My Project documenting the construction of a device for the protection of protesters.
produced by: Wesley Talbot
Civil Disobedience as a Right
(and how to access it)
Disclaimer: this is strictly for educational purposes only. To build/operate the proposed device (or the speculative devices) is illegal in many countries. I do not advise or recommend building this unless you have specifically obtained permission or knowledge that it is legal to do so. This is a speculative piece.
The concept for my work is to create accessible devices and methods for the creation of devices that protect individuals in areas where the government is intruding on civil liberties, humanitarian rights, and/or enacting totalitarian oppression. The first step in this project was to come up with ideas for technologies that could onlybe used defensively. This particular belief was in response to the anarchist cookbook which details how to build weapons, manufacture drugs, other dangerous things. Of the initial ideas generated the phone jammers stood out a strong candidate for its ability to block your own phone from betraying your GPS location while still being able to use your camera and recording functions for documenting events. A similar device (in fact the inspiration) is outlined in Disobedient Electronics [ref 2] titled the jammer. It is worth mentioning that their description does not provide instruction on how to build the device (which was what prompted me to act). Other potential devices for a project such as this could include a CCTV detector, a police radio scanner, or hidden body cameras. Taken as a much bigger project the proposal would be reconnaissance and evasion in the effort to safeguard civil rights in an active/engaged way. Possibly through a codified “field-guide” for non-violent intervention. Which could be expressed as a comic book or visual novel with “activities” much the child’s maze I will soon discuss. This could account for breathing apparatuses, first-aid response, and base-solutions for tear gas. On the point of accessibility, I wanted to be able to make these devices out of items that are easily found in any country and are completely innocuous. Items such as radios, DVD players, alarm clocks, calculators, etc. This necessity comes from their low-cost and ubiquity, they can be found at any secondhand store and would not raise suspicion if purchased together. The next step of this project what to create diagrams that would explain how to make these devices and in any language given very little instruction. Like oral tradition where stories are passed from person to person this project allows a simple explanation for what to look for and the transmission of a JPEG, worksheet, file, or Xerox. I have designed an image to look like a child’s activity maze where the resistors are represented as gifts ready to be brought to a party birthday party, the capacitors are the guests. The main 555IC chip is the home which is only connected to the working components. Any other at Elements are also outlined. At first glance one might not assume that this is an electrical diagram, that is entirely the point. I have also built the device outlined in the codified schematic, and have recorded a video showing how to operate its very simple functions. The parts in this piece could be found inside a Boot’s brand Children’s Toy Piano, and AM/FM alarm clock, and an IBM PC game controller.
Link to personal YouTube page with device demonstration: https://youtu.be/20NoLMW8ujw
1. Interview with Julian Oliver
This is a brief interview with artist Julian Oliver, whose work has been influential in formulating the concept for this piece. In this interview he discusses his information grenade, which he describes as having an “immaterial explosion” with material consequences. Ideologically this is in an effort to fight the lack of transparency that is constantly promised by governments and corporate institutions, but never realized. Built to look like a real hand-grenade, with the exception that it is made from glass, it works by throwing it into a room where it will then transmit “blobs” of data from the room to an open server. His work often deals with privacy issues, transparency, and contemporary issues. I see this as a framework for art to build upon. The inclusion of politically motivated and socially aware content has a long tradition in art, yet here is a digital connection that engages directly with the opposition. My hope is to create similarly effective devices that will have meaningful/positive impact on people’s lives.
2. Disobedient Electronics Edited by Garnet Hertz
This book is a collection of different devices made by individuals and artists to fulfill a call made in 2016. This call was in response to the presidential election of a candidate unfit for the office, who has inspired a “post-truth” ethos which has taken over much of the political landscape. Each of the devices fulfills a specific need; the goal being to use innovative technology to fight the wage gap, homophobia, racism, sexism, surveillance and privacy, climate change, and other important topics. This appears to be an updated and more socially responsible version of the Anarchist’s Cookbook(first published in 1971) by William Powell. The Anarchist’s Cookbookwas created amidst the counterculture era, and contained instructions on how to build/manufacture weapons, drugs and other related devices deemed suitable for fighting the government. Disobedient Electronics has updated that content for the 21stcentury, but in a way that does not embolden actions of violence, or the accidental over-dose of hapless narcotic enthusiasts. Some examples included are : The Abortion Dronefirst used to fly emergency contraceptives from Germany to Poland (who has much more restrictive policies concerning abortion). Another project from this text , the Jammer, was the initial inspiration for my project. It works by blocking signals from your cell phone so that it cannot be tracked by GPS while still allowing you to use your camera for documenting abuses. Of all the projects suggested by this collection, I am most interested in the devices that can offer protective services to those in need.
3. Civil resistance and power politics; people power and protest: the literature on civil resistance in historical context: April Carter
The collection of essays as chapters in Civil Resistance and Power Politics is a history of the non-violent movement across the decades and the growing awareness civil resistance has as a successful strategy. The chapter that I have included in my research is the Literature On Civil Resistance in Historical Context, which speaks primarily about writing surrounding civil disobedience. It is divided between instances of nonviolent struggle in journalistic historical political writings and on non-violent methods. Major figures referenced within are of course Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior. It also includes the ongoing debate on whether non-violence is an effective means of toppling repressive regimes, and resisting particular policies. To begin they credit Gandhi as putting nonviolent methods on the political map despite earlier examples (Gandhi was in turn inspired by the writing of Henry David Thoreau). Interestingly, they question whether it is possible that certain societies are more open to non-resistance/ nonviolent movements than others. As a form of social action they query whether more aggressive societies are either less likely to utilize or less likely to benefit from non-violent movements. The ultimate question is raised against whether non-violent tactics work against totalitarianism and brutal occupation. On this matter, they introduce the US Civil Rights movement which was a historically peaceful movement. They further this sentiment by referencing how the Civil Rights movement inspired other nonviolent struggles such as in Northern Island 1967 to 72 against the discrimination and prominent Protestant domination of the political system. Though I would add that, as reprehensible as the actions of the U.S. Government at the time, it was not quite the brutal regime of other more notable fascist states. Other examples include pacifists resisting the testing of nuclear weapons by entering missile bases and nuclear plants. They do however return to the question of the usefulness against totalitarianism by citing teachers in Norway and in Denmark who refused to discriminate against Jews during German occupation in WWII. The effect of which was relatively successful, despite the acknowledgement that German rule was relatively mild in those areas. They go on to address the reality that simultaneous movements occurred at the same time, and in many cases nonviolent movements were superseded by later violent movements. The civil rights gave birth to the Black panther movement, while the IRA took hold of Northern Ireland. Their assessment is however that the non-violent movements were much more impactful and influential in the long run. Continuing on the rise of people power in the literature of the 1980s and 90s: they cite the fall of the Berlin wall and the velvet Revolution which inspired other movements for national independence. Asserting that one of the strengths of nonviolent movements is inspiring further demonstrations around the globe. Their conclusion is that the number of civil resistance campaigns have increased.
4. In Defense of Radical Disobedience :Alan Carter
In Defense of Radical Disobedienceis a discussion on the legitimacy and moral standing of disobedience. It begins by citing Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy as important authors establishing the cause. A major them is the Vietnam War as the resurfacing of a particularly difficult civil experience in contemporary thinking. Throughout the author questions the justifications of civil disobedience, stating that many would find opposition to racist regimes as legitimate as well as refusing to fight in an unjust war but reflects on less certain scenarios. Such as on environmental or political objections. When discussing the legitimacy of civil disobedience he cites Ronald Dworkin who has written about the draft resisters of the 1960’s. This is a particularly complicated issue because you have a population who in essence “plays the game” while also disagreeing with the policy. Additionally you have those who are resisting the draft and whether or not they’re punished has an effect on those for not resisting. These two opposing factions are ideologically the same, but ultimately divided because as Dworkin states the draft dodgers are allowed to “secure the benefits of difference to law without shouldering the burdens”. The author goes on to outline Dworkins three possibilities with regard to breaking the law. The first is to assume the action is forbidden. The second is to follow one’s own moral judgment. Though the effect of this may be incarceration and has no legal standing. The third is to act only by one’s own moral justifications where the law is unclear. This, he states as a citation of Dworkin, is admissible because “citizen's allegiance is to the law, not to any particular person's view of what the law is” . The author however goes farther than Dworkin; offering the example of a situation where the law is unmistakably clear, and yet the individual has a strong conscientious objection. How should the individual proceed? Can disobedience acted upon in scenario such as this ever be justifiable? Clearly, he is in favor of this type of action, using arguments made by John Rawls as philosophical confirmation. Carter questions why we should have any necessity to fall into political obligations if it is in contrast to our moral being. Here he proffers Rawls theory on a “social contract” we enter into with any establishment. To summarize there are particular benefits we enjoy from these institutions and plan to continue enjoying, yet this is conditional on the establishment acting in ways that the individual is able to morally support. By conscientiously objecting and utilizing civil disobedience, we “implore the majority, by appealing to its sense of justice, to reconsider its decisions” . In essence, because there is a theoretical possibility to change the law should the majority decide, the moral minority may make a plea through an act of disobedience. Whether or not this has the desired result is of course impossible to say, but offers some insight into the integrity of such actions. This is the position one finds themselves in when participating in a democracy. The expectation in self-governance is to obey the laws that have been mutually agreed upon, and there is the fear that by creating discordant acts you are placing yourself above the rest. Carter argues however that this only creates a scenario where the majority may respond to you by placing their demands higher still. It is an ebb and flow of dissent and conformity that allows change to naturally occur.
5. Practical Electronics for Inventors
This is resource for electrical engineering (in its third edition), it details different electronic components from a beginner’s level to advanced. Offering example diagrams for a multitude of different devices. I use this as a reference when building any electronic devices that I am unfamiliar with as it enables me to cross-reference designs. Using this book, the reader can be sure they will not short-circuit a component due to excess voltage etc. It clarifies the unique functions of each component should a substitution become necessary or for a deeper understanding of how circuitry works. The chapters that I focused on for this particular assignment were Chapter 3titled Basic Electronic Circuit Components. Here they provided a diagram for a short-wave receiver (fig.3.94a pg. 372) and a transmitter (fig 3.94b pg. 372) that was used to modify the device when a variable capacitor could not be substituted. Chapter 10 which covers Oscillators and Timers: In this chapter, they discuss timing IC’s and their functions. Specifically the use of a 555 integrated circuit which is outlined (fig 10.10 pg. 690) in a basic mono-stable operation mode (how it would be used in the proposed phone jammer).
6. Creative Science: YouTube Channel
This is a YouTube channel dedicated to instructing novices/ DIY electronic enthusiasts on how to build a range of different components. Here, I am citing their “Make Your Own Cell Phone Signal Jammer Using NE555 Timer” video which comes with a diagram and assembly instructions. This is posted as educational material with an appropriate disclaimer about the legalities of using this device. The video is 5 minutes 31 seconds, and explains all of the parts needed for building this device.
7. Website: Disobedient Objects- How to
A website dedicated to disobedient technology complete with posters on how to make the outlined devices, protests equipment, etc. Artists such as Marwan Kaabour have detailed objects like his Makeshift Tear-Gas Mask. This website is conceptually identical to what my works are aimed at accomplishing, with the difference being that I want mine works to be accessible even in countries where this kind of information is tightly controlled. There has been a growing need for new ways to protect protesters but also to make protesting relevant in new ways. As some methods have lost their impact, due to new modes of business as usual. These items outlined on this website try to solve this solution.
8. Electronic civil disobedience and other unpopular ideas
Electronic civil disobedience and other unpopular ideas is a book written by a critical art ensemble, the main theme of which is how modern-day civil disobedience tactics need to change and how we’ve come to this necessity. It begins by outlining the old power structures as having physical manifestations (i.e. Castles, Governmental Offices, Large Corporate buildings, etc. ), which meant that those in subservience knew where to find those in power. If social change became necessary they could enact some form of resistance in those specified locations. This proximity allowed for meaningful actions, as described in the quote “ economic disruption and symbolic disturbance…made the overall strategy effective” (p8). Here they are describing a scenario where protesters can hinder the day-to-day activities of a corporation at their office and have effective discourse with employees. The problem outlined in this chapter is how the current state of technology allows for business ( whose definition here extends to mean governmental procedures too) to continue unimpeded by the speed with which we can move responsibility, ownership, and work strategies using the internet and modern infrastructures. Powerful entities are more evasive than ever, with all manner of ability to obfuscate their participations in commerce, lobbying, oppression, and more. They even describe mass media in terms of a new form of “bunker” (referencing the former castles) for which the powerful are able to hide behind. The information exchange removes the need for physical buttresses and replaces it with smoke and mirrors. Throughout this book the call for modern methods of protest is thoroughly apparent. They believe that the “New Left” of the 60’s has (with good intentions) held the frontline for too long; their methods have had diminishing returns ever since. These concerns are very much in line with my proposed project. There are too many instances of corporate greed and government sanctioned bigotry to list here, suffice it to say there is indeed good cause to allow access to protective equipment against modern invasions of privacy and more. I would argue, citing this text, that it is on those in exactly our position at Goldsmith’s Computing department to take the forefront of the cause, to develop new technologies. Unfortunately, the STEM fields must shy away from such endeavors. Therefore using what we have learned in our technological studies and Computational Research and Theory courses we are the one of the few groups with both means and motive.
1. Arte Creative. “Julian Oliver – the Art Geeks. YouTube.com. August 7th, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJaNWqNSwpY
2. Hertz, Garnet. “Disobedient Electronics”. http://www.disobedientelectronics.com(2016)
3. Roberts, Adam, and Timothy Garton Ash. Civil Resistance and Power Politics : The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.
4. Carter, Alan. “In Defence of Radical Disobedience.” Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 1, 1998, pp. 29–47. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24354003. Accessed 7 Mar. 2020.
5. Scherz, Paul, and Simon Monk. Practical Electronics for Inventors. Third Edition / Paul Scherz and Simon Monk.. ed. 2013. Print.
6. Creative Science. “Make Your Own Cell Phone Signal Jammer Using NE555 Timer”. YouTube.com. May 30th2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsfaNTQ5-zo
7. Museum, Albert, and Digital Media. “Disobedient Objects: How-To Guides.” Disobedient Objects: How-To Guides, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL, 20 May 2015, www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/disobedient-objects/how-to-guides/.
8. Critical Art Ensemble. Electronic Civil Disobedience and other unpopular ideas. 1996. Print