How to Disappear in America

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. [applause] 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 popular. 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 Texas. 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. [crosstalk] 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. [laughter] 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 address. 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 addresses. 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 Orleans. 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 could. 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. [laughter] 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 yourself. [laughter] 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 it? 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 grand. 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 dressed. 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. [laughter] 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 name. 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 that. 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 this. 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 change. 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. [laughter] 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. [laughter] 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 products? [laughter] 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. [laughter] 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. [laughter] 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. [applause] Evan: Thanks a lot. [applause continues until end]

100 thoughts on “How to Disappear in America

  • Some artists disappear voluntarily but most of us, in America today, are deliberately displaced to the vanishing point. As an artist, all my works are in some way focused on displacement. That has been all I've known in this life. So, I make tiny, permanent objects everywhere I go & leave them for others (strangers) to find.. Perhaps, "The Breadcrumb Project" would make a good title. So far nobody- not even family members- have tried to find me. They don't care. That is the point of my art: CARE

  • We are all slaves???
    I think if you consider yourself a slave and have given in to the government's plan of tyranny, thats your choice, but as for me and many others, we chose to live by the saying of Emillianno Zapata, who said "It is better to die standing than to live on your knees"
    I'm not a slave, and would rather die fighting for my freedom than post on YouTube that "we are all slaves". Giving in to tyranny is exactly what they want us to do.

    We must resist!

  • i tried to give this time 10 minutes i felt like passing out the grey haired guy needs to learn how to talkinfront of an audience better hes a little boring..

  • Resist by refusing to let powers enslave us. Stand united as a nation rather than be detached and apathetic, instead of spending time being entertained. Spend less time posting defeatist remarks on the internet and post remarks to help enlighten people and motivate them to resist laws that limit our constitutional rights. These are some ways of resisting, other ways are best not mentioned on the internet.

  • I like your suggestion to exercising your right and posting on Facebook, but remember this, you will most certainly be heard by the government because Facbook, Yahoo, Google and other social medias DO share information with National Security Agency. In fact, the sharing is done automatically based on certain key words that are flagged to appear at NSA headquarters on their screens to be analyzed and evaluated as to the contents danger to the ELITE!

  • I was hoping I was having an "intelligent" conversation with you, but from your short comments, its clear you are simply goading people on just to annoy instead of have a substantive dialog. Take care Daniel, you must seek your own solutions without help.

  • I can tell you how to do that in ten seconds or less. Turn off your phone. stay off the internet, get away from civilization (get off the paved road), and don't use anything but cash to buy stuff done.

  • Judging someone who hasn't even spoken to you, and coming to conclusion that "words are cheap" without any evidence of it, is easy to do. Sometimes saying things that you have no clue how to backtrack from is as hard as trying to remove one's foot out of ones oversized mouth.

  • One more thing… I refuse to sit idly and not share with my fellow uninformed citizens what I feel is going on and what I would do. Unlike some people who troll on YouTube just itching for an argument with strangers who wont talk to them otherwise. So, this unwanted dialog with your remark, ends at this point.

  • You focus on the parts you don't like. I've read most of your comments and a basic analysis of your personality reveals a great deal of information about you. If you read deeper into the comment I wouldn't need to explain it. You don't question your own beliefs, because they are a core part of you. But you question everyone else's and make assumptions based off of your own. You assume that they will at least listen to you, and all you are doing is marking yourself as an extremist in their eyes.

  • Overall, you are too heavy handed. Look underneath the underneath, and don't hold even yourself as unquestionable in conversations to get people to listen to you. Not everything you believe is true, but you at least understand the concept of questioning the "truth" we are taught.

  • ummm, since you are an "analyst" who has just finished analyzing me (what a waste of time)…..if you truly knew me, you'd know how fiercely I object to many things including discrimination by anyone, religious intolerance, and disinformation by the likes of Glenn Beck and company. Yet, you choose to "analyze" me by mere few posts, and you know everything about me. What a shame you are more judgmental than a genuine seeker of truth.

  • Maybe you don't want to hear what I have to say… (It's quite clear you don't.) But I never said I knew everything; just a lot more than I should from "a few posts." You made the point that you hate the way things are run quite clear. You put yourself out there far more than is wise if you are trying to cause change. If I can spot things like the fact that you are a believer in the "world order", and the fact that you see the farms, then what can they see if they are as manipulative as you say?

  • I live in Maine, and when we go to town hall to vote, the people know us, as the town officials and we have been interacting since 1969. BUT when a new person shows up, they need at least two picture IDs, plus other information – such as address, and employer. In a small town (all we have in Maine) a faker would get caught pretty fast.

  • Yeah – much nice about small towns. BUT often hard to get a good job. Also everyone pays attention to you activities – which may be good, may be bad.

  • slip int o some plastic purses.. like the newly escaping n koreans. they may need a non nuclear threatened place to be.

  • I have not read all the comments so I am unaware if the topic has all ready been broached, however I feel it needs some exposure.
    As a Linux desktop user, I noticed somewhat abhorrently, that he was doing well until the unethical practices of Microsoft employees were involved.
    The truth to his capture was that a corporate hacker, seemingly without reservation, broke the law, and like his Employer, was rewarded for it in one way or another.
    It was a neat adventure, nonetheless.

  • It has nothing to do with what we want. It's the debt money system setup by certain bankster families itself that has enslaved all of us. Indentured servitude may be a better description, but the fact is, if we make money or spend money, most of it goes to a certain class of parasite banksters for whom the system serves. End the debt money, that is the practice of charging compounded interest for merely printing our money and you end the debt based money system that has enslaved us.

  • strange how i came across this video i was looking for ways to remove my digital footprints, so i watched the whole thing so interesting, its all instructive, no escape, i cant believe how much info we put out about ourselves without even paying attention,i just do not want to be tracked, followed, spied upon i want to be left alone, so now they admit they record our phone , and private emails there is no way out there is no escape.yes i agree slaves and we do it freely and we don't even know.

  • No need to disappear if you spawn an invisible double. Like the magician, manage what is seen to obscure what is hidden. And your double must both communicate in an "IP" and monetize in a "It's me" free zone.

  • Don't use computers or cell phones…pay cash…use a different name….stay out of trouble.  Presto, your "disappeared"

  • lol @54:08 Host Peter Eleey reaches for his water bottle at the floor and forgets it's on the other side of his feet.

  • All he had to do was use a library computer when he went online. If anyone does find the IP address and figure out it was him they will only find the IP address of a public computer in a library and will never find the person using it.

  • hehe this is interesting

    being child of chatholic parents, okey me dad was moor alcoholic then cathoholic

    me dad was six yr military in wwii

    me in 1970s, think do i really believe there is no gog

    when ye disappear, okey go to ground start. ahhh it 'just taktic

    bit Hodiinee

    So there i was handcuffed front in back small 'plane.. (kids don't try this at home)

  • Would be more fun if there. Was a reward for finding him, they will find you by your phone calls, and such. See you called about add rent a house in country, then they got ya. The numbers you call, and they can be watched if new numbers appear on there connections, and if several have same then they may have found your new number, by associations , and check all mail of all your past associations. O contact with old friends or related ones. Still very hard to hide.

  • This is the best thing I've watched on YouTube in a while. Very informative and kinda makes me wanna try drop off the grid for a while

  • I love this bc as a writer myself, non-published, & singer, writer of music, poetry, & screen writing/ & plays. I actually for about a 1 1/2 stopped listening to any music what so ever. Reason being, I didn't want anything that was being played ect… I didn't want my music to sound like, or have any lyrics that would remind someone of another writer or artist. I wrote many songs during that time, I also didn't watch any news or read any. As my music was to flow with my own internal issues, or my own life story. To bring out the artist within me out. I had many successful writings, not only in music. It was quite an experience bc so many things come out of you that you never knew were there. I wasn't brain washed by politics, other words others used, things began to just pour out of me that are things others may feel as well. But I knew from my heart it all came out of me with no other influence. Thank you for allowing me to post this. Always Yours.

  • Living off the grid means still using some land to build a small house or someone Else's land . No Facebook, no twitter no cell phone no communication and for money you have to kill your food or grow some ..or have tons of cash and go into the city and buy bulk . I don't use Facebook or twitter but Google so, that leaves track marks as always . I always pay cash NO MATTER WHAT !! Just for fact that I don't like to tell the government what I spend on and what I got or what they have on me . Governments are crazy . They censorship you and don't let you live a normal life if you don't use it ..I get looked at lot when I pay cash and bothers other people ..but know one thing that ..For you to leave trails of everything will get you found . The site godlikeproductions is CIA operated because I log into it and said I was blocked when I never even joined and than I did some research and found out is connected and owned by Travis  Institute. The Tavistock Institute and CIA are famous for experimenting mind control on people who are on drugs… SO… one of the goals for GodlikeProductions middleware datamining operations for the CIA/NSA/USAF/Jews etc was to test mind control and psy ops strategies in a Internet Community environment.

    The next time you're at GLP… think about why "robot" like posters reply to threads & posts in a robot fashion… and ask yourself why the "CIA" agents have been on the site for so many years without being banned… And… Why they all seem to be living in Florida. Close to Eglin Air Force base . Than the whole crazy thing is that it gets deeper because they asked you to give them money..of $10 month so a year is to much and who pays and gets suspended for using the WORD TRAVIS ? Well, I was suspended because I used the banned word…and they have a list of banned words .

  • buy an id that's good if u have a connect, Spanish immigrants have a good in, I could drop off no problem I think….

  • oh come on only 25 days? I had whole counties looking for me and i was completely gone for about 2 months before i decided to get stuff sorted out so i didnt have to live the rest of my life running from people looking for me.

  • An experimental wheres Waldo as a marketing gimmick is everywhere, and nothing new. Thanks for letting us know how it made you feel though.

  • Paying by cash can be traced back to the spender. I wouldn't be surprised if cash and bank cards are used to track you with nfc.

    Something you could do. Use aliases, start using tor when you need or want to use Internet with a pre pay receiver or use tails, which is a Linux distro, with privacy in mind. Use disposable mobile phones. Pre paid credit cards in different names. Maybe use silicone mask to change your look, better yet, use silicone prosthetics.

  • Why would anyone want to disappear if you don't have hidden secrets?…People need to do something better with their time. I love privacy but too much of it's advocacy is totally insane. I don't want to disappear, i want to be here till i attain that age where i'm close almost shitting in my pants.

  • You're best bet is to leave this country. if you're white, somewhere in central/eastern Europe would be best, that way you could blend in. Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania , are some good choices.

  • got motels without a driver's license ? ok obi , tell it to the judge,/., almost passed for identification is all the way not identification,,, rented an office without driver's license too? total bs , unless you are a mind controlling con artist ,, ''maybe he's wise'', ''he don't look wise to me'' hudsucker proxy ,.,/,, if you said you cruised the street as a chickenhawk and stayed with whoever picked you up i would believe you more.

  • your smart phone will fuck you and now wifi in cars gps big brother is watching
    if you really want to disappear have everything in your sisters or brothers dad or mam name see it been done 10 years now and still going strong. have fuck all in your name,keep it clean only at work,,nothing is safe on the web the feds can and have access,facebook will fuck you bigtime and all of them sites all set up by the gov

  • i have tried this, ended up being on the list of the suspicious, then finally banned to travel usa.
    there were some annoying network people in my country so i left for travelling europe first, hoping my life would be totally cleansed from annoying people. they hacked my hotel reservation from home, connected their aquaintances in that country, still appeared there. n hacked my family phone listening what i was doing abroad too. i did various tries to avoid their track then as my try gets closer to professionals some survillian systems found me suspicious i think. didnt use notebook com, mobile phone , using public phone instead but these stuffs look really strange to strangers. then some other people start appearing asking or joking if i were spy. think there are tracking system (not only personal bully stalkers). even in ps1 i found somethings are strange. my conclusion is if you have 10%of interesting or at least suspicious side in you, you can not hide., from public and personal traces.

  • had you declined the cia invite you'd be getting more likes, etc. we'd have even supported with $ your next art project

  • My God is so Age Racist, Stay Age Racist my friend. To all the people in sport of the HIVE mind who listen to it and do not know they are listening to older and oldest fixer uppers, try not to be judgment mental because its go inside their head.

  • How to disappear in America? If you're a white guy, just go downtown into minority gangland at night. I guarantee you will disappear, and never be seen again!

  • You should never have your guest sitting there while you talk about random art pieces. Just do that and then invite the guest on stage. Not sure why we had to watch it anyway

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