Archive for the ‘Privacy Pop’ Category

21 Aug 2013

Privacy Pop – Privacy in art

Surveillance, identity, social networks and big data are all compelling subjects for an artist to explore  – in fact, IAPP has already combined art and privacy through its Navigate event mashing up art interventions with provocative talks on the future of privacy, and a presentation by their president Trevor Hughes on top privacy issues in which he marries each trend with a compelling piece of modern art.

Inspired, we decided to put together our own list of artistic discoveries we’ve culled from around the Internet.

Steganosaur by Charis Poon

New York-based artist Charis Poon created the playful Steganosaur, an interactive work that allows users to create encrypted messages and share them with friends. She writes, “Because the encryption is a colorful geometric pattern, someone could potentially display it physically or digitally anywhere and have others perceive it as simply a design. The author knows, privately, to themselves, the true meaning.”

Lorrie Faith Cranor's D-'identification quilt

Privacy geeks know Lorrie Faith Cranor (that’s her, above) as a computer science professor and privacy and security researcher at Carnegie Mellon. She’s also an accomplished quilter who has explored combining art with ways to visualize privacy and de-identification. Her De-identification quilt was sliced, spliced, re-assembled, overlaid, embroidered, hand-quilted and machine-quilted but, as Cranor writes, “It is a lot like personal data de-identification, in which data is removed and digital noise is introduced, but in the end the de-identified data might be re-identified given sufficient contextual information.”

And while we’re on the subject of fabric art, when Facebook built a new data centre in Prineville, Oregon they invited the local quilters at the Prineville Senior Center to create quilts depicting how Facebook connects the world.

Laurent Grasso's Uraniborg

French artist Laurent Grasso’s innovative exhibition Uraniborg, is named after the observatory built and operated by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. The exhibition itself is housed in a labyrinth built by the artist featuring artifacts examining themes of control and surveillance, such as the short film shown above, featuring a camera-equipped falcon – a parallel to modern-day drone technology.

Adam Harvey's Stealth Wear

Who says privacy isn’t fashionable? Artist Adam Harvey has designed a line of Stealth Wear that employs design and specialized materials to shield the wearer from being detected and recognized by surveillance technologies. He was compelled to develop the line as a response to the increasing use of domestic surveillance drones in the U.S.: “Data and privacy are increasingly valuable personal assets and it doesn’t make sense to not protect them.”

Arne Svenson's The Neighbours

Taken from his own home in New York City, Arne Svenson’s photographs in The Neighbors are the result of the artist pointing his lens at the floor-to-ceiling windows of the building across the street. As a recent review of the controversial exhibit points out:

“That is the power of Svenson’s art: it challenges the artificial lines we draw around the public and the private, especially in a place where true privacy is a luxury. It also shines a light on the fact that for the many in this city who live in luxury, part of the appeal is in its display.”

In a similar vein, Anthony Reinhart and Darin White of Kitchener, Ontario have examined the prevalence of inconspicuous and ubiquitous surveillance in the photography exhibit, DISCONNECT.

Trevor Paglen's The Other Night Sky

Artist and geographer Trevor Paglen has used observational data to track and photograph satellites in a vivid and high-tech method of “watching the watchers”. The photographs that make up The Other Night Sky are other-worldly –enough to tell you something is out there, but not sharp enough to know exactly what it is.

Paolo Cirio's Street Ghosts

And finally, with a nod to street art and graffiti, the Street Ghosts project brings life-sized pictures of people found on Google Street View to the same spot where they were taken. The result is a jarring juxtaposition of the virtual and the real, or as artist Paolo Cirio puts it: “The real world of things and people, from which these images were originally captured, and the virtual afterlife of data and copyrights, from which the images were retaken.”

So what are some of your favourite artistic expressions about privacy? Let us know in the comments!

30 May 2013

Hat trick at IAPP Canada

Commissioners Stoddart, Denham and Clayton at IAPP Canada 2013

Who says hockey season is over in Canada? Check out these three stars from last week’s IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium – from left to right, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart; Elizabeth Denham, B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner; and Jill Clayton, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner. This year’s Commissioners’ Panel, in honour of the playoffs, was modelled after TSN’s The Quiz. The panel also included Ann Cavoukian, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Commissioners were great sports – they poked fun at each other and themselves, and answered questions about a wide range of privacy issues, including big data, accountability and breach notification.  Moderator Kris Klein, IAPP Canada’s managing director, wore a striped referee’s sweater, but didn’t have to blow his whistle or put anyone in the penalty box even once.

25 Apr 2013

Privacy Pop – Top 12 works of fiction

Themes of privacy, surveillance and identity feature prominently in many science fiction novels. In fact, others have compiled entire lists of privacy-themed sci-fi fiction.

With so much choice, it was tough to narrow down our list. As well, we wanted to include other literary genres– young adult fiction (Little Brother), children’s novels (Harriet the Spy) and historical fiction (Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe).

We’re certain there are many more suggestions spanning the list of literary genres – we invite you to read through our list, and tell us about your own favourites in the Comments below.


1. Foundations by Isaac Asimov:  A seven-volume series organized around the notion of “mathematical sociology” – where one can predict the behaviour of a mass of people if the quantity of the mass is very large.

2. Earth by David Brin:  Brin’s novel includes many of the same themes around technology and surveillance that he later expounded on in The Transparent Society.  Released in 1990, Earth is also notable for predicting several technologies that have since come into common usage: the World Wide Web, e-mail spam, and cameras mounted on eyeglasses.

3. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick:  The film adaptation of this book made it onto our list of Top Ten Films. A Scanner Darkly is an interesting critique of law enforcement investigation and technology.

4. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow:  Following a 9/11-like situation, citizens are under extreme surveillance and their information is mined by government.  Little Brother is an excellent discussion of the effects of a surveillance society.  Its sequel Homeland was just released in hardcover.

5. Blind Faith by Ben Elton:  Satire set in a dystopian society where the human fascination to share information about ourselves with others is taken to extremes.

6. Harriet the Spy by Louise FitzhughA girl’s diary is lost and found, and in the process much is revealed.  Young adult story about information collection shows the effects of information on the collector, on those whose information is collected, and the impacts of transparency versus hidden surveillance.

7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Considered one of greatest novels of the 20th century, Brave New World is often compared to George Orwell’s 1984 (below).  A key difference in Huxley’s dystopian society is that its citizens are controlled through psychological manipulation and behavioural conditioning. Huxley feared that our increasingly fast-paced modern society would signal an end to individual identity.

8. Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe by Roger Lemelin:  A fictionalized version of a real case – infidelity leads to a family trip on which the airplane explodes.  Ovide Plouffe is a suspect in this novel that looks at evidence and assumptions and their intersection with humanity and law enforcement.

9. Whole Wide World by Paul McAuley:  This critique of countermeasures takes place in a post-Infowar UK. And explore a society of persistent CCTV where information is power, and law enforcement is ubiquitous and invasive.

10. 1984 by George Orwell:  The quintessential dystopian novel of totalitarianism and information control.  A future world of ongoing conflict, omnipresent surveillance, and the Big Brother state’s use of propaganda and mind control to create the desired society.

11. The Blue Light Project by Timothy Taylor:  Canadian writer Timothy Taylor explores the theme of ubiquitous surveillance in his novel about a televised hostage situation involving a failed reporter and a former military officer attempting to understand and invert the system.

12. La jalousie by Alain Robbe-Grillet:  This story is told through the eyes of an invisible narrator and jealous husband who suspects his wife of infidelity. Through the narrator, Robbe-Grillet examines the impact of surveillance and data analysis on information and perceived reality.


And finally, our list would not be complete without nods to two prolific writers whose works cement them as the godfathers of privacy-, technology- and surveillance-themed literature:

William Gibson:  The Gibson oeuvre has always included themes of technology, privacy, surveillance and security.  In The Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer / Count Zero / Mona Lisa Overdrive) these themes are explored around artificial intelligence and online spaces.  The Bridge trilogy (Virtual Light / Idoru / All Tomorrow’s Parties) looks at the layers of technological and social intersection, but against a platform of mass media manipulation.  Finally, his Blue Ant trilogy (Pattern Recognition / Spook Country / Zero History), using a more contemporary setting, examining issues of branding, behavioural, geographic and RFID tracking; internet communication and mobile technologies.

Neal Stephenson:  Like Gibson, it’s impossible to isolate one particular book for this list. Snowcrash focuses on a future world organized and run by Big Data.  The Diamond Age looks at the role of access and information in sustaining and disrupting class and culture, while Cryptonomicon and its antecedents (The Baroque Cycle) reflect on privacy rights, global data flow, and the whole modern history of computing and cryptography.

4 Feb 2013

Privacy Pop – Our top songs about… what else?

When we set out to write a post about privacy-themed songs, we knew this would generate a lot of debate. After all, it’s a topic that others have tackled, with “best of” song lists all over the Internet.

We wanted to create a list that went beyond the ordinary, pointing you towards some other, less expected choices.  (Admittedly, the list also reflects our collective musical tastes… but that’s our blogger’s prerogative!)

We’ve also taken a broader view of privacy, so our choices reflect a range of privacy-related issues: Joan Jett’s classic, Bad Reputation, could be interpreted now as an anthem for the social networking age, touching on identity and reputation. Government surveillance emerges as a distinct theme in songs by Mos Def and The Kinks. M.I.A. raps about online tracking, and Elvis Costello sings about counter-surveillance.

We found it difficult to whittle the list down to only 10, as we’d done with our post on privacy-themed films. So, we’re posting our top 15 in the hopes that you will weigh in, either in the comments below or on Twitter, and help us determine the best ten, sometimes overlooked, privacy-themed songs.

Without further ado, here is what made our list:

Bad Reputation – Joan Jett

Bagman’s Gambit – The Decemberists

Big Brother – Bernard Lavilliers

Everybody’s Stalking – Badly Drawn Boy

Fear Not of Man Mos Def

Laissez-moi tranquille – Serge Gainsbourg

La Machine – Daran

Nothing To Hide – Yo La Tengo

Party Line – The Kinks

Pictures of You – The Cure

Spying GlassMassive Attack

The Message – M.I.A.

The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get – Morrissey

Videotape – Radiohead

Watching the Detectives – Elvis Costello

We’ve compiled all the songs onto a playlist on our YouTube channel. And if you think we’re missing something, let us know!

26 Oct 2012

Privacy Pop – Our top ten films on privacy

Privacy and surveillance have always been compelling themes in pop culture, and Hollywood has certainly used the concepts to great effect. Below, in no particular order, is our own selection of the best films with a privacy theme.

Do you agree with our list, or do you think we’ve left something out? Let us know in the comments!

Louis 19, le roi des ondes (King of the Airways

The only comedy on our list, Louis 19 traces the path of Louis Jobin, a man initially thrilled to be chosen as the star of a reality TV show, only to discover that celebrity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Released in 1994, the movie predated the onslaught of reality TV shows, social networking sites and the concept of micro-celebrity.

A Scanner Darkly

Like a few of the other films on this list, A Scanner Darkly takes place in the not-too-distant-future, where surveillance is ubiquitous and constant. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel and directed by Richard Linklater, this film also considers notions of identity, and how the effects of surveillance on identity.

Caché (Hidden)

This Austrian-French thriller follows the lives of the Laurent family as they attempt to determine who has been secretly videotaping them. Released in 2005, the film has won numerous awards and earned global accolades from film critics.

The Conversation

Gene Hackman plays a plays a paranoid and brilliant surveillance expert in this 1974 film which may or not be the precursor to another movie which didn’t quite make our cut, Enemy of the State. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation has been praised for its “remarkably advanced arguments about technology’s role in society that still resonate today.”


Gattaca brings the themes of privacy and surveillance to the sub-atomic level. In this version of the not-too-distant-future, DNA plays a major role in determining future profession, potential mates and social class.

Minority Report

Before starting production, director Steven Spielberg assembled a group of futurists to get a handle on what the year 2054 might look like. That would explain the wealth of plausible technology showcased throughout the film, like this scene where Tom Cruise’s character is approached by pushy holographs with  personalized, targeted sales pitches.

The Lives of Others

Released in 2006. A Stasi agent takes an interest in a couple living in East Berlin and begins to monitor them – at first, with the intention of determining their loyalty to the Socialist Unity Party, but then increasingly for his own personal interest in their lives.


George Orwell’s modern classic was brought to the big screen for a second time in 1984. (The first film adaptation was made in 1956.) Like all good cultural memes, this one introduced several new words and phrases into our vocabulary, including Big Brother, thoughtcrime, and memoryhole.

Rear Window

Man breaks leg, gets bored, spies on neighbours – high jinx ensue. The high-tech surveillance techniques featured in many of the other films on this list are nowhere to be found in this classic Hitchcock mystery.

Red Road

This Scottish film follows a CCTV operator who actively monitors a man from her past. Director Andrea Arnold has said her depiction of Glasgow as a city under constant surveillance was meant to provoke a debate about the use of CCTV networks.