SWIPE by Preemptive Media About | Performance | Bar | Toolkit | Appearances |Images | Credits

Last Update: 5/22/05

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SWIPE travels to Canada for Database Imaginary.

SWIPE has undergone a site redesign. Do you miss the old site? Visit it here.

SWIPE Toolkit Launches New Interactive Map revealing what information US and Canada are encoding on drivers' licenses

SWIPE Stickers: Create Your Own SWIPE Data Protection Stickers


SWIPE In the News:

Radio story about SWIPE on Sourthern California Public Radio/KPCC and shorter version of the same on NPR's All Things Considered (get RealAudio player)

SWIPE featured in Wired and Samsung


SWIPE Related News:

[For more current Swipe-related news items, check out the Preemptive Media blog]

In Age of Security, Firm Mines Wealth Of Personal Data
It began in 1997 as a company that sold credit data to the insurance industry. But over the next seven years, as it acquired dozens of other companies, Alpharetta, Ga.-based ChoicePoint Inc. became an all-purpose commercial source of personal information about Americans, with billions of details about their homes, cars, relatives, criminal records and other aspects of their lives.
By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post
January 20, 2005

Security Checks to Greet Fallujah's Returning Residents
When the residents of Fallujah begin trickling back to their devastated city, they will be routed through sandbagged checkpoints where U.S. and Iraqi troops will take their fingerprints, issue ID cards and in some cases scan their irises, part of an elaborate plan to keep insurgents out of the former radical militant stronghold.
Washington Post
December 10, 2004

US Opposed Passport Privacy Protections
The Bush administration opposed security measures for new microchip-equipped passports that privacy advocates contended were needed to prevent identity theft, government snooping or a terror attack, according to State Department documents released Friday. The passports, scheduled to be issued by the end of 2005, could be read electronically from as far away as 30 feet, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained the documents under a Freedom of Information Act request.
New York Times
November 26, 2004

In Texas, 28,000 Students Test an Electronic Eye
The Spring Independent School District [Houston] is equipping 28,000 students with ID badges containing computer chips that are read when the students get on and off school buses. The information is fed automatically by wireless phone to the police and school administrators.
New York Times
November 17, 2004

Passenger Records Sought
The TSA has ordered domestic airlines to turn over all passenger records from last June, to test the feasibility of Secure Flight, a proposed new system that would allow it to create a centralized database for identifying "passengers known or reasonably suspected to be engaged in terrorist activity."
New York Times
November 16, 2004

Emerging "Surveillance-Industrial Complex" Is Turbo-Charging Government Monitoring
ACLU Report
August 9, 2004

Department of Justice Press Release
July 21, 2004


SWIPE addresses the gathering of data from drivers' licenses, a form of data-collection that businesses are practicing in the United States. Bars and convenience stores were the first to utilize license scanners in the name of age and ID verification. These businesses, however, admit they reap huge benefits from this practice beyond catching underage drinkers and smokers with fake IDs. With one swipe—that often occurs without notification or consent by the cardholder—a business acquires data that can be used to build a valuable consumer database free of charge. Post 9/11, other businesses, like hospitals and airports, are installing license readers in the name of security. And still other businesses are joining the rush to scan realizing the information contained on drivers' licenses is a potential gold mine. Detailed database records, of course, also benefit law enforcement officers who can now demand this information without judicial review in large part due to the USA Patriot Act.

Many people are unaware that personal data is even encoded on their license, and, if they do realize this, they probably do not know exactly what information is there. SWIPE brings attention to these practices and enables people to see exactly what is stored on their mysterious strip.

SWIPE also illustrates how this information is used and why businesses and government crave it. Our hope is to encourage thinking beyond the individual self ("I do not care if a bar database has my name and address and time of visit...") toward understanding databases as a discursive, organizational practice and an essential technique of power in today's social field.

With public knowledge there is a chance for public voices, and ultimately resistance.

SWIPE is produced by Beatriz da Costa, Jamie Schulte and Brooke Singer. For more information, please contact info@we-swipe.us.

Or, sign up for the SWIPE announcement list.


Situated in a real life activity, the SWIPE performance directly confronts the public with today's data collection practices and gives people access to their own data image.

The performance takes place at any event in which alcohol is served like opening receptions, gala events or corporate functions. The stage for the SWIPE performance is a customized, alcohol-serving bar. The SWIPE bar is stocked with standard bar equipment and goods, but has additional unique features like an automated driver's license scanner, data visualization monitor and a hacked cash register that prints unusual receipts for its customers.

People who approach the bar in search of a refreshing drink will be asked by a bartender (SWIPE member) to show their driver's license for age verification. The bartender will look at the license and place it in an automated, scanning device. While the customer waits for his/her drink order, the SWIPE cash register performs a technique called computer matching based on the driver's license information. Several minutes later, the person's name is called and he/she receives their drink with "receipt." The receipt is a SWIPE compiled data image consisting of the data encoded on a driver's license augmented by online searches of data-warehouses and/or demographic analysis generated by SWIPE custom-designed software.

When funding permits, SWIPE serves specialty drinks like the TSA, TIA and CAPPS II. Each drink attempts to explain its mysterious and obtuse title.

Near the counter are computer stations, displaying the SWIPE bar web site. The site reveals the inner workings of the SWIPE bar and discusses some current data collection practices, policies and concerns.

Following the performance and event, the SWIPE bar can remain on site as a functioning installation. In this format people use the automated license-scanning device and receive their data receipts, but unfortunately no liquor is served.


The SWIPE Bar is a nomadic and technologically empowered bar that serves up a lot more than just wine and spirits! In the past two years, SWIPE has traveled to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Raleigh, Ljubljana, Toronto and Banff.

Visit the official SWIPE Bar web site to see documentation and find out more.


The SWIPE Toolkit is a collection of web-based tools that sheds light on personal data collection and usage practices in the United States. The tools demonstrate the value of personal information on the open market and enable people to access information encoded on a driver's license or stored in some of the many commercial data warehouses.

Launch the SWIPE Toolkit.

The SWIPE Toolkit is a 2003 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (aka Ether-Ore) for its Turbulence web site.


Database Imaginary, Dunlop Gallery
Swipe Installation
Regina, SK, Canada
March 2005

Database Imaginary, Walter Philips Gallery
SWIPE Performance and Installation
Banff, Alberta, Canada
November 2004

Whitney Artport
SWIPE Data Protection Stickers
June 2004

Freedom 2.0: Distributed Democracy
EPIC'S 10th Anniversary Conference
Washington, DC
May 20, 2004

The Upgrade @ Eyebeam
New York, New York
April 1, 2004

Beall Center for Art and Technology
SWIPE Performance and Workshop
Irvine, CA
March 9 & 10, 2004

Introducing AIDC as a Tool for Data Surveillance
by Beatriz da Costa, Jamieson Schulte, Brooke Singer
Sarai Reader 04 : Crisis/Media

Version>03: Digital Arts Convergence
Panel: Whose Security? Data Determinism and the Construction of Control
Chicago, IL
March 2003

Break 2.2 Festival: Invisible Threat
Ljubljana, Slovenia
June 2003

Subtle Technologies 03
Toronto, Canada
May 2003

Pittsburgh Biennale, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
SWIPE Performance and Installation
Pittsburgh, PA
March 2002

Red Hat's Tech Circus
Raleigh, NC
September 2002


SWIPE Bar in Los Angeles
SWIPE Bar in Pittsburgh
SWIPE Bartenders
Waiting for a Drink
Getting Receipt
Looking at Receipt
Carding Young Drinkers
Bar Discussion
Mixing Drinks
SWIPE in Banff


SWIPE was created and produced by Beatriz da Costa, Jamie Schulte and Brooke Singer of Preemptive Media.

SWIPE was funded in part by the Franklin Furnace, the Experimental Television Center, Beall Center for Art and Technology and Turbulence.org.

Special thanks to Chris Hoofnagle, Daniel Solove, Latanya Sweeney, Vicky Clark, Steve Dietz, Sarah Cook and Anthony Kiendl.