method curtailing the effects of the ‘spectacle’. Artists would remix the advertisements of brands and corporations to invest a deeper political commentary within the imagery, video and art installations.

Eat Fat - Die Young2 - AdBusters
Eat Fat – Die Young2 by AdBusters