TRACK-THE-TRACKERS---” is a network installation consisting of tactical media components. The work makes use of existing personal technologies in conjunction with the satellite GPS infrastructure to provide participants with an expanded audible (not a visual) experience of the proliferation of video surveillance in the urban public sphere. The mobile unit, a bag containing a laptop, GPS-receiver, earphones, and a generic mouse is taken on a walk through the city. The sound in the headphones changes whenever the participant enters the vicinity of a surveillance camera. This effect is not automatic but created by other participants who are continuously adding new locations to the existing database. The technology is fully documented with the intention of inspiring others to build similar systems and improve on the design.
The internet platform http://www.t-t-trackers.net servers as an exchange point for these coordinates: the data gathered in this way is made available to the other participants by uploading it to the internet platform.
The project prompts participants to think beyond the protection of their own private sphere and to invest in the public sphere.
To Invest into the Public
Camera surveillance is propagated by its advocates as an effective instrument in the fight against crime. The deterrent properties of visible cameras are thought to bring security, peace, quiet and order. Invisible cameras considered as a tool in hunting down criminals. Critics of camera surveillance believe that surveillance camera systems constantly besiege the individual’s autonomy.
If one follows the activists of the Bigbrother Awards (Switzerland) on their public spring-time camera tours through a city like Zürich, it becomes noticeable that the city consists of several different surveillance landscapes. The main railway station for example is extensively populated with surveillance cameras. Cameras are operated by the railway-police as well as by the municipal police. The objective of this surveillance is to quickly identify perturbators and persons whose behavior does not conform to the norm to create a comfortable atmosphere for consumers.
This homogenous, centrally controlled surveillance landscape stands in stark contrast to the situation that one finds in a neighborhood close by. This neighborhood called "Kreis 4” is a part of the city of Zürich that is shaped by drug trade and prostitution. The potential for conflict is therefore heightened, demands for "quiet and order” are being articulated in political bodies like the municipal council and in the local press. Consequently, the municipal council has recently allowed the police to set up mobile cameras in this area.
But: surveillance cameras are already plentiful in this neighborhood: most people have surveillance equipment in operation. Residents are securing the entrance area of their houses with access controls that include cameras. Bigger companies put the area around office buildings under surveillance. Small business owners are filming the entryways to their shops. Owners of bars are overtly filming their "territory” around the bar where brawls and small-scale gunfights erupt frequently.
The police have installed their cameras on rooftops overlooking whole intersections. The potential as a deterrent that is inherent to surveillance cameras is used to keep people from urinating against or "beautifying” walls with graffiti and tags. This often happens using dummie-cams: artificial cameras made from metal or plastic boxes that have the look but not the functionality of the real device.
A culture of security has spread widely of which cameras are only a part. To defend the private space against possible intruders, it is secured with fences, lattices, and even with barbed wire, so that veritable "fortresses” ensue. Still, cameras can be considered a particular outgrowth of this security culture because they are directed at public space causing very subtle lines to emerge dividing public space into observed and unobserved areas.
Mike Davis, the US-American sociologist who coined the term "scanscape” deals in his books "The Ecology of Fear” and "The City of Quartz” among other things with the implications that surveillance cameras have on the city of Los Angeles. In "The Ecology of Fear” he is describing urban districts that have been architectonically optimized towards security, redesigned and outfitted with cameras. "[...] video monitoring of Downtown's redeveloped zones has been extended to parking structures, private sidewalks, plazas, and so on. This comprehensive surveillance constitutes a virtual scanscape - a space of protective visibility that increasingly defines where white-collar office workers and middle-class tourists feel safe Downtown”. Already in 1990 Davis describes in "The City of Quartz” the impact of such chic pseudo-public spaces. He criticizes that they are full of invisible signs asking members of the underclass to leave. He says that critics of architecture are often evaded by how the environment adds to or plays a role in segregation, but that the pariahs, poor latino families, young black males, or homeless old women understand their significance instantly. Davis describes how these social groups are isolated in their neighborhoods. He then states that democratic space in the truest sense has mostly vanished. Democratic space depends for him on an intermixture of all social ranks which he says does not happen anymore. Davis’ horror scenario is therefore not anymore the "Big Brother”-government structure that is threatening privacy advocates who are bent on defending the autonomy of the individual against surveillance cameras. For Davis the horror scenario is the abolition of public space and hence segregation.
So the point here is not to explore the repercussions that cameras have on the individual, but to see surveillance cameras as symptoms of the privatization of public space with the surveillance motives being multiple. It is the aim of the project to recreate a public sphere by encouraging investment in the public sphere in the form of mappings. The idea behind TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- is to collectively research different surveillance landscapes, to use the net and its unique qualities as medium of discourse and to use the laptop as a mobile unit to take the data out into urban space. The project also aims at creating a consciousness for the manner and multitude of camera surveillance in urban public space and to encourage resistance in the form of the collaborative acquisition of a vocabulary against such surveillance projects.
Psychic Climate Zones in a City
Guy Debord, co-founder of the Situationist International, already investigated the effect that geography has on the psyche in the 1950ies. The Situationists conquered, mapped and marked the urban territory. In "Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography" Debord remarks "the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres". According to his opinion, neighborhoods and urban districts do not differ in their architectural style but in these psychic climate zones. He states that this fact is apparently not noticed, at least there seems to be no investigation into and analysis of the reasons that lie behind these zones. In his opinion, the discovery of such could be of great use. The mapping, sonifying and "tapping into" of these psychic climate zones which is contained in "TRACK-THE-TRACKERS---" can therefore be seen as a psychogeographic field of experimentation, because it deals with preserving and making accessible the invisible lines that surveillance cameras draw through public space.
Participants move through the urban environment with a bag that contains a laptop computer. Connected to this computer are a regular computer mouse, earphones and a GPS-Receiver. The GPS-Receiver delivers the current position of the participant to the computer. Before leaving, the participant has downloaded the current version of the database that contains the GPS-coordinates of the previously mapped surveillance cameras. The database is downloadable from www.t-t-trackers.net. The software on the computer compares the current position of the participant with the data contained in the database and makes the result audible. The sound gets denser when the participant moves into an area with a higher camera density. When he/she moves into the vicinity of a camera, the sound gets very aggressive.
Participants can map surveillance camera locations themselves by clicking the mouse that is attached to the outside of the bag. The bag is therefore not opened to record camera locations. The markings are put into a queue. Once the participant is located in a place with an Internet connection he/she can then complete the markings with some additional information such as place, city and pictures of the camera. This information is then uploaded to the database on www.t-t-trackers.net and therefore again made available for use by others. Camera locations in the database also have to be assigned to a "camera group” so as to put them in a context with the findings of others to create a new context.
As a basic principle, the mapping tool is designed to incorporate many different perspectives on the subject of camera surveillance, which can be more or less differentiated. The idea is not to build a data-acquisition tool for highest efficiency, but to find the highest possible multitude of perspectives on what is happening to the public sphere, how it is perceived and how surveillance influences the public sphere.
TRACK-THE-TRACKERS is a tool non-pragmatic tool for the acquisition of knowledge. It is about setting different perspectives into a greater context. This kind of collaborative, discursive knowledge acquisition is specific for electronic networks.
The collaboratively gathered knowledge is taken on the journey through the urban environment. The data is not visualized but made audible (sonification). Visual maps are cumbersome because they have to be read actively, therefore occupy the full attention of the reader and do not leave the field of vision free for navigation in urban space. So new surveillance cameras cannot be discovered while reading a map. The sound directs the gaze on zones of video surveillance and animates the participant to have a closer look.
The permanently heard sounds are generated by the data that is sent to the computer by the GPS-receiver. It is the data that is generated when the participant moves. Sine-wave tones of low frequency are generated from this data.
The second permanent sound is the surveillance camera density in the greater vicinity of the participant. The database is constantly searched for the coordinates of surveillance cameras that are close to the coordinates of the current position of the participant. The number of surveillance cameras manifests in the same amount of hard "knocking”-sounds. Depending on where the participant is currently moving the amount of these sounds differs and serves as an indicator for a changing scanscape.
The soundscape temporarily intensifies when the participant moves close to a surveillance camera that has been previously mapped and is therefore included in the database.
The collaboratively mapped data is translated into a combined sonification, which manifests in an increasing or decreasing density of sounds. This effect is generated when the participant moves through an outdoor environment with a clear view of the sky. The effect is a collective psychoscape, as an indicator for a changing environment.
Markings in the public sphere are mostly made with the colors yellow and white on dark asphalt.
Dashed and continuous lines are dividing up the public space into zones. The writing is applied to streets and walkways is usually held in a uniform stencil font in capitals. These markers define how the public space is to be used, who is supposed to move where, and what one has to refrain from.
TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- uses these "street” aesthetics. Different (asphalt-)grey tones are used as background, text is held in yellow and white. The logo is written in a stencil font and is designed to have the irregularly worn look of street lettering.
The dashed line is used as a separation element. The "software” level, the part of the work that is the actual working tool, not the project description and documentation, is designed in the pseudo-three-dimensional style typical to software. The icons in the "description” layer are designed in the stencil style and the icons on the "software” layer are drawn to resemble icons found in a software environment. The main colors grey, yellow, and white are retained on both levels.
Hardware: During my research into wearable applications I found out that in the field of mobile mini computers research and technology are very advanced but conceptually not innovative. Researchers at the Zürich’s Federal Institute of Technology’s Institute for Wearables are developing highly complicated, high-capacity minuscule computers, which can be integrated for instance into textiles. Concerning the function of this technology, there seems to be little advance beyond the idea of the ever-helpful digital assistant. It is the defined goal of this institute, to technologically perfect such a digital assistant, a device that is totally focussed on the individual user. All their research efforts seem to go into that direction. TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- is a mobile computer application that ideally is not aimed at the individual but at a collective system. So the aim is not to build an individual tourist guide but a collaborative environment.
If looked on from the perspective of hardware TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- conflicts with established notions of the mobile application: the laptop computer is hidden in the bag on the journey through urban public space, information is not visualized but made audible and input is given through a generic USB-Mouse (the same as can be found on an office-worker’s desk). Further, the software is designed that any laptop could be used and that even a really cheap GPS receiver should work with the software. TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- aims to demonstrate in the use of hardware the possiblities of recombination and the use of consumer technology derived from modification. TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- represents the conviction that it is possible that anyone can build their own mobile application contrary to established notions of how technology is supposed to be used.
TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- is aimed against the expansion of the private, proprietary sphere into the public sphere. This abstract principle is also applied to the TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- software. The camera database is publicly viewable and its content can be modified by anyone. The same data is present on the mobile unit, so a backup is always there. TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- consists of software who’s license allows modification and redistribution, so that it is possible to share the software with others and use it in different contexts. In the area of software property in the form of source code is often privatized without paying attenion to the fact that software as public property can be much more useful than as the "intellectual” property of a few.
TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- as "Network Installation”
TRACK-THE-TRACKERS--- manifests, when one moves in public space. The mobile units (bags containing laptop, gps-receiver and mouse) can be self-built or borrowed. In the exhibition "Code Campus” at Ars Electronica 2003 the bags were dispensed to exhibition visitors at a central place. The presence of the project was staged as a control space with mobile security fences and floodlights.
As mentioned before, the mobile units can also be self-built by following instructions on the website www.t-t-trackers.net . With future versions of the software, this set of instructions will hopefully become easier and non-experts will be able to install the www.t-t-trackers software.