Famed street artist Banksy (amongst other things) takes on the issue of surveillance in a surprise pop-up shop located in the heart of South London’s Croydon community. The exhibition, entitled ‘Gross Domestic Product’ is for the sale of “impractical and offensive merchandise”, and employs Banksy’s signature humorous brand of political satire. Items on display include the Union Jack emblazoned stab vest created by the artist for Croydon native Stormzy’s headline performance at this year’s Glastonbury festival, a homage to American artist, Jean Basquiat and a baby’s crib surrounded by a surveillance camera mobile.
In homage to the anonymous artist’s ongoing visual indictment of modern surveillance, the piece ‘Baby Mobile’ is featured prominently in the storefront’s displayed, and is described with Bansky’s usual dark brand of social commentary and dry, darkly prescient humour: “Banksy has created the ultimate ceiling-mounted stimulus toy to prepare your little one for the journey ahead — a lifetime of constant scrutiny both state-sanctioned and self-imposed”.
Frighteningly enough, Banksy’s monitor may, in fact, be inspired by several products available on the market today, including a mobile with a built-in swivelling camera, which is marketed as ‘the best solution for energetic babies’. Video-based baby monitors have become a staple in the infant-care market, and there is no shortage of surveillance-enabled toys and furnishings marketed towards new parents wishing to keep a watchful eye on their little ones.
‘Baby monitor’ is not Banksy’s first foray into critiques of both the government-sanctioned and private iterations of a surveillance state. In 2014, the artist unveiled a mural in the English town of Cheltenham, the home of the domestic branch of the British intelligence agency, MI5, which depicted three trench-coat and trilby-clad ‘agents’ using devices to listen to phone-booth conversations. This particular Banksy work popped up in Cheltenham shortly after Edward Snowden’s infamous whistleblower complaint regarding the level of covert government surveillance perpetrated by the United States’s National Security Administration (NSA). Few public disclosures have put privacy and surveillance at the forefront of public concern like Snowden’s 2013 complaint, but beyond the tech world and intelligence communities, it seems that this growing concern over privacy has still, nearly six years later, not translated into anything more concrete than discourse and a general sense of unease towards surveillance.
The public has been made aware, time and time again, of the security dangers surrounding surveillance technology at home. A great deal of media coverage has been devoted to the particular vulnerabilities of smart devices to hacking. Some of the most well-publicised incidents include Google’s Nest thermostat inadvertently leaking the zip codes of its users online, the infiltration of baby monitors, which alarmingly allowed hackers to broadcast their voice into the homes of users through the monitors, as well as the terrifying existence of the massive search engine, Shodan, a platform devoted entirely to locating unsecured internet of things devices, including a feature which allows users to peruse unsecured wifi camera, and in effect exposing the private lives of hundreds of thousands of consumers to very public viewing on the internet.
Story after story and breach after breach have made it abundantly clear that many of these technologies we voluntarily bring into our lives and into our homes are leaving our private lives incredibly vulnerable, but this knowledge hasn’t stopped us from continuing to welcome these potentially invasive technologies into our most private spaces. We know that all of that information we voluntarily handed over can be utilised for deceptively intrusive purposes in the absence of governmental oversight, but this knowledge has not stopped us from handing it over freely all the same. At a stage when the surveillance state has become fodder for popular humour and political satire have we reached the point of no return?
Technology is changing us fundamentally, changing the way we operate, think, and go out about our day to day lives, but the question remains: how much control are we willing to give up? Ronald Arkin, a robotics ethicist at the Georgia Institue of Technology takes a pragmatic view of our changing notions of privacy and the degree to which we are complicit in this paradigm shift.
“Amazon and Google have all sorts of data about our preferences. You don’t have to use their products. If you do, you’re saying OK, I’m willing to allow this potential violation of our privacy. No one is forcing this on anyone. It’s not mandated à la 1984”.
At Minut, we believe that security should never come at the cost of privacy. Our homes are our most private spaces, and our respect for the personal nature of home is reflected in every aspect of our alarm’s design. We don’t use cameras, and we don’t collect or sell your data. It’s security that was designed for just that, security and safety, never surveillance.
Other articles you might be interested in:
Growing Up in the Age of Surveillance
Cameras Aren’t the Future of Home Security, Our Communities Are