Is Activism Dead?

By Dalton Conley
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 9:54 a.m. ET June 05, 2003

Another fairly radical group is the Bureau of Inverse Technology (bureauit.org), or BIT. Like many of these groups, this is an anonymous organization that straddles the line between activism and art, billing itself as an “information agency serving the information age.” One of the latest BIT projects is the antiterror line. This is a phone number—actually two, one in the United States and one in Britain—to monitor infringements on civil rights by government authorities in the wake of antiterror legislation. The principle is simple: you, the user, preprogram the number into your cell phone and if you are ever confronted by the police, press the number and the machine at the other end of the line will record the interaction as evidence. Marchers going off to a protest might gear their phones up; blacks who are likely to experience racial profiling might also want one-touch dialing, and of course other populations that are particularly vulnerable under the USA Patriot Acts and its possible successors—such as foreigners, particularly those from Islamic countries—might want to be on the ready. If you are not able to record the actual interaction (after all, it’s pretty hard to get your cell phone to work if you are being bludgeoned by a policeman’s billy club), then you can call to report the event to the phone number after the fact. In this way, the Web server will build an archive of information about the government that—in its public accessibility—stands in stark contrast to the way the Feds are increasingly collecting secreted information about the population. Visit the Newsweek Website