Monthly Archives: October 2013

As every day brings along more news on the secret activities of the United States (US) National Security Agency (NSA), our MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE series examines the work of one of its most precious and intriguing fruits: Bill Callahan, alias Smog.

large billBill Callahan‘s parents used to work as language analysts for the NSA. He grew up at Silver Spring, Maryland, and soon started to compose and experiment with lo-fi home recording techniques. His early compositions, published under the nickname Smog, are strange songs about confusion and loneliness mixed with sometimes painful sounds. He later touched upon many different styles and moods, playing with blues, folk, country, and even dub. As he wrote himself, he “used to be darker”, then “got lighter“, and then “got darker again”.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 14.47.30Surveillance is never too far from Callahan’s music. Being watched and feeling guilty are two of the most prominent subjects in his discography. The first one is crucial for instance in “Goldfish Bowl“, from the 1995 LP “Wild Love” (“You’re watching me like a hawk“, he sings), or in the unambiguously titled “Live As If Someone Is Always Watching You“, of 2001’s “Rain On Lens“. Guilt is often addressed through the recurrent image of water, related to purification. Both subjects sometimes converge, such as in “River Guard”, from the 1999 album “Knock Knock“, about a guard who supervises prisoners when they go swimming, and who asserts that “we are constantly on trial / It’s a way to be free“.

But Callahan’s greatest ode to privacy invasions is undoubtedly “You Moved In”, from 1996’s “The Doctor Came At Dawn“. Here, the singer addresses somebody who “moved in” to his hotel, to announce her that he tapped her phones, and read her mail. The song’s final verses are: “And I hope you don’t mind / If I grab your private life / slap it on the table / and split it / with a knife“.

Finally, it is worth noting that the artist appears in a TV, very much like an Orwellian telescreened Big Brother, in the official video for “I Feel Like The Mother Of The World”, taken from “A River Ain’t Too Much To Love“, of 2005. Text by Gloria González Fuster


picture by etringita (@flickr)

On 25 November 2013 LSTS will welcome a presentation by Katja de Vries (LSTS) and Sebastian Abrahamsson (Universiteit van Amsterdam) titled ‘Food, Law and Waste: The Muffinman Case‘. Inspired by the case of Steven De Geynst, who in 2011 took two bags of muffins from a dumpster outside a GB supermarket in Rupelmonde and was brought to court for theft, they will analyse how food waste can be legally conceptualized (through property, sanitary regulations and privacy laws). Drawing upon the events that followed, they will also explore the conflicts between different interests and concerns that were actualised. The presentation will take place from 12:30 to 14:00 in the VUB room 4C306.

1377464_10151670203206867_1081361716_nLSTS researcher Gertjan Boulet moderated a debate on ‘Privacy versus Security’ organised by Jong VLD Nationaal (the Belgian Young Liberals).

The debate took place on 15 October 2013 at the Faculty of Law of Hasselt University (Belgium). The following panellists presented their views on CCTV, ANPR, Prism, big data and digital profiles in law:

  • Raf Jespers, lawyer and author of the book ‘Big Brother in Europa’.
  • John De Wit, journalist for the Belgian newspaper De Gazet van Antwerpen.
  • Bruno Segers, CEO of Irispact and ex-CEO of Microsoft Belgium/Luxembourg.
  • Arnold Roosendaal, researcher on privacy, identity and technology at TNO, and author of the book ‘De informatiefuik’.

For more information (in Dutch), please click here, or visit the Facebook page of the event.

Technology delineates the background of much of the history of both MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE. And at the crossroads of technology, music and surveillance, stands out Léon Theremin.

Lucie_Rosen_playing_thereminLéon Theremin was the American name used by Lev Sergeyevich Termen, a Russian inventor who designed the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments ever produced. Patented in 1928, the theremin consists of two metal antennas played without any physical contact: the position of the performer’s hands controls the frequency and amplitude of sound. During the 1930s, Theremin lived in the United States and was supported in developing the instrument by early adopters such as Lucie Bigelow Rosen. Since then, the theremin has been used both in avant-garde and popular music, and eventually became especially popular in film and TV soundtracks.

theremin_bugTheremin moved back to the USSR in 1938 in unclear circumstances. After being imprisoned, he was put to work on different secret projects related to surveillance technology. He invented then ‘The Thing’, a seminal covert listening device which allowed to gather audio signals without the need of any power supply, and was used as an espionage tool by the Soviet Union. Due to its use of passive techniques to transmit signals, Theremin’s bug is commonly regarded as a predecessor of nowadays widespread Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, which also allows for the transfer of data from passive, unpowered devices.  Text by Gloria González Fuster


picture by PHAEDRA Consortium

More than 75 representatives of Data Protection Authorities (DPAs), Privacy Commissioners and Privacy Enforcement Authorities around the world registered for the First PHAEDRA Workshop aimed at improving privacy enforcement co-operation and co-ordination, which took place in Warsaw (Poland) on 24 September 2013.

The workshop was opened by Wojciech Wiewiórowski, Inspector General for Personal Data Protection. The PHAEDRA Consortium presented the results of its efforts so far, and the following panellists presented their views: Ms. Elaine Miller (Directorate-General Justice, European Commission); Mr. Jean-Philippe Walter (Committee of Convention 108, Council of Europe); Mr. Hugh Stevenson (US Federal Trade Commission); Mr. Giovanni Buttarelli, European Data Protection Supervisor); Mr. Blair Stewart (New Zealand Privacy Commissioner’s Office, New Zealand); Mr. Carman Baggeley (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada); Mr. Rafael García Gozalo (Agencia Española de Protección de Datos) and Mr. David Smith (Information Commissioner’s Office, UK).

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