We are satisfied that our details have completely vanished into the fabric that knits the democratic city together in equitable, everyday ways. How did you first get introduced to the world, so to speak, of encryption, secrecy, and information? We discovered after entering the pre-browser world of online gophers and listservs in the early s that architectural CAD users seemed largely disjoint from radical changes afoot in the emerging information economy.
Computing capabilities were welcomed as a boon to the production of architectural drawings and specs, as were profit-making advantages of labor power provided by indentured CAD jockeys saddled to new production tools. But social transformations and politics inherent in powerful information and communications softwares, hardwares and networks didn't show up on the architect's radar.
Architects were not engaged even if compelling issues of public domain, public space, information equality and privacy had powerful spatial implications for an urban context being challenged by trending privatization. The ascendancy of the 'smart' city has underscored these issues decades later. Radical coders, cryptographers and technologists of the online Cypherpunks mailing list were foregrounding such politics in vigorous terms when we ran into them during those early years. Manuel Castells has pointed out that power in the knowledge society is vested in such programmers of vital networks.
Our youthful experiences of Cold War national security and intelligence infrastructures resonated with C-punk debates about the impacts of government surveillance, the control of information and the need for strong encryption to protect individuals from unacceptable violations of privacy. John became active in C-punk debates at about the time we pretty much ruptured from our cohort of traditional analog architects. The latter continued to perform the service role of nostalgic stylists even as an accelerating world was appropriating the title 'architect' for technologists who were structuring vital informational and communications systems.
How would you describe the ethos of Cryptome? What motivates you to disclose information? Whenever we describe Cryptome as a library for information equality dedicated to banned documents, we take stock of a couple of brick-and-mortar library projects we've been involved in over the years on academic campuses around New York City. Architectural services ranged from providing new programmatic spaces, HVAC systems and elevators, to fireproofing stacks, installing innovative compact book storage systems and retrofitting accommodations for new technologies. Over the years, as compact book systems yielded to digital storage, we watched the title of Chief Librarian shift to Director of Information Technologies.
Jefferson argued that free access to knowledge is fundamental to democratic self-rule. He believed it critical to transforming the subjects of kings into citizens of a republic, as Abby Smith Rumsey has described.
Jefferson's coordinated activism as brick-and-mortar designer and information architect is a legacy that can even begin to redeem his tarnished role as unreconstructed slave owner. Current trends to privatize information, whether in private sector or by the state, run counter to such foundational democratic sentiments. The corrosive effects of the bloated empire of national security secrecy on any robust democracy has been well documented. We recommend the Washington Post's thorough investigative series of titled 'Top Secret America'. Current trends to privatize information Far from becoming obsolete, the brick-and-mortar public library has become a site of embodied work on behalf of information equality.
Consider the vividly architectural imagery of the ALA's statement applauding a Fourth Amendment ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of cell phone searches: The Constitution does not give law enforcement the right to conduct unlawful searches of our cell phones—many of which contain immensely personal information, such as our private conversations, photos, videos, banking information and website history.
In the same manner that we would not allow police officers to search unlawfully through our home library bookshelves without a warrant, we cannot allow government officials to search freely through our cell phones. What distinguishes Cryptome from other public domains of information, such as Wikileaks perhaps? Do you consider your work akin to journalism? Activists in the broader information ecosystem are not protected by traditional press freedoms but are nonetheless shifting the traditional definition of journalism and journalistic practice.
Julian Assange calls himself a journalist to benefit from the umbrella of press protections. Cryptome was denied press credentials by the NYPD office that issues them. Activists in the broader information ecosystem are not protected by traditional press freedoms Cryptome believes the resiliency of the informational commonweal is best supported by multiple redundant sites inflecting the ecosystem in low profile rather than projecting as grandiose monuments. Julian Assange was a rather quiet Cypherpunk during the formative period described above.
He went on to embrace a more voluble, self-promotional brand identity after founding Wikileaks. His public relations-enhanced trajectory went on to have dire consequences for him personally, and perhaps for Wikileaks as well. This cautionary parable applies equally to the architecture profession's surrender to starchitecture's merchandising economy. Can you talk about the design of the site? I think some people used to Web 2. We're very receptive to your diagnosis of the site's overwhelmingly non-hierarchical visual codes!
Being known for an unpolished DIY presence may be a tad perverse in this age of designer flash bells, whistles, eye-candy and banner ads. We hope self-guided learners remain active, engaged and critical This un-adorning reflects our concern with design skill being hijacked by market-driven branding and merchandising campaigns.
At the same time, we're pleased to provide an unadorned boot camp for reader autonomy, choice and self-guided learning that we believe crucial to self-determination. Readers use search engines for self-guided research.
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We hope self-guided learners remain active, engaged and critical. This would distinguish them from consumers who are rendered passive while whetting online desire. I'm also interested, more generally, in how design figures into your work as Cryptome and Cartome. When does design become a tool rather than an anaesthetic?
You raise a productive distinction between the two economies of information: Cryptome's 'banishing' of design as a counter-market strategy contrasted with the more intensely articulated cartographic narratives inventoried at Cartome, a research zone embedded in the larger site. One the one hand, Cryptome presents its scrolling index as a culturally invisible, somewhat anonymous feed. We've described our recent minute animated scroll of the full index as something of a deterritorialized, non-wayfinding map.
In most cases, the informant or witness also happens to be an autobiographical subject This unadorned fugitivity or abnegation charts evasive lines of flight in the face of mobile authorities that are continually tracking our site. At the same time, our cartographic pieces are constructed from very articulated visual codes. This granularity and color coding supports demotic micro-history recounted 'from below'.
Narrative codes attempt to reverse the silencing of micro-historical accounts otherwise suppressed by dominant geopolitical historiographies. In most cases, the informant or witness also happens to be an autobiographical subject. Maybe these projects can be thought of as musical notation in that they encode and map the orality and aurality of previously unheard voices within geographic space. I've read that you've had more than your fair share of visits by the FBI.
Alive and not in prison.
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What's the legal status of your work? How do you avoid prosecution? We acknowledge that programmers of dominant networks hold great power in our knowledge economy. Radical programmers are targeted by powerful interests during ongoing processes of calculating and managing risk to the critical networks these programmers may be accessing, reverse-engineering, hacking or simply critiquing. Let us assume our efforts on behalf of code-mandated criticalities of public health, safety and welfare are being tolerated.
We've referred in the past to Edward Snowden as a cyborg with a conscience gone rogue inside a large technical system LTS. As architects involved with LTS infrastructures who are not programmers, we've managed to find a way to both engage vital debates about networks as well as chart lines of flight that keep us in the clear. We'll leave it at that. This feature is part of Archinect's special thematic focus for June, Privacy. For more on the changing meaning of privacy in the digital age, check out other features. Writer and fake architect, among other feints.
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