People Staring at Computers (10 years later)

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People Staring at Computers

In 2011 I published a series of photos taken with the laptops in two New York City Apple Stores, as part of my ongoing exploration of surveillance, face analysis, and computer-mediated interaction. In response, Apple contacted the Secret Service and they raided my apartment. After censoring the work online, Apple did not pursue a civil case against me. And after a few months long investigation by the Secret Service, Assistant United States Attorney Judith Philips declined to prosecute me.

Ten years later, this work is still an important reference point for my art practice. I continue to work with faces and to reflect on privacy and surveillance in a new era dominated by machine learning.

In 2016 I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn more about what happened behind the scenes in 2011. I received a response over a year later. The full FOIA response offers an inside look: scrawled notes on the phone with Apple, descriptions of a Special Agent scrolling through my social media, justifications for a search warrant, a detailed closing report. But it is mostly boring minutiae: multiple pages of paperwork for every piece of hardware that was seized, separate lines documenting every time evidence was withdrawn and returned to the locker.

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