Jon Rafman’s 9-Eyes Of Google Street View project showed us just how unsettling and surreal images captured around the world by Google’s surveillance van can be. Rafman travels the streets of the world from the comfort of his home, snapping screenshots of the most striking vignettes. Sometimes he finds surprising violence in broad daylight, other times an ominous glitch occurs in which a figure is doubled but more than anything there are people looking at the camera capturing their image.
For his exhibition at NYC’s Open Society Foundation, photographer Andrew Hammerand has taken the creeping dread that Rafman’s project evokes one step further. Hammerand discovered that it’s remarkably easy to tap into networks of private security cameras all around the world just by typing in their IP address. He grabs the low-res, high-saturation images and screen-caps them for display.
While there are many overlaps with the 9-Eyes project, what’s clear in Hammerand’s case is that the subjects don’t know they’re being watched. Perhaps most disconcerting is someone who has set up a security camera herself and believes that she is the only one doing the watching.
The series title, “The New Town,” alludes to our hyper-networked society and Marshal McLuhan’s Global Village. This one world is increasingly inescapable and will only become more centralized and vulnerable as we adopt the Internet of Things. That vanilla-sounding revolution in which our thermostat’s, coffee makers and cars will all be connected to the net is already well under way.
“The New Town” is a way of raising awareness about vulnerabilities while also grabbing really beautiful, found images that will only look exactly that way for a brief time in the tech timeline. In the artist’s case, his intentions are pure, but not everyone will necessarily use the power for good.
There are a number of services that allow anyone to peer around thousands of unprotected cameras, most recently Insecam, a collection of streams that claims it serves to remind people to change their passwords and to be aware of security issues. No one knows who runs the site, but it’s based out of Russia. Speaking with Motherboard , a lawyer says that the site is “a stunningly clear violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” in the US since it involves hacking into someone’s password-protected account, even if they’re just entering the default password.
Hammerand’s exhibition is up now at the Open Society’s Foundation through May 2015, so you can go check it out for yourself. When you leave, maybe you’ll double-check the security settings on the webcam that’s (probably) staring back from the top of your screen right now.