Paolo Cirio on Tue, 12 Apr 2016 18:22:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Obscurity Obfuscates Data on 15M U.S. Criminals Records for the Right


   United States, April 12th 2016.

   15 million mug-shots and criminal records of Americans have been
   obfuscated to introduce the Right to Remove personal information from
   search engines in the U.S.

   A project by Paolo Cirio.

   Obscurity cloned the major mug-shot websites and scrambled their
   databases to obfuscate the information on over 15 million individuals
   arrested in the U.S. over the last 20 years, making it difficult to
   identify them on the Internet. Introductory videos:

   The mug-shots have been blurred to make faces unrecognizable while
   their names have been shuffled by an algorithm that samples data based
   on common age, race, location, and charges, all of which are kept
   accurate in order to provide social context on the actual individuals
   arrested and the crimes they were accused of when they were booked in

   The republished obfuscated data maintains the layout and watermarks of
   the original mug-shot websites, and by using similar domain names the
   project would effectively interfere with the activity, reputation, and
   business of the mug-shot industry.

   The Obscurity artwork deploys strategies that are oriented to
   problem-solving as a form of Internet social art practice. By engaging
   with the law, millions of individuals, bad business practices, and
   general public opinion, this artwork seeks to embody a practical
   discourse about the aesthetics, function, and ethics of information
   systems affecting social structures that resonates within and outside
   the contemporary art dialogue.

   Mug-shot websites monetize by placing advertising of reputation
   management services alongside listed booking data or by charging a
   picture removal fee, which has led some state legislatures to propose
   bills to regulate the industry. However, some mug-shot websites operate
   in offshore jurisdictions and their owners are in hiding, which makes
   difficult any kind of legal action. Furthermore, many freedom of press
   organizations and legislators have been opposing bills that would
   regulate the publication of mug-shots.

   The visitors of the cloned mug-shot websites, as participants of the
   online artwork, are able to decide whether to remove individual
   profiles or instead keep them public by opting between two buttons,
   "Remove it" or "Keep it."

   Currently some online mug-shots are over ten years old, related to
   low-level or nonviolent crimes such as driving without a license,
   court-related or soft drug offenses, without making distinction between
   people who are convicted and people whose charges have been dropped. On
   the other hand, the mug-shots might be of dangerous individuals such as
   sex offenders and serial killers as well as public figures with social
   responsibility like bad doctors, corrupt politicians, or fraudsters and
   therefore they should circulate for public safety and social

   To engage the public in this complex situation, the project proposes a
   social experiment with a participatory judiciary system that would
   increase understanding and promote change concerning the ethical,
   legal, economic, and social contexts regarding personal information
   circulating online.

   A final element of this conceptual artwork is to hypothetically
   intervene in U.S. legislation by designing a petition for a Right to
   Remove personal and sensitive information from search engine results in
   the U.S.

   Obscurity taps at the core need of introducing a form of the Right To
   Be Forgotten in the U.S., which has been strongly opposed by Internet
   companies such as Google, and by many concerned about censorship which
   could be caused by the abuse of the law. By collaborating with lawyers,
   legislators, and privacy activists, the Right to Remove would campaign
   for the introduction of an information policy in the U.S. that provides
   the right to obscurity by removing from search engines results with
   sensitive information that jeopardizes the privacy, reputation, and
   security of ordinary citizens.

   Obscurity also wants to bring attention to the victims of mass
   incarceration in the U.S., which has the highest rate of imprisonment
   in the world and it questions the unscrupulous criminal justice system
   and law enforcement agencies that created this situation.

   For the offline installation, the artwork is presented with printers
   and shredding machines that continually and instantly print and shred
   pictures of mug-shots. The installation also displays screenings and
   prints of mug-shots from the most significant incarceration cases, such
   as the youngest and oldest individuals found in the database assembled
   for the artwork.

   The Obscurity project and the Right to Remove campaign are created by
   the Italian artist Paolo Cirio as a conceptual artwork. The company
   Paolo Cirio Ltd. based in London, UK, is the legal entity that
   published the cloned websites and the obfuscated data. Many special
   thanks to Anastasis Germanidis who worked as an engineer on the

   The Obscurity and the Right to Remove projects have premiered in a
   lecture by Paolo Cirio at NYU Law in NYC on April 6th.

   For future press inquiries and public presentations of the project, you
   can write to [9] For press material on the
   project please visit this link:

   Thank you for your attention.

   Paolo Cirio.

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