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24 May

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“The best way to protect your privacy is to give it away”, says professor targeted wrongly by the FBI

May 24, 2007 | By |

On Wired, author Clive Thompson tells the amazing story of Hasan Elahi, a Bangladeshi-born 35-year-old American artist and Rutgers professor. Ever since the US government had put him wrongly on the terror suspect list, he’s been afraid to be detained on one of his many trips around the world – so he decided to create the perfect alibi: Elahi started to expose each and every one of his movements. (You can track him on his website TrackingTransience.com. Kind of like justin.tv on steroids & with a political twist, really):

The globe-hopping prof says his overexposed life began in 2002, when he stepped off a flight from the Netherlands and was detained at the Detroit airport. He says FBI agents later told him they’d been tipped off that he was hoarding explosives in a Florida storage unit; subsequent lie detector tests convinced them he wasn’t their man. But with his frequent travel — Elahi logs more than 70,000 air miles a year exhibiting his art work and attending conferences — he figured it was only a matter of time before he got hauled in again. He might even be shipped off to Gitmo before anyone realized their mistake. The FBI agents had given him their phone number, so he decided to call before each trip; that way, they could alert the field offices. He hasn’t been detained since.

So it dawned on him: If being candid about his flights could clear his name, why not be open about everything? “I’ve discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away,” he says, grinning as he sips his venti Black Eye. Elahi relishes upending the received wisdom about surveillance. The government monitors your movements, but it gets things wrong. You can monitor yourself much more accurately. Plus, no ambitious agent is going to score a big intelligence triumph by snooping into your movements when there’s a Web page broadcasting the Big Mac you ate four minutes ago in Boise, Idaho. “It’s economics,” he says. “I flood the market.”

(I find it quite amazing how well he takes the situation: After all, he’s wrongly accused of terrorism, he’s under surveillance, and yet he keeps a cool head and handles the situation rather – shall we say – gracefully?)

Link to wired.com: The Visible Man: An FBI Target Puts His Whole Life Online