User:Pedro Sá Couto/Graduate Research Seminar/Thesis Outline 04

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Thesis Outline


Thesis Statement

The human being always felt the need to extend itself. From wearing clothes to protect us, to developing agriculture tools to become more productive, and the use of medicine to increase our immunity system. We have created the web, originally it was conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world (“The birth of the Web | CERN,” n.d.) and now being a part of it is a demand for being public, to create an audience and to have a bigger reach. What started as being a way to connect us, spread knowledge easily and globally also contributed to mass surveillance. It arose the opportunity to start creating more precise data on the subject and this also impacted how academic publishing and book publishers started to be able to use strategies that used to provide provenance to media within archives and shaped them in order to create accountability on the subject.

In parallel systems are put in place to create forensic evidence to whoever gets to publish. The case of the printers Machine Identification Code (MIC) which is a format of physical watermarking provides proof to the originator of printed material. This made me rethink what does print means and how do we see it as being a secure medium.

There is a need for communities to publish anonymously, to feel safe and feel represented. How is censorship influencing who gets to publish? How can publishing bypass surveillance? What are the alternative forms of communication that can be built to covert communication in physical and digital media files?


PART 1 – Digital surveillance is increasing accountability

Point A: We are increasing our online footprints

Argument 1: Governement surveillance demands us to get digital and more liable

— Example 01 : We don't carry an identity card anymore because governments created digital versions of them that may be stored on our smartphones, we give our fingerprints to centralized companies with nothing more than the promise that it will be easier to unlock an everyday device. It is almost mandatory to get digital, from passport checkpoints at the airport to exhaustively detailed residency permit requirements, without acknowledging it we are becoming more responsible and easily accountable for our imprints. "policy affecting our everyday life is moved further from our ability to influence, affect or even understand it. At the same time, the increased use of surveillance and monitoring technologies makes the individual more vulnerable to, and accountable to, these very organizations that are themselves becoming less accountable to the surveilled populace." (Mann, 2003)

— Example 02 : "The second challenge is determining the legal rules for access to these data. As the kinds of electronic data collected by mobile technology grow richer, the numberof service providers proliferates, and business models evolve, it becomes more challenging to identify with certainty the legal guidelines governing law enforcement’s ability to lawfully obtain and use such data." (Balkovich et al., 2015)

Argument 2: Participatory surveillance is a phenomena where individuals within a community monitor each other "While surveillance is usually understood as the purposeful monitoring of individuals by those in authority, ‘participatory surveillance’ is a type of surveillance where people willingly keep watch on each other through social media." (Fulton and Kibby, 2017)

— Example 01 : Doxing is which is getting an individual private data and make it public on the web is common in hacktivism circles. "The word dox is the modern, abbreviated form of "dropping dox," an old-school revenge tactic that emerged from hacker culture in 1990s." (Honan, 2014)

— Example 02 : Social media is a playground for harvesting data, while one singer user would agree with the survey conditions, all his friends data would be collected. "Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission, to boost his surging White House run" (Davies, 2015)

Argument 3: Companies want to avoid liability

— Example 01 : The privacy centered search engine DuckDuckGo has cleaned up its bangs database. In the process, the company also removed several search shortcuts for 'pirate' sites, to avoid potential liability issues. The removed bangs include those of the popular torrent sites The Pirate Bay and 1337x, as well as other resources such as Sci-Hub and OpenSubtitles.

— Example 02 : JSTOR and other publishers try to create a relation between a downloaded file and its downloader, being able to track, control and understand if a paper is distributed illegally. Companies that can store, organize and distribute years of research journals are making them inaccessible to the majority of researchers. These inprints are left very clear in plain sight.

PART 2 – Bridging between Surveillance and Publishing

Point A: Alternative publishing channels became fundamental to engage locally spread information and freely publish thoughts

Argument 1: Counter Censorship in the press

— Example 01 : Efforts like he underground press were a strategie to cope with a repressive post-war press. Publications were produced without official approval, illegally or against the wishes of a dominant (governmental, religious, or institutional) group. (Miles, n.d.)

— Example 02 : Overcoming repressive power structures in the press. In Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship from 1933 till 1974. The Lapis Azul stands out as a simbol of censorship during the Estado Novo regime.

Argument 2 : Counter Mass publishing

— Example 01 : Factsheet 5

— Example 02 : Zines are self-published media, either with original or appropriated image and texts with small-circulation and a small print run.

Point B: Appropriation of techniques that were historically used to append imprints able to grant marks of quality and aknowledgement are now tweaked.

Argument 1 : Watermarking as a aesthetic enhancement, a mark of quality to an user imprint.

— Example 01 : Chemical Watermarks — "Watermarking originally might have been intended as an aesthetic enhancement, a mark of quality, or a proprietary mark for the papermaker or the wealthy donor or client." (Watkins, 1990)

— Example 02 : Digital watermarks — Adding traces that relate to the subject, and more precisely with geolocation, IP address, mac addresses, email addresses

Argument 2 : Library stamps providing body of evidence for determining both the circumstance and date of acquisition, questioning on ownership and acquisition.

— Example 01 : Library stamp — In libraries books were stamped to mark ownership of the book. The relation used to be created between the physical medium and the library also creating provenance to the collection. "While library stamps are a useful aid in determining the history of a collection item, it has been noted that many items were stamped much later than their acquisition date and mistakes are known to have occurred. Library stamps should provide just one piece of a greater body of evidence for determining both the circumstance and date of acquisition. Clues may also be found on bindings, bookplates or inscriptions." (Duffy, 2013)

— Example 02 : Digital Stamps — Questioning ownership and acquisition. Relation to the downloader and not to the collection. The relation is intended to be established to its user. The introduction of the internet changed how we relate among ourselves. I can take an example of how forbidden music used to be smuggled on Soviet Russia. They would write directly onto old X-ray films and make them cross the borders more easily. If we wanted to share a film probably it was recorded with a low-quality camera in a cinema and sold to you already burnt in a CD. We are now able to live share different mediums in a matter of seconds. And these stamps are an attempt to if not target you, at least create some self-thinking around the topic.

PART 3 – Designing tools to publish anonimously

Point A: Incognito Publishing

Argument 1 : Hiding in plain sight as a strategy

— Example 01 : Using Digital and Physical tactics with steganography (A Cookbook of Invisible Writing) from Amy Suo Wu.

— Example 02 : Printing technology developments are acknowledging that even digital communications and data security are becoming more sophisticated there is a need to develop ways to securely send hard copy messages. (Davis, 2019)

Argument 2: Protecting sources and providing safe spaces to whistlblowers

— Example 01 : Lack of effective whistleblower protection raises further concerns on its negative impacts on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media. (“EU Whistleblower protection,” n.d.)

— Example 02 : The creation of spaces to anonimously publish confidential documents. Projects like SecureDrop which is a platform that allows sources to submit documents and data while avoiding most common forms of online tracking (Ball, 2014)


Wu, A.S., Edwards, C., 2019. A cookbook of invisible writing. Onomatopee, Eindhoven.
Balkovich, E., Prosnitz, D., Boustead, A., Isley, S.C., 2015. The Electronic Surveillance Challenge, in: Electronic Surveillance of Mobile Devices,
Understanding the Mobile Ecosystem and Applicable Surveillance Law. RAND Corporation, pp. 1–8.
Ball, J., 2014. Guardian launches SecureDrop system for whistleblowers to share files. The Guardian.
Davies, H., 2015. Ted Cruz campaign using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users. The Guardian.
Davis, N., 2019. Scientists invent new technology to print invisible messages. The Guardian.
Duffy, C., 2013. A Guide to British Library Book Stamps - Collection Care blog [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 10.12.19).
EU Whistleblower protection [WWW Document], n.d. URL (accessed 10.28.19).
Miles, B., n.d. The Underground Press [WWW Document]. The British Library. URL (accessed 10.31.19).
Guardian launches SecureDrop system for whistleblowers to share files | Technology | The Guardian [WWW Document], n.d. URL (accessed 10.30.19).
Honan, M., 2014. What Is Doxing? Wired.
Snowden, E., 2019. Permanent Record. Henry Holt and Co., S.I.
Watkins, S., 1990. Chemical Watermarking of Paper. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 29, 117–131.