When Hasan Elahi’s name was added (by mistake) to the US government’s watch list, he fought the assault on his privacy by turning his life inside-out for all the world to see.

Why you should listen

When the Feds come after you, you have several options: panic, resist or, if you’re interdisciplinary American artist Hasan Elahi, flood them with information. It all started in 2002, when Elahi was detained in Detroit after a flight from the Netherlands, suspected of hoarding explosives in a Florida locker. Though lie detector tests subsequently cleared him, Elahi – who is an associate professor at the University of Maryland and has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Centre Pompidou, and the Hermitage – was subjected to six months of questioning about his extensive international travels. Figuring once in the system, never out, he decided to turn the tables and cooperate – with a vengeance. 

Starting with constant phone calls and emails to the FBI to notify them of his whereabouts, what started as a practicality grew into an open-ended art project. He began posting photos of his minute-by-minute life, up to around a hundred a day, on TrackingTransience.net – hotel rooms, train stations, airports, meals, beds, receipts, even toilets – generating tens of thousands of images in the last several years. Just for good measure, he also wears a GPS device that tracks his movements on his site’s live Google map. And as if to prove his point that “the best way to protect privacy is to give it away,” Elahi – while still being watched by the authorities, according to server records – hasn’t been bothered since.

He says: "By putting everything about me out there, I am simultaneously telling everything and nothing about my life."

What others say

"He figures the day is coming when so many people shove so much personal data online that it will put Big Brother out of business." — Wired

Hasan Elahi’s TED talks