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Safe by John Yoon

Internet privacy and surveillance has been a controversial topic since the passing of the USA Patriot Act on October 26, 2001, as a response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. For instance, the extent to which the government is permitted to surveil for the purpose of national security and the government’s lack of transparency have been questioned. Furthermore, documents leaked by Edward Snowden regarding the American Intelligence’s extensive internet and phone surveillance programs have incited more discussions. For example, in the documentary, Citizenfour (2014), Edward Snowden briefly explains a government program called XKeyscore DeepDive, a front-end system used by analysts to gather both retroactive and live searches. According to Snowden, “As of fiscal year 2011, they could monitor one billion telephone or Internet sessions simultaneously per one of these devices”, demonstrating the government’s capability in surveilling with technology.

Before the internet was monitored and surveilled, people from different parts of the world were able to express their ideas and opinions without the expectation of being watched. Due to this expectation of being recorded and monitored, internet users have become cautious by self-policing their own views and limiting intellectual exploration. In The Dark Net, by Jamie Bartlett, he states countless others that had similar opinions regarding the internet and anonymity, and how their views inspired the creation of programs designed to give freedom back to the people, stating “all believe that anonymity and privacy are vital to healthy, functioning, free society. – anonymity is about preserving the ability of people to hold multiple personalities and identities. –will encourage people to live more productive and self-reliant lives, and leave more space for new ways of living” (Bartlett). For instance, David Chaum’s invention of crypto-currency, an anonymous payment system, and projects such as the Darkmail, an automatic end-to-end encrypted email service by Phil Zimmermann, both attempt to bring power back to the people.

Furthermore, artists have attempted to open discussions regarding this topic through their artworks. For example, artists such as Trevor Paglen, Adam Harvey, and the artist collective, Finishing School have explored this topic regarding government surveillance and privacy in their art practice. Paglen’s, Autonomy Cube (2014), a sculpture designed as a Wi-Fi hotspot that routes users’ internet traffic over the Tor network, allows users to stay digitally anonymous by anonymizing their internet use. Within the boundary of this network, users are able to enter a space of anonymity. Bliss (2016), created by the Finishing School, is another example of an art piece that explores government surveillance and privacy. The artist collective created a space using “armored doors, ballistic kevlar fabric, radio frequency-shielding and sound proofing material” to conceal and evade surveillance technology. These art pieces and the ideas surrounding surveillance, privacy, and technology have influenced the formulation of my project.

In my project, Safe (2017), I attempt to create a digital space where two individuals can talk about anything while remaining completely anonymous. The project is performative and will involve the participants’ complete trust in me that the chat server is completely secure. Similarly, to the trust that we have consumers often give to companies, governments, and internet providers. The space will resemble the characteristics of a vault or safe, symbolizing the sense of protection and security that is provided within walls that are created to be impenetrable. In order to make the digital space completely anonymous, I will use Tor to conceal personal information and locally host the website on my own computer to prevent conversations from being logged or saved in webhost providers’ servers. Furthermore, I will relinquish administrator permissions to the computer that is hosting the website to further protect and conceal information circulating within the digital space. Two computers with access to the website will be placed in two different rooms. The room will be dark to symbolize the dark web and invoke a sense of concealment, while using glow in the dark paint to help direct participants to the computers that have access to the website. My goal for this project will be to open up discussions regarding internet privacy, surveillance, and individual freedom by transforming a space to a time when internet users used the web to interact and express their views without the expectation of being watched. I believe that the internet is a space in which people can explore and communicate their ideas and views. In a time where governments are capable of suppressing and concealing information from the public; I wish to open up discussions regarding their transparency.


I researched different programs that used “off-the-record” protocol such as Tor Messenger to understand the necessary components that allow the program to keep users anonymous. I have decided to use AJAX chat with WAMP to upload a chat messenger that is only accessible with the Tor browser. Furthermore, I looked for tutorials on creating personal private and encrypted chat servers. One tutorial created by the user susmith HCK, provided a script and guide in creating this chat server using python. However, I decided not to use this script due to the lack of contributors on GitHub and possibly fake comments on the website. This realization helped me reflect on the internet’s ability to create a society that holds each other accountable. Many platforms on the web have provided users the ability to collaborate and build better programs and test programs for safety. I decided to use Twitter as a platform for announcing the event because it required the least amount of personal information and felt more appropriate for announcing events.