Investigation (Information Access) | 2015



Investigation (Information Access) visually represents the processes of data collection and the underlying assumptions of intelligence agencies in their investigation of information activist Aaron Swartz. Interactive data visualizations allow the viewer to compare results of analytics performed on FBI and Secret Service files on Aaron Swartz to media portrayals of the JSTOR case and writings by Aaron himself. Illustrations show various methods of data collection—such as the Secret Service serving a search warrant to a hard drive – that are not represented in the files themselves.

Since Aaron’s SS file is close to 300,000 pages, computer analytics can provide access to large amounts of data that would not be accessible otherwise. But since the quality of these documents are too poor for standard Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – which is typical of FOIA files – this renders the text unreadable by machine. Our analysis has begun to reveal interesting details. For example, the top words used by the FBI to describe Swartz are ‘information’ and ‘access’, words used by Swartz in his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. Through computational analysis, we can see that these topics are of concern to both Swartz and the intelligence community.

Investigation (Information Access) is part of a series of artworks derived from FBI files released through Freedom of Information Act requests and is done in collaboration with Derek Curry. Upon the project’s completion, the completed corpus along with the enhanced OCR programs created for the process will be open-sourced.


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