For the artist and engineer Julian Oliver, all the recent talk about transparency in government hasn’t amounted to much. "Many feel more in the dark than ever before; subjects, rather than partners, of their government and its agendas," he says.
To help correct—or at least draw attention to—what he sees as a worrying increase in corporate and governmental opacity, Oliver designed a new kind of weapon: The Transparency Grenade, a one-of-a-kind gadget that makes "leaking information from closed meetings as easy as pulling a pin."
The Transparency Grenade has a small computer, a microphone, and a wireless antenna. You simply set it up in a location where secret, shady dealings are afoot and pull the pin. The Transparency Grenade then starts recording ambient audio along with browsing activity, email fragments, and chats from nearby computers. The information it collects is encrypted and streamed to an offsite server where it can be mined or made public. If the Transparency Grenade can’t use the local network, it stores the data on a MicroSD card.
Oliver, who calls himself a "Critical Engineer," is a native New Zealander now based in Berlin. He is more or less self-taught and many of his subversive inventions have focused on the way the powers that be control public information. A 2011 project called Newstweek consisted of a small wall plug "for manipulating news read by other people at wireless hotspots."
He says The Transparency Grenade took him about six weeks of continuous work to make. It’s based on a Soviet F1 hand grenade. A local goldsmith designed and fashioned the custom sterling silver components.
The Transparency Grenade is a one-off object for now, but Oliver is considering producing a run of 10. He’s also beginning to work on an Android application that would mimic some of its functionality.
Transparency, Oliver says, "is just another word for a healthier, more discursive relationship between us and those we entrust to implement choices in our interest."