Stalking the bankers
The daily poll question two weeks ago on the website of Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest mainstream newspaper in Finland) was 'Can a crime be considered less severe, if it's committed for the sake of art?' (In Finnish: Lieveneekö rikos, jos se tehdään taiteen nimissä? HS.fi, 17.2.2011)

This question was related to a stunt by artist Jani Leinonen who 'kidnapped' a plastic Ronald McDonald and (not surpringly) received a lot of attention from national and international media (http://www.freeronald.org).

The question in the newspaper was not very well formulated, at least if you take it literally and consider it from the perspective of law. The judges are not required to consider the artistic merits of crimes, so in this sense the answer is clearly 'no'.

But obviously the purpose of the poll was to find out what attitudes people have towards this kind of art...  Can an art project breach the limits of legality or not?

The result of the poll was very clear: 15% said YES, 85% said NO.

This question is relevant for Pixelache, since almost every year we have featured projects which in a more or less severe way question the limits of law. In electronic art, these 'crimes' are often related to ownership, copyright law, surveillance and issues of privacy/publicity.

Photo: Face-to-Facebook project

One case example of this is the Face-to-Facebook project which is presented in the map me if you will seminar. The artists admit to have committed a crime - in their words they 'stole' 1 million Facebook profiles that were then analysed, filtered and re-packaged into a form of a dating site. The crime in this case was committed towards Facebook the company - they own the rights to use this material, even though it's publicly available for anyone.

The creators of the artwork didn't have to break into the servers of Facebook - they just had to write a clever piece of software to harvest the data that individual people have decided to make publicly visible in Facebook. The purpose is not to harm any individual people - as it says on the site: 'If your identity has been hurt by this website, just write to us and we'll remove your data instantly. This website is a work of art and we're committed to avoiding any related annoyances.'

Not suprisingly, Facebook was very quick to send lawyers after the artists, as usually is the case with this type of artwork (the artists in question have previous experience of this from the two previous projects in Hacking Monopolism trilogy).

Photo from http://edit.deptford.tv
('Following The Crisis' exercise)

Another project in Pixelache Helsinki 2011 which operates on the borderline of legality in a subtle way is Deptford TV. The workshop hosted by Deptford TV is 'an attempt to identify and document secret (covert) places, strategies and messages in our everyday surroundings'. One of the tools used in the workshop is a device that can be used to intercept the video signal of CCTV cameras. The device itself is perfectly legal, but is it ok to use it to see what public authorities and security companies can see through their cameras?

The Deptford TV website features a documentation of an exercise that didn't require any special equipment, just an ordinary camera. The instructions were:

1) Wait in front of a bank
2) Wait until a bankers leaves the building
3) Follow the banker until he enters a building
4) Document
5) Record your observations to the following telephone number xxxx

If you do this exercise, it will seem as if you would be stalking or spying a certain person. On the other hand you would be doing what dozens of surveillance cameras set up by private companies are doing anyway. Which one of these activities is more acceptable?