FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
United States, April 12th 2016.
15 million mug-shots and criminal records of Americans have been obfuscated
to introduce the Right to Remove personal information from search engines
in the U.S.
A project by Paolo Cirio.
Obscurity cloned the major mug-shot websites and scrambled their databases
to obfuscate the information on over 15 million individuals arrested in the
U.S. over the last 20 years, making it difficult to identify them on the
Internet. Introductory videos:
The mug-shots have been blurred to make faces unrecognizable while their
names have been shuffled by an algorithm that samples data based on common
age, race, location, and charges, all of which are kept accurate in order
to provide social context on the actual individuals arrested and the crimes
they were accused of when they were booked in jail.
The republished obfuscated data maintains the layout and watermarks of the
original mug-shot websites, and by using similar domain names the project
would effectively interfere with the activity, reputation, and business of
the mug-shot industry.
The Obscurity artwork deploys strategies that are oriented to
problem-solving as a form of Internet social art practice. By engaging with
the law, millions of individuals, bad business practices, and general
public opinion, this artwork seeks to embody a practical discourse about
the aesthetics, function, and ethics of information systems affecting
social structures that resonates within and outside the contemporary art
Mug-shot websites monetize by placing advertising of reputation management
services alongside listed booking data or by charging a picture removal
fee, which has led some state legislatures to propose bills to regulate the
industry. However, some mug-shot websites operate in offshore jurisdictions
and their owners are in hiding, which makes difficult any kind of legal
action. Furthermore, many freedom of press organizations and legislators
have been opposing bills that would regulate the publication of mug-shots.
The visitors of the cloned mug-shot websites, as participants of the online
artwork, are able to decide whether to remove individual profiles or
instead keep them public by opting between two buttons, "Remove it" or
Currently some online mug-shots are over ten years old, related to
low-level or nonviolent crimes such as driving without a license,
court-related or soft drug offenses, without making distinction between
people who are convicted and people whose charges have been dropped. On the
other hand, the mug-shots might be of dangerous individuals such as sex
offenders and serial killers as well as public figures with social
responsibility like bad doctors, corrupt politicians, or fraudsters and
therefore they should circulate for public safety and social
To engage the public in this complex situation, the project proposes a
social experiment with a participatory judiciary system that would increase
understanding and promote change concerning the ethical, legal, economic,
and social contexts regarding personal information circulating online.
A final element of this conceptual artwork is to hypothetically intervene
in U.S. legislation by designing a petition for a Right to Remove personal
and sensitive information from search engine results in the U.S.
Obscurity taps at the core need of introducing a form of the Right To Be
Forgotten in the U.S., which has been strongly opposed by Internet
companies such as Google, and by many concerned about censorship which
could be caused by the abuse of the law. By collaborating with lawyers,
legislators, and privacy activists, the Right to Remove would campaign for
the introduction of an information policy in the U.S. that provides the
right to obscurity by removing from search engines results with sensitive
information that jeopardizes the privacy, reputation, and security of
Obscurity also wants to bring attention to the victims of mass
incarceration in the U.S., which has the highest rate of imprisonment in
the world and it questions the unscrupulous criminal justice system and law
enforcement agencies that created this situation.
For the offline installation, the artwork is presented with printers and
shredding machines that continually and instantly print and shred pictures
of mug-shots. The installation also displays screenings and prints of
mug-shots from the most significant incarceration cases, such as the
youngest and oldest individuals found in the database assembled for the
The Obscurity project and the Right to Remove campaign are created by the
Italian artist Paolo Cirio as a conceptual artwork. The company Paolo Cirio
Ltd. based in London, UK, is the legal entity that published the cloned
websites and the obfuscated data. Many special thanks to Anastasis
Germanidis who worked as an engineer on the project.
The Obscurity and the Right to Remove projects have premiered in a lecture
by Paolo Cirio at NYU Law in NYC on April 6th.
For future press inquiries and public presentations of the project, you can
write to [log in to unmask] For press material on the project please
visit this link:
Thank you for your attention.