G.P.S.: a Mode for Discovery

Global Positioning System: the thing that helps us know where to go when driving. Though consumers rely on it for navigation in their daily lives, GPS expands itself beyond streets and roads and into space. After all, it is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information around the Earth. Stationed in space, these satellites are controlled by the U.S. government and have many other purposes including military and scientific research. What GPS may be doing is breaking away from what is hidden, on Earth and from space as it leads to new research and observations.

When we know that the Earth is being monitored from above in space by our government, is there any sense of privacy left? We can think of this as hiding in plain sight, though our history is ultimately marked and tracked, despite how insignificant our movements may be. This also raises an issue with global positioning outside of the U.S., as even other countries are mapped with these satellites. These remote surveillance technologies have become so integral into the lives of daily people, that often its other purposes seem to be forgotten. We think about getting from one place to the other and not necessarily the idea of being monitored. Even if what we do is far from suspicious, is this a violation of the fourth amendment?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Despite what the government may find useful with knowing where every thing is at any given point of time, it continues to be a tool for discovery. For Trevor Paglen, artist, researcher, writer, and “experimental geography”* practitioner, GPS and other navigational systems are features of his works. In one of his works, The Salt Pit, he talks about reaching a CIA secret base for prisoners in Afghanistan during the War on Terror through the use of navigational tools and GPS. For Paglen, his attention to photograph this black site came from ethical issues surrounding U.S. military activity from Afghan journalists and human rights activists.  From military to civilian, Paglen demonstrates this as a tool that helps to reveal what is hidden, whether one party agrees to it or not. His work questions the issue of military activity in secret locations in other countries, though helps bring to light what can be attained through technology. Picture1

In another way of looking at what is not seen, Paglen photographs space in his work “The Other Night Sky.” This project makes use of observational data from satellite observers to track and photograph classified American satellites, space debris, and other object orbiting the Earth. This work takes on a whole new perspective on surveillance as satellites that reveal and monitor highly detailed locations and time on Earth to satellites that remain hidden in Earth’s orbit, unnoticed as the technological perpetrators to this lack of privacy. From this, we look at what is keeping us under surveillance.

-Addison Bi


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