Weltweite Überwachung und Zensur

The silhouette of a head can be seen, in whose interior a camera has been placed.

The exhibition project »GLOBAL CONTROL AND CENSORSHIP« travels around the world: from the end of 2015 to July 2016, the exhibition was shown at the ZKM as part of the GLOBALE and has since then moved around various Goethe Institutes in Eastern Europe.

The silhouette of a head can be seen, in whose interior a camera has been placed.

Knowledge is power. And power is above all possessed by whoever controls the flow of information. This applies particularly to digital culture, because all the information on the World Wide Web can be surveilled and manipulated, unhindered.

The exhibition, which has been conceptualized at the ZKM, discusses the use of digital forms of communication which were seen as the hope for new forms of democratic participation.  They have recently been converted and perverted into ideal door openers for the perfect surveillance and control of billions of people. Since 2017, the exhibition has been travelling to Goethe Institutes in Talinn, Žilina, Bialystok, Vilnius, Debrecen, Prague and Riga focusing on various themes.

The aim of the exhibition project is to expand the public debate about the ubiquitous control and censorship measures, which appears to be urgent not only because of the constant new reports in the media, but above all in view of the far-reaching obstruction of the awareness of these practices.

The exhibition is based on collaboration with correspondents from twenty-six countries. It is realized in collaboration with the Arbeitsgruppe Netzpolitik [Internet Governance Group] at the Institute of Political Science of Heidelberg University and the Kompetenzzentrum für angewandte Sicherheitstechnologie (KASTEL) [Center of Excellence for Applied Security Technology] at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Other important partners in this endeavor are the Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM) [Academy of Media Arts Cologne], Reporters Without Borders, the artists residence Villa Aurora Berlin, the Chaos Computer Club e.V. (CCC), and This know-how was the basis for the travel variations of the exhibition as a further development of the exhibition project.

Those who use such devices are being used. This is the proviso to which we have all acquiesced in order to profit from these convenient forms of communication.

Mobile communication devices have been so enthusiastically embraced these days, that billions of people all over the world are connected to each other. Billions of all kinds of content and data are generated every day and transmitted across the globe within seconds. Even before it reaches the recipients, massive amounts of this data are intercepted by private companies and government agencies, checked, and then used for their purposes.

A gilded Surveillance Camera

Besides the mass analysis of communications metadata in electronic networks and direct interception of the data of individuals, open or clandestine censorship through interference, manipulation, and shutdown is on the increase. When fear of imminent censorship as a control mechanism does not work, secrecy is implemented to withhold important information from the general public up to abduction and murder of journalists. Being at the mercy of overwhelmingly powerful authorities of control and censorship has become the »conditio humana«, the basic condition of our time. Already today, a large part of the public has resigned itself to the omnipresence of state and commercial surveillance.

Smartphones, which accompany their users with every step they take, are infected with spyware without their owners’ consent or knowledge, and can be used as surveillance cameras and listening devices even when they are turned off. Our locations and movement profiles can be accessed at any time. Our browsing and consumer behavior, our contacts, our preferences, and our weaknesses can be analyzed and passed on at any time without us knowing or being asked.

Surveillance and censorship are mutually dependent; they cannot be viewed separately.

The surveillance of citizens, institutions, and companies – yes, including the monitoring of democratically elected politicians and parliaments or of journalists and lawyers – has always been an open secret, that this is the mission of government agencies. Recently, however, this historical practice of government-legitimized spying on all citizens has been expanded to include spying by powerful service contractors and economic enterprises. And parallel to this, for passing on important information to the general public by courageous citizens and journalists, their disclosures even of illegal surveillance, and drawing attention to censorship and torture by government institutions, these people are now being prosecuted and punished in the strongest possible terms.

It can no longer be denied that in Germany, too, state agencies on the orders of and sanctioned by the government itself, have taken action contrary to the welfare of citizens and the economy. Parliamentary investigation committees are refused access to documents which would lead to the solving of such cases. In totalitarian states, whistle-blowers disappear – they are kidnapped or even assassinated – but the danger that even in Germany they may find themselves prosecuted for treason, has recently increased dramatically.

Various sights into the exhibition »GLOBAL CONTROL AND CENSORSHIP«

After the Nazi control regime, which culminated in the annihilation of millions of people, George Orwell’s Big Brother became a metaphor for the God-like, omnipresent, totalitarian authority of state control by means of electronic media. Under Stalin’s dictatorship, no different to the USA in the anti-Communist McCarthy era, millions of people were hounded and persecuted because of their opinions and beliefs, incarcerated in prisons and camps, tortured, and killed. The dictatorships of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal, the regimes of Pinochet, Suharto, and Ceauseșcu, to name but a few examples, were only able to survive because of the surveillance and intimidation of the populace; the same applied to East Germany, which owed its continued existence until 1989 to the Ministry for State Security’s blanket system of informers.

At the latest since 1947, the global espionage network Echelon operated by the Five Eyes – USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand – has focused on spying on political, commercial, and private communications traffic, both in the east and the west. Since the end of the Second World War the Federal German Govern-ment has known and sanctioned that the Allied Powers in Germany systematically monitor all postal, telephone, and radio communications. The people were told this was to counter the Communist threat: today it is ostensibly to wage »war on terror«.

For around thirty years now digital networks have enabled automated, targeted blanket interception, manipulation, and storing of information available on the Internet as well as targeted spying on users worldwide and at all times.

The courageous disclosures of Edward Snowden and other whistle-blowers have made it very clear that this capability of total electronic surveillance by intelligence agencies in the east and the west has been developed and is implemented on the broadest possible basis. Super-efficient spying software is developed with the aid of state funding at German universities and prestigious private sector research institutions as a new form of weapons technology; it is a lucrative business for German companies with totalitarian states from all over the world.

Just how all-encompassing digital surveillance and censorship function today was revealed in July 2014 when the CIA admitted it had manipulated the computers of the U.S. Congress committee that is tasked with democratic control of the CIA. The manipulation included deleting documents about torture conducted by the CIA, which the committee was investigating.

Two men standing in front of a blackboard hanging on the various surveillance cameras

For a long time now the Five Eyes states as well as other nations have granted themselves the right to spy on all other nations: in all military, economic, and social areas, and at all levels – government, organizations, business concerns, activists, NGOs, and individual citizens. The motto is: If it’s technically possible to do, it will be done. Issues of legality, ethical scruples, or friendly relations between states or business concerns have ceased to exist.

Military warfare has long since been expanded to include the control and manipulation of electronic communications networks.

We have to take it as given that today all important information relating to politics and the economy will be intercepted at some point on its way from sender to receiver, manipulated, and even distorted or falsified. The mass effects of such possible manipulations on political decision-making processes, on stock exchanges and markets, and also on the proper functioning of essential technological systems, such as public utilities and transport could in future be far greater and more subtle than attacks with conventional weapons.

As consumers, we know it is now standard practice that we can’t take advantage of special offers while online shopping or even book a plane or train ticket without granting to access to our personal data. Very few people are aware that there are actually no cheap or free offers at all. We always pay with our data and with our most precious belonging, our privacy, as well as with our attention to the advertising that bombards us on every website.

Filter Bubble

»Tienanmen Square«, »British Petroleum«, »Hotel Prices«. The same search question, asked three times, but with three different search results. What is the reason for this? The most widely used search engine »Google« employs geographical and technical filters...

Being at the mercy of overwhelmingly powerful authorities of control and censorship has become the »conditio humana«, the basic condition of our culture. To some extent we realize this and reflect upon it, but we cannot reverse or undo it. We have become accustomed to this situation, just as we are not deterred by the myriads of video cameras on the way to work or on our way back home. We are well on the way to accepting surveillance and censorship as a given, just as we have learned to accept other conditions as facts of modern life – traffic noise, ubiquitous advertising, environmental pollution, and our insignificance in the political arena.

In spite of the alarming things we now know a large section of the public has already resigned in the face of the ubiquitous presence of state and commercial surveillance. Our grandchildren will hopefully still be able to ask us what we did about it – in a totalitarian society such questions will not even be posed.

Stick figure and the word "google"

The exhibition owes a great debt of thanks to all the whistle-blowers who had, have, and will have the courage to reveal the undemocratic practices of states and commercial enterprises to the general public. It is only on the basis of greater commitment and concern on the part of every one of us that defense strategies can be developed, because here the same dictum applies: Knowledge is power.

Organization / Institution
ZKM | Karlsruhe