Watching You, Watching Me: How surveillance affects modern life

  • Baseball practice in Montgomery County, Maryland. 
 
Montgomery County officials purchased four drones in 2014 to test how they might be of use to police and firefighters. According to records obtained from the FAA, which issued 1,428 domestic drone permits between 2007 and early 2013, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Navy have applied for drone authorization in Montgomery County.
  • Students are seen in a schoolyard in El Dorado County, California. 
In 2006, a drone strike on a religious school in the village of Chenegai reportedly killed up to 69 Pakistani children. From the series, Blue Sky Days.
  • Untitled, 2013.
Stasi agent transmitting secret hand signals. Prospective Stasi agents were taught how to convey secret signs in this seminar. It is no longer known what the individual signs mean.
  • Untitled, 2013.
Stasi agent transmitting secret hand signals. Prospective Stasi agents were taught how to convey secret signs in this seminar. It is no longer known what the individual signs mean.
  • Untitled, 2013.
Stasi agent transmitting secret hand signals. Prospective Stasi agents were taught how to convey secret signs in this seminar. It is no longer known what the individual signs mean.
  • Untitled, 2013.
Stasi agent during a seminar on disguises. This picture was originally taken during a seminar in which Stasi personnel were taught how to don different disguises. The goal of the seminar was to enable Stasi agents to move about in society as inconspicuously as possible.
  • Untitled, 2013.
Artist Simon Menner conducted extensive research into the visual legacy of the East German Stasi secret police. This image was taken during a seminar in which Stasi personnel were taught how to don different disguises, enabling agents to move about in society as inconspicuously as possible. 
  • Untitled, 2013.
Polaroid used in a secret house search. The Ministry for State Security often carried out secret house searches. Inhabitants were not informed about the searches—many first found out about these state-prescribed break-ins after German reunification—and they were deliberately left in the dark. Stasi agents used Polaroid cameras in order to carry out their search without leaving any traces. Before beginning their search, they took Polaroid pictures of suspicious parts of the house, enabling them to return everything to its original place afterwards. The Polaroid film was bought in the West through covert channels and was often also confiscated along with various other types of film during the routine opening of private mail from the West. 
  • A room in the Gadhafi Intelligence Facilities in Tripoli, Libya on August 30, 2011. Interior of the main center of Internet Surveillance and Internal Security of the former Gadaffi regime. Computers, files, and electronic devices abandoned in a 6 floor building. From the series, Qaddafi Intelligence Room.
In this series, photographer Edu Bayer presents a visual reflection on the empty spaces where people were targeted, monitored, and surveilled during the Qaddafi regime.
  • Libya’s internet surveillance center in Tripoli, Libya, August 30, 2011. Detail from the interior of the main center of Internet Surveillance and Internal Security of the former Gadaffi regime. Computers, files, and electronic devices abandoned in a 6 floor building. 
In this series, photographer Edu Bayer presents a visual reflection on the empty spaces where people were targeted, monitored, and surveilled during the Qaddafi regime.
 
  • Detail from The New Town, 2013. 
Installation comprised of 21 color photographs. The New Town consists of photographs that the artist made by accessing a camera atop a church in the center of an idealized planned community in the American Midwest. This camera continuously streams images on the internet, and by accessing this device, the artist was able to control the camera and make photographs of the small town and its residents. 
  • Untitled, from the series “The New Town.” 
In this series, artist Andrew Hammerand accesses a single live camera that is controlled through the internet to create photographs of a planned community in the American Midwest. The installation is comprised of 21 color photographs. The work explores the daily occurrences and neighborly interactions within a community, and comments on the heightened awareness of surveillance technologies and an increasing loss of privacy as they define America in the early 21st century.
  • Monitoring Zeppelin, 2013.
From the series, Mission and Task. A Wescam MX 15 surveillance camera operator inside a monitoring zeppelin. This photograph was taken during an initial testing phase of a EUROSUR research project aimed to improve control of illegal immigration in the Mediterranean. EUROSUR employs satellite technology, high-techradar, and surveillance drones to enable more intensive exchange of information between EU countries. Near Toulon, southern France.
  • Border Situation, 2012.
From the series, Mission and Task. Border patrol police monitor the external border of Greece. Evros region, northern Greece.
  • Detail from Thousand Little Brothers, 2014.
After an erroneous tip linking the artist to terrorist activities led to a six-month-long FBI investigation, Hasan Elahi began to voluntarily monitor himself by photographing mundane details from his daily life and sending these images—hundreds of them each week for over a dozen years—to the FBI. This image is a detail from a composite image made up of approximately 32,000 images from that ongoing project.
  • Street Ghosts, 9 Adalbertstraße, Berlin, Germany.
The artist takes images of people found on Google Street View and installs them, life-size, in the same locations where they were taken.
  • Street Ghosts, 172 Brick Lane, London, England.
The artist takes images of people found on Google Street View and installs them, life-size, in the same locations where they were taken.
  • Nato Storage Annex, Coevorden, Drenthe, 2011.
From the series, Dutch Landscapes.  Mishka Henner’s series highlights governmental censorship of Google Earth imagery featuring locations deemed vital to national security.
  • Unknown Site, Noordwijk aan Zee, South Holland, 2011.
From the series, Dutch Landscapes. Mishka Henner’s series highlights governmental censorship of Google Earth imagery featuring locations deemed vital to national security.

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We are being watched.

Governments, corporations and hackers track our movements and activities, both online and in the real world. It’s not new, but since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of U.S. spying programs, it’s no longer simple paranoia to wonder who might be able to see your Google searches and text messages.

Since June of last year, when Snowden leaked documents about the extent of surveillance programs the U.S. relies on to monitor foreign allies and Americans alike, there have been plentiful examples of overreach in the name of national security. The FBI and NSA spied on prominent Muslim-Americans, including a former Bush administration official, and hundreds of thousands of people are reportedly on a list of “known of suspected terrorists” and landed there without any known affiliation with a terrorist group.

Despite outrage from civil liberties advocates, lawsuits and attempts by lawmakers like Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden to rein in U.S. intelligence agencies, the government still possesses the tools to collect information on almost anyone. And as people around the world have asked for more ways to protect their privacy, officials still want to the public to trust that their intentions are pure.

Just this month, FBI Director James Comey lamented changes companies like Apple are implementing to protect their customers’ privacy. Allowing sophisticated encryption on cell phones, Comey said in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Oct. 16, could have dire consequences for law enforcement investigations.

“Perhaps it’s time to suggest that the post-Snowden pendulum has swung too far in one direction, in a direction of fear and mistrust,” he said.

One week later, news broke that some California Highway Patrol officers had been stealing nude photos from women they arrested. One officer who was caught with the photos said it was “a game” among his colleagues.

And on Oct. 27, The Seattle Times reported that the FBI created a fake news story on a website that imitated the paper’s in order to plant software on a suspect’s computer. The next day, it was revealed that the U.S. Postal Service approved monitoring the mail of 49,000 people last year.

Even the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has rejected many proposed NSA surveillance reforms, is fighting with the CIA over news that the agency spied on Senate staffers as they worked to prepare a massive report on the use of torture in the wake of 9/11.

The artists who contributed to “Watching You, Watching Me,” a new exhibition from the Open Society Foundation, use photographs, satellite images, surveillance cameras, drones, and more to examine the different ways that surveillance affects modern life. It runs from Nov. 4, 2014 through May 8, 2015.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography 

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