How to Disappear in America

Uploaded by walkerartcenter on 21.07.2010

Hostess: The impetus for tonight's program is an exhibition called "The Talent Show"
which is currently on view in the Target gallery until August 15th.
Through works that span from the 1960's 'til today, the show examines the complicated relationships
that have emerged between artists and viewers over the past half century and puts these
concerns in the spot light of contemporary culture that is awash in information.
As our private lives are increasingly surveilled by governments and data mined by marketers,
we have more tools than ever with which to give our personal information away.
Our vacation photos on Face Book are geographical whereabouts when we check in on Foursquare
and the books that we are likely to buy off of an Amazon wish list.
This conflicting desire for fame and for privacy sets the stage for an investigation of the
possibilities and consequences provided to us by the ever expanding information age.
Another back drop for this conversation that you'll hear tonight is the Walker summer long
program called Open field which seeks among many things, to conceive of a cultural commons
outside on the Walker's big green lawn.
The notion of the commons, the resources that we collectively share for the good of the
whole has generated a significant discourse in the past several decades about intellectual
property rights and digital property rights in the digital age.
Who owns information? How is it managed? And who benefits from these arrangements? These
questions are critical as technological innovations gain the power to scan our retinas at the
airport and predict our physical movements through video analytics and other such things.
Whether or not you view these kinds of technologies as advancements, they certainly complicate
an already confusing reality of digitized identity, especially if you're trying to disappear
which is our topic for tonight. Both of our guests this evening have an interest in things
that have gone missing.
After writing a feature story in "Wired Magazine" on faked deaths and disappearances journalist
Evan Ratliff made his own attempt at living underground. In the nearly one month's stint
that he'll talk about this evening, the author tried to vanish and then invited the public
to try and find him.
The resulting contest which was supported and sponsored by "Wired" ignited a firestorm
of interests among hackers and amateur investigators alike.
Official blog posts from the magazine's editor provided information such as the fugitive's
bank account withdrawals, while a nationwide network of followers twittered their guesses,
formed dueling Face book groups and decoded scrambled IP addresses in a rush to out data
mine their competitors to find Evan and collect a cash prize.
To close out the saga, Evan reported on the social experience of hiding in plain view
in this second piece for "Wired Magazine". When not on the run from tech savvy man hunters,
Evan is contributing editor at "Wired" whose writing has also appeared in the "New Yorker"
and "The New York Times Sunday Magazine" among other well respected pages.
His broad range of interests have led him to research and write on issues ranging from
modern medicine to bio fuel development and evolutionary biology as well as numerous works
on the politics of terrorism, trans national crime and technology, including his co-authored
book called "Safe: The Race to Protect Ourselves in a Newly Dangerous World."
He will be joined on stage tonight by Peter Eleey, a curator who worked in our visual
arts department here until recently and now holds the posts of curator at PS1 Contemporary
Arts Center in New York. He curated the "Talent Show" as well as last summer's the Lovett
exhibition, "The Quick and the Dead".
"The Quick and the Dead included several invisible art works or objects that you could say went
in to hiding in one way or another, a particular interest of Peter's.
So before we delve into this conversation on art, privacy in the digital world let me
remind you that you are being recorded. [laughs] .
The program his evening is alive on the web and will be archived on the Walker channel
which is the section of our web site that houses past artist's talks and programs as
well as interviews with artists and curators.
So, when we get to the Q&A at the end, I ask that you flag down one of the ushers who will
have a microphone in the aisle, so that your comments can get recorded unless, of course,
you prefer for them to disappear.
So, with that, please welcome, Peter and Evan.
Peter Eleey: Is anyone else cold? [laughter] I don't know that we can do anything about
that, but thank you all for coming and putting up with the cold air to be with us tonight.
It's very nice to be back in Minneapolis, in particular, at the Walker. And thanks to
Evan for making the trip.
Evan Ratliff: Glad to be here.
Peter: What we decided we would do is that I'm going to talk a little bit about art background
for the conversation and hopefully set the stage a bit for Evan's discussion about his
time on the run last year which, I guess, was almost a year ago.
Evan: Almost a year ago, it started in August.
Peter: And, so, I'll talk a little bit about the show, how many people here have seen the
show? OK, so some people have. I'll assume that most people haven't, in any case. But,
let me see if this is working, it's working. OK.
So, I thought I'd start with this slide as a way to just to introduce the conversation,
which is a work that's not actually in the exhibition, which is a piece by a German painter
named Gerhardt Richter, titled "Betty."
What's interesting to me about the piece is that it's a counter-portrait, right? We normally
think of portraits as providing a particularly intimate likeness of the subject. But, in
this case, the subject is looking away from us. So, it's this paradoxical portrait, which
I like. It's an anti-performance as a performance still.
And, I guess just to introduce the show somewhat, this is a piece that is in the show, this
is a work by an Italian artist, no longer alive, named Piero Manzoni, from 1961, a version
of which is in the exhibition that you can interact with.
It's called "The Magic Base for Living Sculptures." So, the idea is that if you stand on this
pedestal, you can become a work of art. Which is a nice idea, right?
Around the same time, the artist was actually going around signing people with a marker
on the street and turning people into living sculptures that way.
And then, this is a piece from 1967, by an Argentinean artist, named David Lamellas,
which is just a simple theatrical spotlight in a darkened gallery that demarcates the
space, almost into people who are watching or people who are putting themselves on view
by stepping into the light.
And so, when I was thinking about the show, it came out of both my interest in these 1960s
performative-based works that invite you to do something, particularly, putting yourself
on view, or placing yourself into a different context from just a watcher or a looker or
a spectator.
And, I guess putting that into a context that was situated and informed by my interest in
a couple of broader cultural things that for a while, I thought for a while had nothing
to do with art in the back of my mind, one of which is social media, which I have grave
ambivalences about.
I don't do Facebook or Twitter or really any of these things, because they somehow make
me very uncomfortable. But, they're fascinating to me in how they've achieved a cultural prominence
and also the backlash against these things have been interesting to me.
And, at the same time, the continuing, expanding governmental role in our private lives which
is remarkably undiscussed I think and unresisted.
So now, I don't know how many years into knowing that the government can read our emails and
listen to our phone calls without any additional permission needed and that's sort of just
the fact of life now of living in America.
So, all of these things came together in my thinking about this show. Made me think differently
about these kinds of pieces.
And so, I was led sort of in thinking back to the Richter painting [?] a little bit to
a piece from late 70's or the 80's by very interesting Taiwanese artist immigrated illegally
to the United States name Tsi chings Tsay [?] who is most famous for having done a
series of year long endurance pieces.
Onward, he taught himself to another artist for an entire year. Another one where he lived
in a cage for an entire year.
Before he started any of these things while he was working as an illegal laborer in New
York City restaurants, he decided that he should actually instead of being afraid that
the government would find him look at that differently and think...
Well, actually there are a lot of people who wanted to find him. In that sense he was very
And so he made a flyer for himself with his fingerprints and information from his passport.
He didn't actually distributed it until a couple years later when he was actually living
in outdoors in New York for an entire year.
And no one actually made the connection and he is now a naturalized US citizen. This is
an interesting drawing by a Belgian artist who lives in Mexico City named Francis Ellis
where he mapped out a path of least surveillance through the city of London.
Sort of pen line that you see is Francis figuring out how to get through the most surveilled
city on earth. Relatively unseen, he calls this the clandestine way.
Now a piece of what I have in the show is this ski mask that is pictured here being
worn by Chris Burden who used it in a piece in the 1970's that was called "You'll never
see my face in Kansas City".
He went to Kansas City to do a performance in a gallery and wore this the entire time
he was in Kansas City. And this followed another early performance piece of his.
He is best known for having a friend shoot him in the arm with a 22 rifle among a range
of other masochistic performances from the 1970's. But one of his first performances
was to disappear for three days, which I also think is interesting.
And so the relic of that in the exhibition is an empty retrieve [?] below card that is
describing what he did. Another artist not on the show named Lilazano, actually removed
herself from the art world as an art work, as a performance.
This is a note from a predecessor to that piece called the "General Strike Piece" where
she describes and records the last time she visits the museum, the gallery and document
all that as part of the work itself.
Eventually, she actually dropped out entirely the pieces called "Drop Out Piece" and this
is 1969. And eventually moved down to Texas. More or less disappeared. I think moved to
Europe for about ten years. Eventually come back to Texas, vanished from the art world.
But also more or less from many of her friends, died and was buried in an unmarked grave in
This is another of Tsi chings [?] pieces. This is more or less his last year long piece
where he said he would do a one year performance. Very similar to Lilazano, not talk about art,
not see art, not read about art, not go to a gallery.
All these for a one year period and when that is finished... I'm sorry this slide is so
bad. He did another one where he said I Tsi ching say have a 13 years plan.
I will make our art during this time so this is a shift but I will not sure publicly this
will begin in my 36th birthday December 31st, 1986 and continue until my 49th birthday December
31st 1999.
And when that was done, he made this flyer and invited friends to an opening or I guess
finishing party to celebrate the conclusion of this piece which time he declared he no
longer is an artist.
And since that time he has not made any more work. Interestingly, this piece... I like
to have... uses the aesthetic of a kidnap ransom note and he interestingly in an interview
a couple of years ago did talk about the art that he made during that 13 year period and
it was rather oddly trying to disappear as a secret performance.
And he moved out to Seattle and I think worked in a fish cannery and tried to make his way
to Alaska. Of course Alaska being this great beacon of invisibility almost.
It is where you go to disappear, resist American culture in a certain way. This is a young
Italian artist named Roberto Cuoghi who tried to disappear into the persona of his father.
He gained a span of weight. Dressed like his father, adopted his mannerisms and way of
speaking and lived like this for five years during which time his father died.
And so he lived on this weird doppelganger of his dad. And then at a certain point decided
that he needed to go back to being himself and actually have surgeries to reclaim his
old body, which I think is fascinatingly odd.
Other artist named Seth Price made an artist book actually called from bits and pieces
of the various kind of anarchist handbooks that exist with advice about how to disappear
in America that have changed over time and sort of stage for Evans piece and efforts.
And I guess sort of thinking about Alaska again.
I was reminded about the story of Christopher McCandlless who was pictured in the book and
in the film into the wild who moved to Alaska, run away from his family and essentially starved
to death in the wilderness there.
But this is the last photograph of him which he took himself not long before he died. And
I guess I am struck that even at this great removed from society, there is the inability
to resist to be photographed in the sense.
To put yourself in front of a camera, even as you are checking out for the world. So
I guess that is a natural way to introduce Evans project. And with that I turn it over
to you.
Evans: All right. So, as Sherwin mentioned what I was interested in doing. I started
out because I was obsessed with people who fake their own death.
And I have been collecting stories about people who faked their deaths over the years and
I was trying to find out some way to do a longer story on one of these people.
And I finally got Right Magazine to do a story and it was centered around a guy from Arkansas
who build a lot of debt on its corporate credit card and he decided to fake drown himself
and go start a new life.
The story is about how he got caught and the process of that all looking at all this other
people who got caught in there.
Many of them are really hilariously bad at disappearing. And they always do something
that in the end you say, I can't believe that they did that.
There was one guy, he lived in Indianapolis and he tried to fly a plane. He was going
to jump out of the plane and was going to crash in the Gulf of Mexico and he was pilot.
So he went through the whole process. He set it all up and then he flew over Alabama. He
radioed the tower just as he planned. Said my windshield exploded, I have to jump out
of the plane.
But actually he did say I am going to jump off the plane, he just said my windshield
exploded, I think of going down. And then he parachuted out of the plane. Unfortunately
for him, they scrambled fighter jets to go examine this plane which has stopped responding
and there was no one it.
And then he also had failed to put enough gas in the plane. So the plane actually crashed
and not in the Gulf of Mexico but in Florida on the ground and there was no body in it.
But what interested me even more than that was that then they finally caught him. He
actually didn't go to trial and had to plead guilty because one of the pieces of evidence
they had against him was they had confiscated his laptop.
And on his laptop were Google searches for how to jump out of a plane at X number of
feet. Google searches for all the places he had planned to go for moving money into different
bank accounts.
So he had basically left a road map of everything that he wanted to do on his computer without
even realizing that he had done so.
So as I was collecting these stories and doing this, I got together with my editor. And we
started thinking the real way to get at the heart of how difficult this is, because you
always say 'oh why did they make that mistake' would be for me to actually try to do it.
So the parameters we set up were that I would try to disappear for a month. That I wouldn't
actually try to go off the grid, I wouldn't go live in a tent in a national park because
for a month it would be pretty difficult for someone to find me. And over a longer a period
of time even that, you could be found.
So I would actually try to adopt entirely new identity. I would try to use all of the
technologies that I use now including social networking which I do I am a participant in,
but as a new person. So I'd actually try to create a new identity and then jump into that
identity and leave my old one behind.
And then people could win $5, 000 if they found me in person, took my picture and said
a code word which was fluke, which was a reference to the guy from Arkansas who disappeared and
took his dog with him. This dog name Fluke. He was discovered eight months later with
his dog and his wife, and his kid.
So those were the general parameters. I would try not to break the law, just so we would
avoid any legal trouble when I got back. Other than that we just threw it open to whatever
people would try to do.
We had to make it a little bit easier for the general public because if an investigator
was looking for you, they would have subpoenas, they could get access to your bank accounts,
your email potentially.
So instead, we would just release all that. So my editor had passwords to everything,
every part of my life. So frequent flyer accounts, bank accounts, credit cards, and he could
reveal anything that he wanted to out of those. My phone records, who I'd called for the last
month. So that's how we set it off.
And then I took off from San Francisco. But actually before that, what I had to do was
I had to try to figure out what this new identity was going to be like. And how could I sever
it from my old identity. So I adapted a new name which was James Donald Gatz, Donald is
actually my middle name, which was one of the mistakes I made.
It didn't end up costing me but when people tried to disappear, often times they carry
something over from their previous life. And that's the way they end up getting caught.
They use the same birth date, or they'll transpose the numbers in their birth date or in their
social security number, so, using my middle name was a bad idea.
But, I adopted a new name, James Gatz is that it's a name that, in "The Great Gatsby, "
it's actually the Great Gatsby's original name before changes it to Jay Gatsby.
But it had a practical purpose too, which was, if somebody Googled me, if I met someone
and I told them my name and they Googled me, in the digital age, there's a little bit of
an issue if you have no presence online.
In a certain community of people, you are suspicious and you'll read stories about people
that go on dates and the first thing they do when they go home from the date is, they
Google the person.
So, I wanted to have a reasonable excuse for why someone Googled me they couldn't find
anything because all they would find would be references to the Great Gatsby.
So, then I tried to develop these aspects of my identity, the ways of using money. So
these are gift cards that you pay cash for and they're completely anonymous and you can
register online under a fake name.
Then, I used those cards to order another card online, which actually had my name on
it. And it looks like a credit card, I got the patriotic flag waving one, and it says,
gift card in the corner, but most places, if I went and used it, they would treat it
almost like a piece of ID.
I had business cards, which were references to a company that I started called, Bespect
- Bepect Research, which I always described it, it's like respect with "B" which also
doesn't mean anything. [laughter]
And then, I mocked up a fake ID - well, I had a fake ID, you may have seen it. It was
actually a university ID and I called myself a visiting scholar, because, creating a regular
driver's license or passport, would get me into legal problems, so I mostly try to stay
within the parameters of this low-level ID.
And then, I would often tell a story that I had lost my driver's license but I had this
scholar's ID, I had this credit card and was that enough to get me by?" And, at most hotels,
at most places where they're going to routinely ask for driver's license for no apparent reason,
that was enough.
Evan: So, then I had the company - the company that I had was actually registered in the
State of New Mexico. It's a real company, it's called Bespect, LLC, it is still registered;
it's not registered to my name.
And then, I also wanted to separate everything from my old life to my new life, so I rented
an office under a fake name and I had all of my mail under my fake name, show up at
that office, including this gift card.
I had it sent there. Because any mail that I had sent to my own address with the fake
name, creates a connection in a database somewhere between these two identities.
So, here, you can see the website for my company. It had some fake projects that I had whole
back stories for. I had a reason why I was traveling around the country. I had a fake
Twitter account, but this was me, talking about my daily business as I went on this
trip around the country.
And, at different points, I would make it public or make it private, depending on how
paranoid I was that someone was following it. Sometimes I would seed it with false information
if I thought people were paying attention to it.
This is my Facebook page. And this was interesting because, if you or I sign up for Facebook,
the way it usually works is somebody says, "Oh, you should sign up for Facebook" and
then, you connect with them and then they know some of your friends, and you connect
with them and pretty soon, you have a network of your friends.
You send them some invitations, maybe your family as well, But, as James Gatz, I didn't
have any friends; I didn't know anyone and I didn't want to connect with anyone that
I knew.
So it created this dilemma of how do I manufacture friends out of nothing, and it turns out there
are people on Facebook who will friend anyone.
And most of them are multilevel marketing gurus and real estate people. So, I would
find people who had 900, 1000, 2000 friends that I would send them request. And pretty
soon I built up a pretty good collection of friends. A lot of these are from after but
I had 30, 40 friends.
None of whom I actually knew, none of whom knew me. But if someone look me up and oftentimes
I would say, "Oh, look me up on Facebook." And it created this perception that I was
a real person. Who would concoct this entire identity with business cards?
You just gave an authenticity. So it was looking at both sides of this question.
People could use my old information to track me but I can also use the whole idea of digital
identity to develop this new person who would have back story because he existed online.
So then, I just go to this quickly because it get a little technical but basically, one
big problem I have was I was staying online. I had to show that I was online so I had to...
I would log into to my email everyday, my real email. And if any of you use Gmail, you
may not have ever noticed. But in a tiny, tiny font at the bottom of the screen, it
says last logged in from and it has your IP address and actually if you click further,
it has your last five IP address. It is basically recording every computer that you've logged
in from.
And your computer has an IP address when it attaches the Internet and that IP address
correlates to your physical location. And I'll talk about it in a little minute but
you can use the IP address to locate not just where someone is generally but their specific
So, I had to do something to conceal my IP address to show that I wasn't where I was
in terms of the IP address.
So I use something called Tor which is a software that is design for whistle blowers and dissidents
to use so that they can mask where information is coming from. It has been in the news a
lot lately if you follow the news about Wikileaks this website. They have a lot of interaction
with Tor.
So basically Tor masks how you access to the Internet. So if I am Alice, I am trying to
get something from Bob's web server. Tor makes it look like I am jumping from that last computer
to Bob server. And basically all these hops in between are anonymous.
So if Bob is there and he is saying who is accessing my server, it might look like it
is coming from Germany when in fact I am in Los Angeles. But then I had a friend who worked
in Google. He said Tor can be cracked. Anything can be cracked. So that is not safe enough.
So instead what I did was I took these computers and I left them at an anonymous office I rented
in Las Vegas which is this windowless room. I set the computers up. I attached them to
the Internet. I rented the office for the entire month and what I did when I wanted
to access the Internet was I actually remotely logged in to these computers.
I use these computers to access the Internet. And if someone ever traced my IP back, they
would only get as far as Las Vegas. And in fact later on he did. So I set up around the
country. I started in San Francisco. I drove to Vegas. I set up my computers then I sold
my car. I started taking other forms of transportation.
I went to LA then I get online and hitch a ride with a band, a small Indie band who is
touring across country. So I went to LA and they cruise across Texas and I was just riding
along in their van, helping them pay for gas. And basically, they left me alone.
This map is actually made by someone chasing me. It is not entirely accurate but essentially,
I went to Saint Louise in the van. I took a train down to New Orleans and then I rented
an office and I rented it under a fake name.
I signed a lease and I would do things like I had anonymous PayPal account. Not anonymous
but attached to my fake name.
I would contact the landlord over the Internet and ask them if they took PayPal. Sometimes
I rent an apartment for a week and I never even saw the landlord. He just left me a key
in a box. I paid him with PayPal.
As far as he knew I was James Gatz and as far as I pay the bill, he didn't care. So
then the other thing in my house was my pictures were in the magazine. Not only in the magazine
but everyday, they are publishing more and more pictures.
I have given them essentially dossier of information about me. The state kind of thing that an
investigator would uncover based on some time interviewing family, things like that.
So, I had to disguise my physical appearance because I did not know if anyone I have encountered
along the way might have seen the magazine and anyone could catch me. So all they had
to do was, having seen the magazine, know the code word and take my picture. So I wanted
to do a little bit to mask my physical appearance.
First, I grow out this scraggly beard. This is the first day then I shifted towards a...
This is my Las Vegas look so these are fake glasses and I dyed my hair and I dyed the
goatee as well. I slipped it back. This is from the end and you can't see that well but
I had four pairs of fake glasses, sun glasses.
I had multiple of different contact hats. All the stuff that I was carrying with me
along with enough digital gear to stuff a radio shack basically. I had portable... I
mean throw away phones. I had different ways to access the Internet and all these stuff
that I was carrying along with me.
So then, here I am in Los Angeles. And I actually got in a band in a street video and at that
time, swine flu was... There was a big swine flu... There was a woman who does an online
news report who was going around on a speech asking people what you think about swine flu.
I thought this was a really funny thing for me to get into and then later I can say; see
I wasn't hiding out from the world here. I was on Venice piece, not only that but I was
on his video and the video was published online and she has a lot of fans. I was out there
to be found.
So then this is me in New Orleans. I got hat. I washed up the dye by this point. And then
I started building up a lot of paranoia even starting in LA.
In fact, one of the things that's in the final story was that I actually ran from a helicopter
one day on Venice beach because I had used my ATM card to deposit the check from my selling
the car because this was like a cashier's check.
I didn't want to lose it. It was three thousand dollars. It was not something that you just
don't want to be careful with. So I just thought I would just deposit it. I was leaving LA.
I don't care if they knew I used this ATM. But I couldn't get out as quickly as I wanted
to. I couldn't get my ride out of LA.
So basically one morning I was down on the beach. There was a helicopter and it was hovering
over me. I thought well that is weird and then I moved down the beach and it moved down
the beach.
And I thought well there is nothing else going on in this beach. It was six in the morning.
I was out for a jog and few surfers were out.
And then, I thought someone has seen this ATM thing. They posted it online and they
have got a friend who has a helicopter and they are coming out to get me because for
five thousand dollars, you pay the friends a few hundreds for using the helicopter and
still making good money.
So I started running and then the helicopter really started following me because there
is this guy on the beach, probably sprinting as fast as he can across the beach and that
is really something you want to check out, so I actually ran from this helicopter and
run up and down all these street and gone out of LA that day.
So anyway, long story short, I was paranoid to a lot of this so I decided to go with more
extreme disguises which were this. [laughter]
So, I shave the top of my head. I wore the mustache and you can see I wore the colored
contacts so I have blue eyes and my eyes are brown. And this was my businessman look. And
I use this especially. I took one flight, I took two flights but I flew one flight.
I had to use my real ID because I did not want to mess using my fake ID, obviously on
airplanes post 9/11. So, I went with this kind of businessman; lot of tie.
And, at the airport, the only person that's going to look at my ID was going to be the
TSA person. And, if you've flown at all, the TSA people don't actually pay that close attention
to the photo on your driver's license. So, I made it through with this disguise.
So, that's all the stuff that I was doing. And then the question was, what was everyone
else doing? What were the people trying to find me doing? And, the first thing they did
they spontaneously organized online.
They created these organic communities of people who were looking for me. So, this is
the Facebook that they created, I think, on the first day.
And, after about 24 hours, there were a thousand members of this Facebook group.
And what they were trying to do was develop ways to coordinate because they had a problem
in that, even if they knew where I was, unless they wanted to lay out money to come find
me if I wasn't close to them, it was going to be very difficult to find me because I
could be anywhere in the country.
But, if they collaborated, then if one person had the information about where I was, they
could contact someone who was closer to where I was and give it a shot. And that's what
they were doing.
One guy took off in the middle of the night and drove all the way to Vegas from San Diego
when there were signs that I might be in Vegas and missed me, actually, by a couple of days.
So, then they also got on Twitter and this was the hub of where they were exchanging
information back and forth, whether it was things that were put out by Wired, things
from my accounts, or things that they discovered online. So by the end of the day on the first
day, they're digging into everything they could find about me online.
They were also digging into databases that some people have access to, like, Lexis-Nexus
and Choice Point. So, by the end of, I think, 24, 36 hours, every address that I'd ever
lived at was published online. Someone had already found them all and put them all out
there. And I had moved a lot of times, so this was a dozen addresses that were all there.
And then, they made wanted posters, which they would put up in places where they thought
that I might be going. One of the things that was part of the information that Wired put
out about me was that I have something called celiac disease, which means that I have to
eat a gluten-free diet.
And so, these were all over gluten-free cafes in Seattle, [laughter] restaurants that catered
to gluten-free people. And, even the morning, when I ran for the helicopter, when they eventually
did discover I was in LA, they went out to several restaurants that they thought I might
be located at and actually scoured those restaurants looking for me.
So, this is a map someone made of points of interests, of places, it's got every address
I lived at on there. It's got, I think it's got my family's address on there. It's got
some work-related stuff.
But one thing, that interests me is, if you look to the bottom, I don't know if you can
read it, but it has call Car Collision and Lily's Pet Care, which are actually things
people found out I had reviewed online.
So, I had gone on this website called Yelp and, thinking that it was pseudo anonymous,
I had actually reviewed, I mean, not really even thinking about the consequences of it
or anything, I just reviewed the person who cat sits my cat. And this woman got dozens
of calls from people who had gone and found that that's what I had reviewed.
Now, I'm not a big reviewer of online things but, if you think about it, if you were and
then you disappeared, you've actually left an entire map of the things you like and don't
like, which would be an incredibly valuable tool for an investigator.
And, then, this is actually like a network diagram that someone made of both the IP addresses,
which are at the very bottom and, again, this is very early on. It's got credit card expenses
on there.
And then, they did things like not just looking online, doing searches which they were incredibly
good at, but there were actually investigators, informed investigators, who were involved.
And they used very tried and true investigative techniques which were just calling people
over and over again.
So, if they wanted to find out a piece of information and they were supposed to by the
rules of the contest not break the law as well. They would just call and ask for it.
So if they wanted to know about a FedEx package that was on my credit card, they would just
call FedEx and say 'I want to know where this package was sent to or from' and the FedEx
person would say 'Well, are you this person' and they would say 'no' and they would say
'I can't tell you that'.
They would hang up. They would call and they would get the next person. And they would
ask the same questions. But eventually they would find some person who answered the phone
who would just give it to them. Which is really perfectly legal.
And they did the same thing with my IP addresses. I mentioned I had this office in Las Vegas.
I had the computers in it. Eventually they found out the IP address for that office.
But an IP address only correlates to a few city blocks.
And so you need to get access to the actual Internet service provider in order to find
out where the specific address is.
And a kid from Portland, a 17 year old kid who got really obsessed with trying to find
me, he started calling that Internet service provider. Eventually the technician said,
'Oh yeah that's 2465, South Pecos Road.' And then they had my address. Now fortunately
I had a contingency plan for that.
But it just goes to show that it's not actually, when I started out I thought the issue was
all the information that we put out online, which is true, which is an issue when it comes
to privacy.
But if you are actually worried about the information that corporations have, and how
they use it, they are not keeping as quiet as tight the tabs on as you might expect.
And then the last thing I'll show is this is my cat. And the reason I was showing this
is that, so this was posted on Flickr public photo site, I have a page on Flickr where
I post pictures of my cat and other things.
But what someone did was they actually took the pictures on Flickr and they stripped out
the information about the camera that they were taken with.
And then they created a little program, a little piece of software that had an algorithm
that essentially scoured Flickr looking for other pictures taken with that camera, the
idea being that if I was out there with the same camera, taking pictures and posting them
anonymously, then they could turn up my location by finding pictures.
Fortunately I didn't actually take that camera with me. So which will see even if the name
of the camera is actually taken with, there it is, right there. So then I was settled
in New Orleans, I had this apartment rented. I was paranoid but I was feeling pretty good
about how I was doing.
It was getting up to day 20, day 23, day 25. Meanwhile there was one guy, his name is Jeff
Reifman. He lives in Seattle. He used to work at Microsoft. He now has this thing where
he builds Facebook applications.
They are like web pages within Facebook. The purpose of these is actually to organize people
around news. And he read the story and he saw the disappearance contest. He said well,
this is a good way to attract attention for new venture.
So he created this thing called Vanish Team. So he built this, it lives inside of Facebook
and it had all kinds of information about my disappearance. And it has a map. And people
annotated the map and people were exchanging clues.
But after a while, people stopped coming to it a little bit and he wasn't getting anywhere.
He kept tabbing these theories about where I was and they weren't cracked. But then he
decided he could do something else with that, which is he could lure me to this page and
then try to capture my IP address when I visited the page.
And the way he did that was he had this code, and this code right here, all it does is,
if someone visits his Facebook page, they have to be logged into Facebook when they
are, it captures their IP address and their Facebook profile.
So here he has this list. Everybody that's visited my page, which was hundreds of people
a day. But, he could sort them. So he could say, all right, give me all of the people
who have less than 30 friends. That's what he did at the beginning.
And he figured, this guy has got a fake Facebook page, he can't have that many friends. So
I had outwitted him at first. I had 30 or 40. And he didn't find me in the first couple
of days.
And then he bumped it up to 50. And he looked through every single person visiting his page
that had less than fifty friends, and he came across this, which is my page which you would
recognized because I had been in that man on the street video and since then I hadn't
changed my photograph.
So then he knows, this is me, he knows what I am visiting, his Facebook application and
then he knows my IP address because he has that piece of code that captures it, which
I think technically at the time was against Facebook's terms of service for him to even
do that.
But he had an advantage which is that, I didn't actually know that he could do that, I didn't
know that he could build something inside Facebook without permission to capture IP
So that in combination with the fact that I was getting a little bit lazy after twenty-five
days because the method that I had setup to access the Internet anonymously took forever.
So, it was incredibly slow, so I started pairing down the number of websites I visited using
my anonymous methods.
So then, I hid his page, he gets my IP address, he starts following me around and then, I'll
condense the end of the story but he had a problem which is that he had to find people
on the ground to capture me, because I was in New Orleans, he was in Seattle.
And he used this piece of information that had come out, that I have celiac disease that
I eat a gluten free diet and he contacted the only gluten free pizzeria in all of New
There's one, it's called Naked Pizza and he knew that I would probably end up eating it,
which was true but they actually did it one better which is that Naked Pizza got so into
catching me that they gave my photo to all of their delivery people, all of their employees.
[crowd laughing]
Then they covered the city looking for me and so eventually, Peter.
Peter: How did they know that you like pizza?
Evan: I think that came out in an interview that they did with a friend of mine that pointed
to my, low grade eating habits.
Peter: Oh, wait, now I remember they actually, with an IP capture realize that you had visited
the site.
Evan: Yeah, that's right; he also knew that I had visited the website, because once he
contacted them, then they were also looking for my IP address; they made the comparison.
So, long story short, I think I am New Orleans local, I think I am all set, I have got five
days to go and I ride my bicycle up to a bookstore and these guys are waiting outside and they
snap my photo and they actually say, "Do you know about some guy named Fluke" which is
close enough to the code word that they have captured me.
And actually the funny thing about this photo is that I am still wearing my fake wedding
ring [crowd laughing] which is part of my disguise, I don't know why I deem that to
be a proper disguise [crowd laughing] but, I don't know.
Peter: Well, you also shaved your head?
Evan: I had shaved my head, so that day, right before I rode over actually, I had gone to
my final disguise which was shaving off the rest of my hair and going bald and then I
was going to go to wigs after that, but I never got there.
So that was basically it and people always ask me did I prove one way or another, did
it prove that it is impossible to disappear in America. Or do I think that someone can
really do it.
And obviously, how hard it is to disappear is entirely a function of how hard people
are looking for you and there were a lot of smart people who are looking for me.
But I think it did illustrate a couple of things, one of which is about the information
that you put out about yourself is actually the information that's the greatest threat
or, you may not view it as a threat but when it comes to privacy, most of the information
that you would worry about is actually the information that you are revealing.
And almost everything that people used, was information that I had voluntarily put out
about myself. The fact that corporations collect data about me is an issue, but when it comes
to this actual real world situation that stuff wasn't the stuff that I had to worry about.
The stuff I had to worry about was the stuff that I had put out.
And then the other thing is the way that people, they were this hive mind quality to it all.
People acting individually couldn't paint the picture of me that people acting collectively
And even in the end, Jeff Reifman used this sort of supreme individual effort to figure
out my IP address but he could only catch me through collaboration.
So it is interesting experiment in how that works. Subsequent to that the Department of
Defense actually replicated this in a way with, they put weather balloons all around
the country and they ran this contest to see if anyone could identify or who most quickly
could identify where all the weather balloons were.
And who could form teams to find them. It followed much the same structure as this.
So that was the experiment and,
Peter: What we are going to do, how that is, you were just going to lay low in New Orleans
and trying to ride it out.
Evan: No. I had already bought a plane ticket actually to New York. I wanted to finish in
New York because that's where Wired's parent company which is called Conde Nast is based
in Times Square in New York. And I wanted to infiltrate the Conde Nast building. I had
already marked up a fake, I had a fake badge.
I had visited the building before I left and gotten one of their badges and I had photoshopped
it in. I had it with my shaved head, I added the picture, so I was ready to go.
But they also were ready for me in New York and they apparently had funded some 10, 000
or 20, 000 flyers that they were going to leave at every kinkos in the city. And anyone
can come in and put them up. So they wanted to have this dramatic finale of people chasing
me all over New York city but there wasn't to be.
Peter: But it didn't work. Yeah, it's funny because, we met actually before, I think I
knew about the piece but I hadn't really, I thought about it in a context of the show
before we had met, but then it became really interesting to think about in the context
of the exhibition.
When we did meet, I guess there were all these ways in which this project combined, I think
part of the reason why it was so popular is that combined these two desires.
This desire for notoriety and participation in the culture at large through social media
kinds of networking and exhibitionism. And at the same time this interest in privacy
which I think increasingly lots of new stories seem to cover.
Kids who find themselves, recent college graduates who have gone all the way through college
on Facebook, now find themselves struggling in an economy like this one to find, to get
job interviews when people can find all kinds of bad drinking pictures of them online, are
trying to manage their digital lives differently.
Evan: Well, then there was an inherent irony in the whole thing in that, the whole idea
was supposed to be that I am disappearing, that I am showing what it is like to disappear.
And yet everyday I had the surreal experience where I could get online and there were thousands
of people talking about me. And talking about who are my friends and, look at this new picture
of him, and I found a video of him.
So it was also the ultimate exposure in a way. At the same time that I was, the whole
point was supposed to be disappearing; the opposite effect was taking place.
Peter: Did you do anything differently. Did you modify your behavior or digital lifestyle
or any other aspect of it after this was over?
Evan: To be honest I didn't really. I tightened up my Facebook privacy settings. The kinds
of things that people do. But for me it is too late. All the stuff out there, it is still
all out there.
Even you can find my signature on the apartment that I bought. Everything is posted online.
I just had to rely in the end on the fact that once the context was over nobody, that
people could care less about me or my information.
So besides being weird, it didn't really seem to change my life much once it is over.
But now I am a little more careful but I think you have to make almost a holistic decision
whether you want to join that world or not. I mean what you were saying with not being
on Facebook and not being on Twitter.
You can do partial measures but then you are relying on the companies, their goodwill that
they are going to help you. They have no interest in helping you maintain your privacy. So the
easiest way to maintain your privacy is not to join.
Peter: Right. The strangest thing for me is to find periodically that I am actually on
Facebook even without having a Facebook account. There are pictures of me sometimes that other
people post from a party or something and then tag afterwards. And tag them to me so
that somehow I am still there, which is bizarre.
It is weird way in which socially now we have almost been trained to surveil each other
under the guise of fun or networking or this benign sharing of information where we find
ourselves mimicking what the government is doing in a certain way.
I would want to know what the government is doing but, I just think it is fascinating
that in the last decade we have essentially seen this collapse between the state security
apparatus on one hand and the entertainment digital cultural apparatus on the other.
Now they work sometimes in tandem as your project pointed out, and then sometimes independently.
You were saying before that you went and gave a presentation at the CIA. Did you ever ask
them what they were interested in?
Evan: I did. Well, I asked them many times. So I got invited to come speak to the CIA
at the CIA Headquarters at a conference that they have. At first I thought it was a joke
actually. Partly because the CIA acts in really bizarre ways like they would only send me
things in unmarked envelopes typed on actual typewriter.
So it looked like someone was playing joke on me. But it turned out they did want me
to come and speak.
I kept asking, a lot them, what they said was that they had a challenge which is related
to the challenge that I had in this. Which is that when they have agents go overseas
and they need an identity that in the old days you can give them a fake business, you
could give them a name and business cards as I had and they could go with it.
But now because of database technology, you can run a background check on someone for
25 bucks. And that background check will get things like every address they have ever lived
at, their credit history. All of that stuff exists.
So what they called the backstop for the identity has to be much deeper than it used to be.
Now, they didn't learn anything from me, about how to do that. I think it was more, because
I thought about the same issue.
They had some database experts who spoke at the same time, who actually really did have
advice on those topics, but I had no advice to share on how they could improve their identities.
Peter: So it is weirdly easier, it sounds like, and we have talked about this before,
to steal someone else's identity then to try and create a fictional one.
Evan: Yeah, it all partly depends on what side of the law you want to be on. So in my
case, if I wanted to buy a fake passport, if I wanted to go online and get into a social
security number, mark and advise a social security number.
Those things are possible online. But in terms of establishing a new identity, especially
if someone is looking for you. It is so much harder than it used to be because, as much
as there's some anonymity online, in the real world, it's much harder to have anonymity
than it ever was.
You can go online and get into a forum and be anonymous or go into Second Life or whatever
you want but, in your real life, you need ID for everything. You need a social security
number for everything.
And, to your point about the way that surveillance has merged with Hollywood and social networking
and all these things, I had investigators, U.S. Marshals and private investigators, who
specialize in looking for people who said:
"Twenty, thirty years ago, it would take us months to gather what we can gather in five
minutes or less on Facebook. If we want to find someone, we would have to build up a
profile about them." And what you've done is you've actually built up a profile about
And it goes even further than that, the FBI and U.S. Marshals and Secret Service, they
have fake profiles on Facebook and they use them to catch people. They use them to lure
people into conversations and to give away their location.
Peter: Yes, I mean the best version of that in reverse was the crashing of the White House
state dinner, by that couple who wanted to have a reality show and somehow infiltrated
state security in an effort to -
And took pictures and then posted them online of themselves inside the barriers, supposedly
maintained by the government to protect the president. [laughs]
Evan: Right, yeah, it sort of just showing that even though as much as they have more
access to tools, it doesn't mean they're not bumbling.
Peter: Right, right.
Maybe we should open it up for questions. People have questions? I think there are microphones
around so everyone can hear it.
Evan: This exhibit is called "Minneapolis in Winter."
Peter: And it's really cold.
Evan: It's so cold up here.
Man 3: Hey, Evan, I read your article when it came out in "Wired." And I was wondering,
towards the end when you were getting really paranoid, like around the time of the helicopter
thing, did you almost find yourself subconsciously wanting to be caught just to be over with
Evan: Well, the helicopter thing actually happened at the end of the first week. So,
that kind of paranoia built up when I realized how many people were paying attention to it.
Because, remember, when we started it, we didn't have any idea if five people or a hundred
or a thousand were actually going to care. And this $5, 000.00 is a lot for this kind
of thing or not. So, when I realized how many people were paying attention, I got pretty
paranoid and that's when I ran from the helicopter.
But, at this point, I really, really did not want to get caught because, first of all,
it would be embarrassing to get caught after anything less than two weeks.
And, also, I had put a lot of people through a lot of minor trauma to do this. My family
was worried about what was going to happen. I left my girlfriend behind for a month and
we were moving. And these were things that I wanted to try to push it as far as I could
and not have wasted everyone's emotional energy to do it.
But, by the end, I think I actually fell off my paranoia, partly because I had been worn
down. I remember I was riding a train from, I think, New Orleans to Memphis and there
was a guy sitting there and he kept looking over at me and I just thought, this guy knows
who I am, he recognizes me.
And then he got off at the next stop and then I started thinking, "What am I doing? Not
everyone knows about this stupid contest. It's my entire world, but it's not everyone
else's world."
So, I think within that, was this idea of like I just want it to be over at a certain
point. But...
Peter: That's also how you got caught.
Evan: ... it's partly how I got caught. But when I got caught, I was angry though. Because,
as it got closer to the end, there were only four days left.
Man 1: And that $5, 000.00 looked closer and closer.
Evan: Exactly. And, I may not have mentioned, but $3, 000.00 of the $5, 000.00, I put up
for it, so that was my incentive to not get caught. [laughter] I was going to lose three
So, you can imagine when I finally, actually got caught, these guys are like jumping up
and down and dancing around, because they just won five grand and I'm sitting there
having lost three and then they took me out and bought me a pizza. [laughter]
Peter: Gluten-free. [laughs]
Evan: Yes.
Peter: Any question out there?
Woman 1: Yes, my question is did you consider not inventing another identity for online,
it would seem to me that if you wanted truly not to be found, you would stay away from
the Internet entirely, but that wasn't your challenge I gather.
Evan: Yes, you are absolutely right. If you want to avoid being caught by your IP address
for example, you do not go online. And that is the best thing for you to do.
But at the same time, if you think about, it's one thing to think about escaping for
a month. But if you think about trying to start over in your life, you are saying you
are not going to go online for the indefinite future.
And my thought was, well if I actually did want to abandon my life in the manner of someone
who let's say fakes around death, I wouldn't want to start over as a hermit. I like being
online. I like using email. I like these things.
So I wanted to see what the challenge would be, if I did continue to use them. If I lived
the life that was sort of parallel to my own, but with a different name.
Man 4: And this is a question for Evan. What did you expect to be difficult but found to
be easy?
Evan: I think that the getting around was easier than I expected. Partly because, well
I had a problem at first because I wanted to take Amtrak a lot, but Amtrak has an ID
requirement. I didn't realize that an ID requirement, but then that was really scary at first.
But then I realized how paper thin that requirement actually is, where no one is ever really paying
attention. It is like this habitual security measure. That if you think about, it doesn't
really even accomplish anything.
Anyone can have an ID and the fact that I show you an ID doesn't tell you anything about
what I am going to do or anything.
So once I realized that they weren't really paying attention, and that I can talk my way
around it wherever I went, then taking Amtrak even though they asked for ID was easy.
And also it was surprisingly easy. I thought it was going to be fun to convince people
that I was who I said I was. And that's why I had all this elaborate set up of web pages
and Facebook accounts and all that sort of thing.
But people are pretty trusting. They are not automatically suspicious of you. So even though
often times I was doing weird things, the band that I hitched a rod with, they wondered
and they told me later they did wonder what is this guy doing.
'Why is he going across the country? He seems to have no purpose. He is too old for this.
And also his goatee is dyed. Is he trying to relive his youth or something?'
But they didn't see I was doing any harm. And everyone I encountered, they had a natural
trust that I guess if I followed out, it makes sense. You don't automatically assume someone
is giving you a fake name. But then later I felt really guilty about it.
So I actually went back and I had to apologize to everyone that I had interacted with over
the course of a month that I can find... Yes.
Peter: It was also funny people are trusting in part because you are a white guy who looks
like a generic American in a certain way.
Evan: Well that was whole another part of that which, for better or worse is not the
genre of Wired Magazine topics. But of course like the easiest way to disappear in America
is to be marginalized and part of marginalized community.
It is almost like a foreign notion to someone that you should try to disappear when you
are already feeling like you have got no resources, no one is paying attention.
And that also carried over into, I can talk my way and to doing things and in being places
where people weren't suspicious of me just because of the way I looked or the way I was
Peter: Was that part of the reason why they Tsi chings Tsai piece [?] I thought it was
so great because here is a guy who is performing his invisibility as a work of art in a certain
way, anyway.
Is there any other question out there?
Man 5: Well, two questions. First one is dumb, what was the name of the band and the second
one is that you said people were trying to formulate ideas and things about where you
were going and what you were doing. What were some of the wilder, more outlandish theories?
Evan: So the name of the band is Hermit Thrushes. They are from Philadelphia. They are really
a small band. They are really great. They play art, rock as they called it, like indie
rock, but very experimental.
They were fun. They have played at bars with just two or three people in Lubbock, Texas
and then take off their shirts and their pants and dance around. It was fun stuff.
Peter: And you talked to them since the article came out.
Evan: Yes, not only have I talked to them, I went to see one of their shows in Brooklyn
and then they invited me to come on tour with them again.
And so the wilder theories, people were, it was wild in terms of the way that they would
think I was somewhere. It was interesting how the information that was totally unverified,
people would start to gather around it.
So if someone would start a rumor that I was in Seattle, then other people would feed off
of it and then other people who entered the conversation later would not realize that
it was based on a completely unfounded piece of information. Then they would start putting
up flyers and doing things like that.
I think the big theory that, the prevailing theory for the better part of three or four
days was that I was in Hawaii. I had previously lived in Hawaii. So that made some sense.
But they had this theory that I had taken a cruise ship to Hawaii, which was remarkable
to me, because I had actually considered the possibility of doing that.
But if anyone bothered to look it up, the time it takes to get to Hawaii in a cruise
ship would not account for the time that elapsed. And eventually someone said, wait, this is
not possible. They had already skipped that stuff.
And they were already looking at places in Hawaii where I might be, and which island
is on. Is he in the old place where he lived before? And things like that. So that was
probably the most the furthest afield.
Woman 2: Sometime before your article was in Wired Magazine, there was a large spread
in Wired about the disappearance of Jim Gray, the Microsoft scientist. In any way did his
disappearance inspire your project?
Evan: Not in any conscious way that I can think of. That was a great piece and that
was a tragic story. But his was a case of lost at sea. And the interesting thing in
that case and why it made such a compelling story was that he was a high-tech guy and
he had all these friends in high-tech.
They basically employed every possible resource that they could bring to bear on it and they
still couldn't find him. So I don't know, maybe it did. I think I had been collecting
these fake test stories for years and years. I had already started looking for an end.
But it certainly may have given my editors a reason to accept it.
Woman 3: I am wondering about the stories that you told the people about this new identity
and if that was fun did you make up anything about your college experience. What was this
small talk like when you were interacting and meeting people at bars or something like
that? Is that hard to keep it straight too?
Evan: Yeah, it was hard to keep it straight. And I will say that I thought that that would
be fun. And it was not. It absolutely was not fun. Partly because it is nerve wracking.
I commend you to try this. Try to go introduce yourself to someone, even just using a different
It feels like such a fundamental deception because you are so used to introducing yourself
as yourself, telling your story, reaching back into your memory to make connections.
I have been to Minneapolis, I came through here when I was driving across the country,
and then to try to shut all that down and make things up.
It is fun when you are sitting at home, doing it and saying, and I was, I was developing
back stories. I'll say that I went to school here, and I would always use things that I
had knowledge of, so that if someone challenged me, oh my brother went to Georgia Tech, then
I would say, oh well yeah, what dorm was he in.
And I had some knowledge about even though I didn't go there. But I when I actually had
to tell people these stories; I couldn't really connect with them. Because at a certain point,
I didn't really want to talk about myself.
I didn't want to respond in the way that you would normally respond to. I wanted to shut
the conversation down and move it in another direction or make them talk about themselves.
So it ended up being, I was having such superficial relationships with the people that I was encountering,
even though naturally I was just meeting them. It was superficial anyway but even beyond
that it was like it wasn't real and it felt guilty.
Peter: As you talked the one thing that I thought back on is when the Unabomber case
was going on. It was really when they started turning evidence over to the public and having
people could look at his handwriting. And when the manifesto came out his brother read
and said this is his writing style. And this is him.
Like going to see the CIA, I have really seen with the FBI being able to turn evidence like
that over to the general public. And has anybody ever talked to you about stuff like that.
Evan: Yes, well. Several investigators told me that the best investigative tool that has
evolved over the last 10 or 20 years is America's Most Wanted. The US Marshals will tell you
They have pretty good resources. They are incredibly good at finding people, fugitives
on the run. But it is a whole different thing when you can put their picture on TV and details
about them, manipulated pictures of what they might look like now, and then put it out to
millions of people.
And then afterwards there were some ideas that the people who had, especially the core
people who had worked so hard to find me, and were really, really good at it, and it
turned up so many clues.
They would get together and develop a website that would help find actual missing people;
it was actually a source of embarrassment for part of it. People were putting up flyers
about me and there were actual real missing people who aren't getting the same resources.
And I think they felt the same way. But the problem is always, government investigators,
they don't want to give away that information until they are absolutely the most desperate
to find someone.
So they'll do the Wanted poster and things like but they don't actually want to give
away that investigative material.
In the Unabomber case, that was years and years after they were just completely desperate
and it was fruitless, they weren't able to find this guy, they thought let's just try
Peter: There is one back there.
Man 6: I was just wondering how successful people were at actually finding information
about you? You mentioned that they have your IP address in Las Vegas. But I was just wondering
if there were other activities that you were doing that they did discover about.
Evan: They were more successful at digging up information that already existed, than
they were actually finding out the day to day information about me. Because until someone
knew my fake name that was incredibly difficult. Because I could be doing anything, I could
be on any website; it could be anywhere.
But, they were excellent at digging up every single bit of information from every crevice
that can be gleaned online or through databases that investigators can access through public
documents, whether real estate records or driver's license.
They found out that I got a motorcycle license recently, before I left and things like that.
But, it wasn't until Jeff Reveman, was the first person to make a connection to my new
identity. So to actually dig up a piece of information about where I was right then and
that was obviously, the key to my undoing.
I was careful that I didn't tell anyone including my girlfriend who I lived with, where I was
going or what I was doing. I didn't even leave a hint.
But, you could see how, through interviews and the editors of Wired were interviewing
my friends and posting interviews online, that they could start to paint a picture.
And one friend of mine even said, "I bet he's in New Orleans."
Just because we grew up together in Atlanta, we had been to New Orleans as kids and he
thought, well that seems like a natural place for him to go.
So, my point is that the information from my past eventually would coalesce into something
that would probably help them find me. A month wasn't long enough for that to really help,
so it really took someone making a connection through finding my IP address and that thing.
Peter: Hi, Evan.
Evan: Hi.
Peter: Hindsight being 20/20, is there anything that you would have done differently those
last couple of days that you look back and say, "God, if I only would have done this."
Like, looked across that park before you went to the pizza place or something like that?
Anything jump out at you like that?
Evan: Yes, there was one single moment, actually, which was when the first time I accessed that
page on Facebook that Jeff Reefman created. I can distinctly remember making the decision
to not go through my Vegas office, not use the Tor software to hide my IP address, thinking,
I'm just accessing Facebook.
So, unless somebody who works at Facebook is going to steal my IP and then give it out
to the public, which, frankly, I should have been worried about as well, but, I thought,
"Wow, that's relatively unlikely."
I thought, "I can't be bothered with all of this anymore. I'm just going to go check this
page and see what people are saying." So, that moment right there, I would certainly
And then, overall, I think that I would probably try to change my location more quickly in
the last week, because I had spent so much time in New Orleans, it was like they were
closing in around me.
But, again, it was this issue of, if you're really going to do this, if you really had
to disappear, eventually you want to land somewhere and live your life. And I was, I
was going to cafes, I was going to bars. I was having fun in New Orleans as much as I
could. I had an apartment and I didn't want to be on the run constantly because it's exhausting.
But, of course, if I really didn't want to get caught, and I can look back now that would
be... I would have been out of there already, to a city with more than one gluten-free pizza
place by the way. [laughter]
Woman 4: I was wondering how you changed your life afterwards. For example, the prevalence
of RFID chips that are coming out. People are volunteering to be implanted, to be VIP
members in clubs and have it put on their credit card and their room charge that thing.
Evan: As much as you would think that because I did this that I have strong feelings about
privacy and that thing. I actually, don't because, what you have to do is sit down and
make the calculation.
I think it's dumb to do things without actually reflecting on what they might mean for your
privacy. But, if I decide, I don't know if the club would be a good example for me, but,
if I decide that that convenience is worth it for me, that, you know, if some club knows
my information or even my date of birth, then maybe I don't care.
Maybe it's worth it to me, and if I want to make that decision, fine. If you do, then
you've got to hope that a lot of people make that decision, because there's a sort of strength
in numbers in the fact that everyone's doing this and there's so much information that
yours is sort of less important in the grand scheme of things.
I don't like to be marketed to. I don't like people knowing things about me. But, at the
same time, I recognize that a lot of things I do when I go order a book online or whatever,
I do it because I'm making a choice for convenience.
So, I suppose I do worry about it, but like many people, I don't act on it. But I try
to at least, each time, to say "Well, is this worth it to me?"
Peter: There are also things that you can't do anything about, like I had to get a new
passport last year and I guess it's been about two years, three years.
Anyone who gets a new passport now, there's a microchip embedded in the passport that
has your information in it. If you want to travel as an American citizen, there's nothing
that you can do to avoid that. You can't opt out of it. The government has it.
I was thinking today in the airport, the TSA has been trying a new system to monitor the
length of security lines by capturing the IP address-like thing that your cell phone
emits, and using that to track how long you're waiting in line as you pass through the system.
Of course, you know, that's what they say that it's for.
It used to be that you could just come out and look at how long the line was and then
put more people on.
But you could turn your phone off. There are certain things. But to Evan's point, you have
to do more and more things that are inconvenient to try and insulate yourself from those kinds
of things.
And I was having this thought while I was walking past this whole bank of IBM ads, which
probably a lot of people have seen. They're, I think, called the Smarter Planet ad campaign
that they're running that says like, "Rivers will tell you when they're going to flood"
or all these things.
This idea that information can be used productively to improve the world.
One of the things in the ad campaign, it says, "How do we use information consumers these
days? Now tell us what they want." And the idea of this implicit pronoun of "us", as
if we're, like, telling companies what it is that we want.
Essentially, we just have to realize, I think, that that is how corporate America sees the
information that we volunteer, as a communication that can be used as a resource for them the
same way government or investigators can, to tailor products to us, which I think is
kind of fascinating.
Evan: Well, it's also funny if you took the most dystopian science fiction scenario and
said, "What if we all had a chip embedded in us that had a distinct number that said
where we were at all times?" That's your cell phone.
Peter: Right.
Evan: And one of the other speakers of the CIA said this. He said the cell phone is the
ultimate identity tracker because, you know, there's lots of databases that say who you
are, your date of birth, and all these things, but the cell phone is the one thing that has
a unique identifier that's always with you all the time.
So, it can verify your location in addition to your identity. Now, you can give someone
else your cell phone and throw them off, but most people don't do that. Most people are
using their cell phone.
Peter: Right.
Evan: So, if you really want privacy, you probably shouldn't be carrying around something
that's a unique geographic locator to your exact position that can be uncovered by almost
anyone, including not just a government investigator.
Evan: In fact, I'm doing another story now that involves a private investigator. So he's
just a PI. He doesn't have any special powers. All he has is his own investigative skills,
and he will get people's cell phone information by walking into a Sprint store, for example,
and saying, "Hey, I need these records, from this cell phone."
And, just like with those phone calls, the first clerk will say, "Well, are you this
person?" And he'll say, "No, I'm not this person. I'm an investigator. I'm a private
investigator." And they'll say, "Oh, well, I can't give you that" and he'll go to the
next store, two blocks away.
And eventually, one of the clerks will say, "Oh, you're a private investigator? Oh, I
must be able to give you this information", will print out the bill and hand it to him.
It's totally legal.
Peter: Right. Amazing. Probably have time for one or two more questions. Oh, sorry,
there's one right here.
Woman 5: Evan, it's like three things. Did you use phones at all? And how was this emotionally
for you, like for a month? Was it frazzling?
And then also, was there any contingency plan like if you got in a car accident or something
really bad happened where you would reveal your identity for health reasons besides gluten-free
Peter: Phones.
Evan: Phones. I did. I used pre-paid phones. I never used my own cell phone. As a matter
of fact, the very first thing I did when I left was I took the battery out of my cell
phone, because your cell phone's actually potentially trackable even if it's not on
if the battery's in it.
So, I took the battery out of my cell phone and it never went back in. So I used pre-paid
phones, which are also traceable; if someone knows the number, they can trace them, so
I used three or four. I would dump them periodically if I thought that the number had become public.
So, the second one was emotionally. It was very up and down, it was a very weird experience,
obviously, and it was very isolating, because I wasn't communicating with people, my friends
and my family.
So, things like being really paranoid, I didn't have anyone around to say "You're acting like
an idiot" or "No one's really flying a helicopter, looking for you." I was in my own, really
inside my own internal world, and that created a lot of freak-outs that, in your normal life,
probably wouldn't happen.
Then the third thing was for emergencies. Well, a couple of things. I tried to carry
my real ID with me everywhere I went, like if I went jogging or something. I didn't want
to, like, get hit by a car and then end up in a hospital and be like "John Doe" somewhere
in America.
So, I wanted to give my family a way to contact me, in case they had an emergency or they
needed to get in touch with me, so I mailed them a pre-paid phone.
And that prepaid phone was programmed with one number, which was the number for one pre-paid
phone that I had. So these were the only two phones that would interact. They were paid
for with cash. I put a note in there to my parents, saying "If anything happens, use
this phone to call my phone."
The day that I left, we did have like a family emergency of sorts. My mom called my pre-paid
phone from her real cell phone.
So, even my carefully laid plans... And I dumped that phone after the first day, so
actually, after the first day, they had no way to contact me.
But the weird thing was, they were actually really worried about my safety and that ended
up being not a concern at all, partly because it was so oddly public, the whole thing. There
wasn't an issue of like something happening to me, someone coming after me or something
like that.
Man 7: Yeah, I was just wondering if Stephen King's... I'm right here.
Evan: Oh, there you are.
Man 7: Stephen King's 1970s book "The Running Man" has any influence on...?
Evan: It didn't, because I have not actually read it. But I'm aware that it's deeply relevant.
But I haven't read it.
Man 7: It makes sense, because it does bring out a lot of the paranoia stuff, and possibly
if you'd read it, you may have chose not to do it.
Man 7: That kind of a book.
Evan: I'm not sure then if it's good or bad that I haven't read it. But, yeah, it's probably
good because it might have deterred me.
Peter: Well, that seems like a good place to end. Thank you all for coming.
Evan: Thanks a lot.
[applause continues until end]