Francesco Tacchini

About Work

Surveillance Program Initiator [SPI]

In 1992 Gilles Deleuze wrote that the control society has replaced the disciplinary society throughout the last centuries. At the dawn of a Big Data era, we are confronted with new questions: what is the control society after the computational turn? Who are the surveillants, how do they operate? What hides behind the language used by the secret apparatus of the State?

The Surveillance Program Initiator investigates military language, with a focus on operative electronic surveillance programs. The work consists of (1) a series of code-names used by the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the US National Security Agency (NSA) to designate military assets, and (2) a machine that speculates on their targets.
Powerful intelligence agencies such as the GCHQ or the NSA have a vast secret control apparatus, constituted by a myriad of programs whose outlines are blurry and the very existence insecure. The code-names designating such programs are deliberately meaningless: composed of derisory words they hold no connection to their scope.
While some are subtly suggestive of the clandestine projects which they represent, they remain cryptic and secretive. In an attempt to decipher the sarcastic military terminology, a machine was built: the Surveillance Program Initiator (SPI).
SPI computes the possible scope, target and framework of a classified military program, using leaked watchwords that supposedly flag us as threatening when used in online communication. By incorporating the watchwords into the work, the entire process results in a (mis)translation of information from the watchers to the watched. SPI is not explanatory of its subject but rather stands as evidence and mockery of the US government’s far-reaching control apparatus.