PRINT April 1994


Full Disclosure

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE everything you read in Full Disclosure to appreciate the magazine as an accurate monitor of the raging anxiety created by the combination of new technology with years of government cover-ups of everything from radiation experiments to the war on drugs. Part introductory course for would-be private investigators, part rant on the erosion of the Fourth Amendment (right to privacy), part consumer guide to legal and illegal surveillance technology, Full Disclosure is like three tabloids in one—paranoid about the end of democracy, confused about the democratization of surveillance, and in thrall to a DIY technological fix that reconfigures the nightmare as a surreal opportunity for fun and profit. Pure Americana.

Quoted sources are as disparate as Wive’s Infidelity Service owner Gigi Moers, who teaches wives how to spy on their husbands (“You can’t live in a marriage in a lie”), and Will Dwyer II, Esq., who writes on the legal history of the Fourth Amendment. James Garner’s business records (published as a cautionary example of private information gathered without permission) appear alongside ads for anonymous voice-mail boxes and electronic bugs shaped like electrical outlets. Full Disclosure’s coverage of government runs from transcripts of right-to-privacy cases to exposés of secret CIA experiments in the use of microwaves for mind control—impossible, incredible, but. . . .

The method at the starting point of Full Disclosure’s madness is the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Drafted in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights, to protect citizens against illegal searches and seizures by the state, the Amendment expanded the “person” of citizens to include their “houses, papers, and effects.” By protecting a citizen’s “effects,” the Fourth Amendment also provided for its own expansion: it was only a matter of technology until cars and photographs became part of the extended self it protected.

Lately the jurisdiction of the Fourth Amendment has expanded yet again, to protect a new, dramatically redefined and unstable self—a self extended by electronic communication networks and digital information systems. Dispersed into the very ether, the effects of this expanded subject are a barely discernible combination of digital medical records, on-line financial data, cellular-phone communications, fax/modem transmissions, and computer security systems. The separation between the physicality of the human body and the materiality of possessions has given way to a citizen of ls and 0s, inseparable from the net, accessible, merged. Check-cashing profiles and other “effects” of this new subject can even be constructed without its knowledge or participation. Interlocking personhood and low-definition identity may be the next way of being, but for Full Disclosure and the Fourth Amendment, they amount to a full-fledged crisis of the self.

The scary thing about Full Disclosure is the way it combines a latent, ineffable panic over the indistinct parameters of the informational self with partly impossible-to-believe yet partly documented horror stories of how that extended self has been violated by corporate and government interests. Within the pages of Full Disclosure, the extension and breakdown of the subject is doubled by a breakdown in the rule of law. (The “clipper chip” is only the latest evidence of a state apparatus obsessed with control.) Like a dystopian shadow in cyberparadise, Full Disclosure is a cautionary tale-cum–how-to for a draconian future in which George III’s searches and seizures are revisited on American citizens by governmental, corporate, and next-door big brothers. A hair-raising figure of the less than neutral social ramifications of technological progress, Full Disclosure also foreshadows a political reality in the making, a new covenant in which privacy is a brutal exercise in power and selfhood is a technological commodity.

Vincent Leo is an artist and writer who lives in Minneapolis.