(Photo: Malte Spitz, from http://malte-spitz.de/)
Interview with Malte Spitz
Spitz gave a guest tour of the exhibition on Sunday, 20 March.
Malte Spitz is an author, activist and politician, based in Berlin. He has worked for almost ten years for the German Green Party in different positions, and is particularly known for his activism around data-related issues.
Spitz also has a collection of documents, titled What are you Doing with My Data?, displayed in one of the 'under the counter' drawers in the White Room (Tactical Tech's live installation in the Nervous Systems exhibition).
The earliest of these documents were obtained after Spitz filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile in 2009, after they stalled on providing him with his personal information. He was subsequently sent six month's worth of data. In 2014, he followed this up with a more extensive search, requesting information from 40 governmental institutions and commercial organisations from police to airline records and from health information to credit ratings, to find out what information they held on him.
Could you tell us a bit about the tour you've just given? The tour showed particularly how quantification is not only what we see today, but that there are also examples from the past; surveillance of our everyday life has been there for 50 years, 80 years, 100 years. And in the White Room we can look at what is happening at the moment, and what might be there for the next five, 10, 15 years; and see the interaction between private companies and state authorities.
At the end of our tour, people were asking, "What is the state doing?" And I said, "Yes of course, the state is also doing some surveillance." But what you see here in the exhibition and also in your everyday life is that more and more companies are getting involved, and you don't see them. And these companies have lots of information on you, and you have no idea who they are, what they are doing, who they are working with.
I think it's helpful to see, as you can in this exhibition, how state authorities and private companies are interacting. You can see, for example, how MasterCard is involved in Nigeria's nationwide ID system.
How was it to do a tour about your own investigations, your own documents? How did you feel when you opened the drawer with your own papers in it? It was a little bit funny for myself to open it and then see my own documents there, see my own name there!
But I think me being there was helpful for people - it's not an abstract thing. To say, "Hey, these are my documents. Here you can see when I go to the doctor's office, here you can see when I fly," and it's connected to someone real.
And it's real because everyone could be me in this situation. It could be the health records of anyone. It could be a flight with United Airlines from anyone. I think it's important to have real life examples.
How was it for you, maneuvering between some very historical artifacts and narratives and some very current situations? In some pieces the connection between past and present is very clear; for example the documentation from the late 1930s in England, where someone documented dance lessons - who was putting their hands where - I felt I could have been in this dance class, dancing, and seeing that someone was sitting there in the back and saying, "His hand is on the shoulder, his hand is on the chest," and so on. And I think this is important; for people have day-to-day situations that they can fit themselves into and see, "Yes, that is part of surveillance, of documentation - done in the past and in the present, and in the future. And I think this is helpful.
Is there anything else you'd like to add before you go? I only want to say thanks for the exhibition. I think it's a really great exhibition.... where you don't only see some flowing data points but you see real documents and can show that this sort of surveillance is there. And this quantification is there, and what can happen if there is interaction from the outside. This is really important. I hope that lots of people see the exhibition!