Plasm: Not a Crime

Peter Broadwell

Plasm: Not a Crime ,
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"Plasm: not a crime" is the artistic statement of Peter Broadwell and Rob Myers that sharing secrets is not a crime.

It used to be that most interactions between people took place face to face. If you had a desire to keep something confidential, two people could wander into a field away from listening ears and be assured of confidentiality. Modern society has developed many technologies that challenge this traditional manner of communication. Some of these technologies endeavor to preserve the confidentiality of old.

Unfortunately the government of the USA has decided that strong encryption technologies are a threat to its power and need to be controlled - they would like to be able to eavesdrop on all communication and understand what they might hear.

We think this is WRONG!

Plasm: not a crime is our artistic statement that sharing secrets is not a crime. The piece was inspired by a recent publication by Ron Rivest showing a technical way to provide secure communications without encryption. We use his chaffing and winnowing technique to provide a publicly accessible way for people to share sensitive/ intimate communications. The methodology depends on any communication being divided into small meaningless pieces. These pieces are then combined with a secret and the combination is authenticated with a crytographically secure hash function. For this we are using the Tiger hash function, also rather recently published by Ross Anderson and Eli Biham. The results of the hash function together with the original (unencrypted) data are then added into a pool of data that is constantly circulating around all the stations of the piece. As more and more communications are added to the pool of data, it becomes more and more difficult to determine which pieces of data make up an original communication. Unless you have the secret. With the secret you can check the signature on all the pieces and only use the ones that match. We have visualized this process using the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML); VRML allows us to display the swirling chaff as well as the reconstructed images fluidly, preserving a flowing feeling throughout the piece. In a festival setting, the actual secrets that are generated and act as keys to retrieve the content themselves become an item of info-exchange. We hope to facilitate this by printing our "secrets" on easily displayed form factors and encouraging viewers to wear them out in the open, trade them with fellow festival attendees etc.

We use the SGI O2’s built-in video capture to recognize the secrets, convert them into a form useable by the Tiger hash code and hence retrieve the previously entered content.

This content can be most anything that can be scanned in. We will provide a set of provocative images, gathered from books that have historically been in the crossfire of freedom of speech.

We need 4 SGI O2’s to run our software on. These should be networked together with 100base-T cabling. They can be near each other if security is an issue, but would also work well spread out among the various venues of the conference. As with any computer display we need a 20 Amp circuit at each station, and it is best if the lights are rather low.

There is a legal question, still unanswered, about whether we can even bring this software to Austria without an export license. We are arranging to get an artistic exemption but can make no guarantees. This is in some way a self-reflexive piece, as it is this very set of laws that we are commenting on with this piece, yet on the other hand the penalty, a national felony, is forcing us to be very cautious.
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