NSA, 2015

NSA is the National Security Agency, a United States governmental agency.

NSA may also refer to:

No strings attached, an expression for casual sex often used in personal ads.


Two years ago, when news organizations began disclosing unchecked and pervasive surveillance programs operated by the National Security Agency, the implications of our digital infrastructure were laid bare. Largely through documents provided by Edward Snowden, these disclosures detail the interception of internet traffic, direct access to the servers of major tech companies, and the collection of metadata from millions of cellphones.

For this project, I am using burners to override the GPS location in Grindr to interact with men living close to the areas of the world that the United States is using unofficial and indirect war tactics such as cyberwarfare and predator drone strikes. Burners are often scrutinized because they can be used to anonymously subvert surveillance, but, for people living in these areas of the world, they are often the only means of accessing the internet. By manipulating my GPS location in this way I am increasing my chances of entanglement in domestic surveillance, because case law and surveillance defenders have repeatedly suggested that Fourth Amendment protections only apply when all involved parties are American citizens. Any implications, even incidental ones, are stored indefinitely in government data centers for possible future uses.

By creating and mining my own archive of communications, I have made a series of revolving works which map the intersecting politics of networking, surveillance, human rights, and global identity. Cues of surveillance culture infiltrate seemingly innocuous cues of local culture: black tinted glass and RF shielding mesh, used at the National Security Agency’s headquarters to protect their surveillance tactics, here shield mundane but intimate moments; and a landmark speech by the U.S. Secretary of State on human rights become the vocals of a local gay bar soundtrack.

Local and international, personal and political, private and professional worlds converge most blatantly online. As we move into an increasingly networked world, digital technology gives us unprecedented opportunities for connection, but it also gives us unprecedented opportunities to be surveyed. Our rights are still dependent on the physical boundaries that are increasingly blurred by new technology, and, as billions are coming online for the first time, it will become harder to ignore such scrutiny placed on our digital activities and social circles. In the current digital landscape, where everything is considered fair game for exploitation, there are always strings attached.

This project was made possible by support from Northern Lights.mn, The Jerome Foundation, The Soap Factory, and the voters of Minnesota, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Additional support was provided by Peter Happel Christian, Nathan Renquist, and Matthew McWilliams. Additional photography by Rik Sferra.


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