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Flying Under a Neutral Flag j

Independent curator, researcher and agitator Cecilia Wee offers a speculative story about whistleblowing via the blockchain.



Watercolour on UV print on paper

Petros Moris, Kerameikos (Lion I), 2020. Watercolour on UV print on paper. Available for sale in the SO-FAR Shop.

“Tangible or ethereal?”

“Ha, I’m liking your new sales pitch.” Monique raised an eyebrow as she walked past the dusty wooden counter topped with glass jars, each full of cacao beans from different places.

“So, what’s your choice?”

“Give me something in between,” Monique responded.

“OK, good answer. A suspended Theobroma coming up. I was working on this one last night.” Amari mixed liquids, solids and gases from a number of containers including something that looked like a fire extinguisher.

“A blogger who came in yesterday said that this place is a science lab for chocoholics, but we know that chocolate is much more important than that,” she said, putting the final touches to the concoction.

She handed Monique a small bowl of iridescent foam. Monique brought a spoonful of the glistening bubbles to her lips. The temperature of her tongue transformed them into a velvety liquid, intense yet without the disruption of sweetness, as the flavours hit the back of her mouth. The bowl continued to bubble as she asked, “Are you sure this actually contains chocolate?”

“Come on, would I lie to you?”

“Oh no, have I activated your chocolate is the gift of the gods, enabling the Third Eye speech, again?”

“Very droll. Now… Spit it out, what’s the latest?”

“Thank you, that was incredible,” Monique paused for a while and then, looking down, let out a long exhale. “There’s definitely something wrong. Last night I got a direct message via the whistleblower’s private message board. It was from someone, a group of people maybe, demanding that I give up control of my node. The node.”

It was from someone, a group of people maybe, demanding that I give up control of my node. The node.

Amari looked at her sceptically as she opened another package of mixing utensils. “You get spam, I get spam, we all get spam, people pretending to be other people, asking for this and that. You’ve encountered this kind of thing before. What else is new?”

“Yes, but it feels different this time. They say they have support from many other node hosts. Of course, they could be bluffing. I don’t know who these people are, and until I can figure that out, I’m not sure what can be done.”

“Monique, what can you do about it though, really? The system is a protocol, you can’t control it through persuasion or reason, it works through a technical logic.”

“That might be true but some things, or rather people, can be influenced. There was something strangely intimate about their message that made my skin crawl. It’s like these people — whoever they are — have a power and some kind of hold over my fellow node hosts. That’s what this is all about.”

“What would Fremont do?”

“I don’t know. He would fight them in public maybe. He’d tell them where to get off, probably.”


Monique peered at the 100-year-old wooden counter, running her finger over the folds of bark. “Sometimes it’s not so simple. Each layer reveals more stories, half disclosed, half hidden.”

Petros-Moris-Kerameikos-(Sphinx I)-2020

Petros Moris, Kerameikos (Sphinx I), 2020. Watercolour on UV print on paper. Available for sale in the SO-FAR Shop.

Introduction to ANF

A Neutral Flag (ANF) exists to provide a free and accessible record of wrongdoings in the public interest. ANF is a decentralised structure enabling citizens from any country in the world to simply and anonymously disclose situations of wrongdoing deemed to be in the public interest, in response to inconsistent and piecemeal national provisions. Utilising Distributed Ledger Technology, ANF operates through a system of temporary wallet accounts, physiological interfaces for disclosure, a publicly accessible database, and smart contracts facilitating notifications to relevant independent bodies and the organisations, all contributing to a chain of oversight and accountability.

ANF was initially launched ten years ago, prior to several high-profile cases that called attention to whistleblowing as an important means of enabling societal, ethical and economic outcomes at local, national and international levels, in public, private and the third sectors. ANF is particularly valuable for industries where accountability and responsibility are diffused or distributed across a number of regulatory bodies.

ANF does not aim to replace other whistleblowing processes or infrastructures. It is a complementary component of the broader whistleblowing ecosystem comprising:

Internal compliance: HR policies and other organisational systems such as internal question channels and hotlines;

External channels: including ombudsmen and independent advice helplines;

Third party services that enable whistleblowers to anonymously raise concerns to key individuals within an organisation or structure (the importance of such approaches to organisational wrongdoing is evidenced by the forthcoming anti-bribery management systems standard ISO 37001);

A growing network of whistleblowing research and advisory organisations around the world, supported by governments and civil society (such as Public Concern at Work and Transparency International);

International organisations that provide legal support for whistleblowers and campaign for the disclosure of wrongdoings (such as the Courage Foundation);

We describe this as a whistleblowing ecosystem as it encompasses a diversity of channels, modes and approaches that are sensitive to local legislation and cultures, collectively contributing to increasing accountability and combating corruption worldwide.

Petros-Moris-Kerameikos (Bull)-2020

Petros Moris, Kerameikos (Bull), 2020. Watercolour on UV print on paper. Available for sale in the SO-FAR Shop.

Headphones on. 03072005/01 got played yesterday. 18022006/04 is a good one. Enveloped in sound.

The music should have beats, but the rhythm can wax and wane a little, as this helps slow down Monique’s reading speed and sharpens her attention to the details she finds. Monique looked for new disclosures on the whistleblower’s system, as she did each day. She wanted to know how these people felt about “speaking up” and whether they were scared. How did they deal with being intimidated? How did they prepare themselves to disclose? What went through someone’s mind at a time like that?

Of course, there were many people who posted their disclosures on the system, and then almost immediately went public with the details. A few simple searches would yield the minutiae about them and their cases, but Monique was more interested in the people who want to stay private, those who didn’t want the attention, those for whom the price of giving voice to their dissatisfaction would be inevitable pain. Monique wanted to go beyond the formal face of data distributed on the stack. She wanted to hear the stories and see the emotions of the people who blew the whistle, face to face.

Monique wanted to go beyond the formal face of data distributed on the stack. She wanted to hear the stories and see the emotions of the people who blew the whistle, face to face.

For the last three years, Monique had been developing FremontPrint, a stylometric tool able to identify the digital fingerprints of text written by web authors. Based on analysing 1,000 characters or less, FremontPrint had an accuracy rate increasing from 75–85 percent. The code for FremontPrint was based on another stylometric system for identifying authors of musical compositions, developed by Monique’s uncle, Mateo Fremont — the musician and self-proclaimed founder of A Neutral Flag. FremontPrint had been in simulation mode for the last eight months. Sat there in front of the screen, Monique’s heart raced as she thought about running the code live for the first time.

Load: disclosures for “today”. Entries in blue, details in red. Search: Location, responsible body, nature of disclosure. Overlay: Publicly available similar searches, web data scrape. Run: FremontPrint Result: Node ownership details Run Run Run

Call for Monuments

The ANF Foundation invites artists and designers from across the globe to submit proposals for new public monuments to commemorate the issue of whistleblowing, to be located anywhere in the world. This call has been formulated in response to the grassroots ANF monuments that have appeared across the continents, in diverse forms, over the last five years. These monuments will continue the legacy of these activities, functioning as places for reflection on the nature of truth, esteem for the ANF system, and as symbols of good governance.

Participants of the contest should propose a unique art object articulating their vision for ANF’s continued relevance and significance. In order to fulfil the purpose of an internationally recognised official ANF monument, it is necessary that the monument addresses the following principles:

Sensitively located — the monument is sited in a publicly accessible yet relatively secluded location;

Aligned with ANF — the monument articulates at least one of the ANF core values: justice, respect for privacy, the search for truth and transparency;

Cultural methodology — the monument engages with local cultural traditions to comment on the history and future of whistleblowing;

A symbol of whistleblowing — whilst the monuments are not meant to function as interfaces for posting data onto the ANF system, their design must take into account their significance for the community of whistleblowers;

Longevity — the monument must adhere to the system’s sustainability principles, able to withstand the elements and any public interaction for 25 years. The ANF foundation will make available modest maintenance costs — please outline these costs in your proposal.

Applications to the ANF monuments competition will only be accepted via the online portal.

Three winning projects per calendar year will be selected by an international jury of 50 art and design professionals with an interest in whistleblowing.

Winners each receive an honorarium of 10,000 USD and 15,000 USD production budget to fully realise creation of each monument, from conception to installation.

Deadline: 31st December, every year.

Petros-Moris-Kerameikos-(Sphinx II)-2020

Petros Moris, Kerameikos (Sphinx II), 2020. Watercolour on UV print on paper. Available for sale in the SO-FAR Shop.

“Do you mind if I turn the radio on? I want to hear about the sugar crisis,” Amari slowly turned the dial of her AM radio.

Excitedly, Monique announced, “I got some real results. The closest node host is about 45km southwest from here, they raised a concern at work about two years ago. Stayed in the same job following probable harassment issues. They reported a deliberate lowering of standards in the organisation that put the health of members of public at risk. No known affiliations to political groups or anything else suspicious. I messaged them and I think it’s possible to meet.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea? I know you’re scared about what will happen if your evidence is not enough, but if you really feel it’s destroying you that much, why don’t you just disclose it? Whatever it is?” Amari asked, pragmatic and exasperated but patient.

“I need to know how they dealt with it. I need to know how it feels to do it and live with speaking up about something that could change my world… our world,” Monique said, at the same time asking herself whether she could ever risk revealing her secret, a secret she had not shared with anyone, not even Amari.

The principle of anonymity should be refuted.

A male voice on the radio cut through the hiss —

“Ten years after the launch of A Neutral Flag, we would like to celebrate the success of the system, and also call for some changes. Given the financial resources wasted on incorrect allegations made against companies, we believe that one of the principles of the system that Mateo Fremont put forward was wrong — the principle of anonymity should be refuted. We have good reason for this. If all this information is in the public interest, then the public should know that it is from a verified, reliable source. This will have great value for the population. The public has the right to know the identity of the persons providing such information. In the social media age where we give out supposedly ‘private’ information all the time, what do these people have to hide? After all, we now have this wonderful transparent system for reporting wrongdoings, which we can all trust in. We have gathered together a great group of allies in this and will be pushing to make this historic change to the system before the end of the year.”

Abruptly, Amari clicked the radio off: “OK. Start talking, now. Is this what we were discussing the other day?”

“Um yes, I think so. I also heard that someone has been copying and selling the data on the super protected part of the stack. There was a message from the admins to all node hosts. They are completely perverting the roots of what we built. This system, which was always based on the principle of ‘no secrets for money’ is being mined and exploited by these bastards. Those poor people who wanted to stay anonymous, because they were in danger of abuse and harassment or whatever, are now getting screwed twice. Brilliant. Mateo and the gang did a great job.”

Amari turned to the counter. “I’ll put on some music. And some cacao.”


Petros Moris, Kerameikos (Molossus), 2020. Watercolour on UV print on paper. Available for sale in the SO-FAR Shop.

Automated Notifications

When data posted to the ANF system meets the verification criteria, a smart contract is executed: The organisation(s) accountable for the wrongdoing is automatically contacted, as well as the relevant independent body or regulator. The system notes that follow up contact — the nature of which is defined by individual organisational policy — must take place within 30 days of the concern being raised.

Please note: It is not the responsibility of ANF to provide means for a fair and thorough investigation or respond to concerns of wrongdoing.

08112006/03 is playing today. 27092006/02 is cued up next. Ringing.

It’s an unknown number, as it was yesterday, again right after Monique had finished checking the day’s disclosures. She stopped typing and looked down at the phone as it vibrated on the table, it’s screen excitedly lit up.

Turning down the music, Monique answered, “Hello?”

Silence. Again.

Amari had told her there was no need to be paranoid, but doesn’t paranoia stem from truth? Monique put the phone back down on the table and stared into her coffee.

What’s going on here?

Now the landline was ringing.

“Yes,” she sighed, picking it up.

“Ah, it’s good to hear your voice Ms Fremont. You don’t mind if I call you Ms Fremont, do you?” It was that voice again, the same one as on the radio, but this time it was calm, almost soporific, “I just wanted to thank you Ms Fremont,” the voice continued.

“Whhat ffor?” Monique pronounced her words slowly, trying not to sound nervous.

“Well, before I get into that, we want to thank you properly. I know you didn’t like the message we sent you the other day, but there was no need for a rude reply. We understand that it’s sometimes difficult to let go of the things we have had for a long time, and we want to help you. This attachment, this secrecy, this responsibility, it’s all so, hm, what’s the word? Oppressive. Heavy. It’s such a burden.”

“And you’re going to get rid of that… burden, for me?”

“Yes, that’s right Monique. No doubt you heard our announcement the other day. This change is inevitable. We have control of 49.8 percent of the nodes, so a hard fork of the system is coming right up. Since you have been such a brilliant facilitator of our cause it would be much better for you to accept it now. It’s a little too late for you to upset the system. If you were going to do that, you really should have done it a while ago, but hm, I suppose it’s possible you didn’t realise that you were helping us.”

She could feel her skin boiling with anger. “In what twisted parallel universe would I help you, you manipulative, blackmailing power-hungry control freaks!” she blurted.

The voice tutted derisively, “Come now Monique, are you so stupid as that? We’ll talk more soon. But before that, we wanted to say thank you for FremontPrint.”

This attachment, this secrecy, this responsibility, it’s all so, hm, what’s the word? Oppressive. Heavy. It’s such a burden.

(Selected) Terms and Conditions

ANF is committed to excellent data quality:

All concerns must relate to a body accountable for the wrongdoing, in order that the case can be concluded;

All concerns raised must be deemed in the public interest, so that the system is not used as an alternative method to raise grievances or make libelous statements;

Out of respect for the privacy of individuals, when first raising a concern, one should refrain from including personal and private information about the individuals involved, to prevent these from being automatically published on the ANF public database.

Data posted on ANF is subject to a strict verification process. Inaccurate or insufficient data erodes the quality of data posted on the system as a whole:

All concerns raised must be accompanied by a dated and detailed timeline of events;

Documentary evidence of your concern in the form of recorded media or interactions, should be submitted on the stack alongside your initial data posting (one example is necessary per data posting);

Inability to provide sufficient time-stamped recorded evidence may result in your concern not being appropriately pursued by the relevant bodies.

Be aware that ANF will ensure your identity is concealed, however, responsible organisations and law enforcement agencies may ask you to disclose information that could identify you.

Petros-Moris-Kerameikos-(Lion II)-2020

Petros Moris, Kerameikos (Lion II), 2020. Watercolour on UV print on paper. Available for sale in the SO-FAR Shop.

The wind gently lifted the autumn leaves from the ground. The light was beginning to change as Monique touched the metal surface of the horn. Some parts of it were smooth. She imagined that these were the areas where other people had touched its sides, thinking about their own secrets. The sculpture was funded and erected by a group of artists who disclosed corrupt sponsor practices of international art festivals. Monique liked to visit this place, she liked to look into the seemingly endless, dark apex of the horn until the sun went down. She always felt empowered by the receptive horn, which kept the secrets of those who used it ritualistically, trusting it as the location to disclose their secrets. Sometimes she would see remnants of the brown paper packets, markers of the officially distributed data posting kits.

“I would never do it here,” she’d always thought to herself. “Every leaf is probably bugged.” This time, being there barely made a difference to the feeling of overwhelming hopelessness she found herself in.

She felt a vibration in her pocket. She usually turned her phone off when she was at the horn, but today she was so preoccupied that she had totally forgot.

A quiet voice came over the phone: “You’re a traitor, but that’s OK.”

“You know nothing about me.”

“I know that you believe in the truth. I know you’re at the horn. I know you have a data posting kit in your bag right now.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, you have to be forceful to make change. It might be painful at the beginning but in the end, it will be much better.”

“You know I’ll never give up the node.”

“That’s fine. It would have been good to have you on board, but we can still change the system without you. It’s inescapable.”

Monique paused. “There is something I can do.”

“I don’t need to tell you Ms Fremont — the system is a protocol. No one, not even you, can stop it.”


Support Us

*If you like A Neutral Flag, here are a few things you can do:

Please consider hosting a node to keep the ANF network thriving.

Tell your friends about ANF and ask them to host nodes.

We are looking for more sponsors and partners – please donate to support ANF’s activities and pass the ANF message on to organisations who share our values.

We are looking for more examples of how ANF has enabled better accountability and more ethical behaviour. If ANF has helped stop wrongdoing that was affecting you, we’d love to hear from you.

This text was originally published by Torque Editions in  Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain . The print edition is available for purchase here .

    Artists and Contributors

    Cecilia Wee

    Cecilia Wee

    Dr Cecilia Wee is a London-based independent curator, researcher and agitator addressing equity, precarity and infrastructures for art and social action. She has edited books, curated exhibitions, events, workshops and led research projects with organisations including Akademie der Künste Berlin, Furtherfield Gallery, Paju Typographic Institute Korea, Resonance FM, and Tate Public Programmes. Cecilia is Visiting Tutor in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art.

    @ceciliawee (twitter)