From Vast Big Box Project

DRTBox Revisited, Reimagined, Recycled

DRTBox collects cell data from 1000s of phones

In 2017 NPR reported on DirtBox, a gizmo that collects data from thousands of cell phones at a time. It costs $100K, and is used by law enforcement and military.

Hackernews confirmed: DRTBox is a military surveillance technology that has capabilities of both Stingray as well as Dirtbox, allowing the police to track, intercept thousands of cellphone calls and quietly eavesdrop on conversations, emails, and text messages.  

DRTBox inspires anger & an art project

I was at once angered and inspired, and I blogged about it. I was mad. Really mad. And then inspired. I envisioned a 10-foot-by-10-foot installation made up of various sizes of canvas covered with a design of tiny boxes and dots. The boxes were to be the cell phones, and the dots were to be the data being collected. I imagined that I could pour all of my anger, frustration, and fear into these canvases, that people might get excited about the effect this gizmo would have on society, and — and …. I wasn’t sure what would come after that.


DRTbox blank
DrtBox blank: Sample of the pencil drawing that was done on 10 square feet of canvas.
DRTbox in progress
DrtBox in progress. Painting inside the lines with tiny paintbrushes.
DrtBox Juxto
DrtBox Juxto: A canvas board glued to a canvas.


DRTBox anger recedes, recycling begins

Breathing deeply, I recognized that I have limited capacity for high-decibel anger. (There is too much to be upset about for single-subject high-velocity fretting.)

With my anger receding, I could focus on recycling. I covered some of the penciled and painted canvases with white gesso as a base for new projects.

One canvas retained its dots and serves as the background for Belinda the Beaded Elephant. Standing on a field of little boxes, she absorbed all of my anger and most of the active-keeps-me-up-at-night the concern about privacy, spying, and personal space. She is the CEO and Principal Advocate for “Free the Fones,” an international non-profit working on a long list of privacy, internet, and e-commerce issues. Please reply to her appeals for money, time, and fresh vegetables. She eats 15 pounds of every day.

DRTBox Recycled into a White Elephant
DrtBox Recycled: Belinda the Beaded Elephant, CEO and Principal Advocate for “Free the Phones”

Vast Big Box Project: Art Meets Privacy

Vast Big Box Project

Inspired by a disturbing NPR piece about a very modern product called DRTBox that can scoop up data from up to 10,000 cell phones at once, I began the Vast Big Box Project. In the Inspiration Doodle, I imagined tiny boxes and circles representing individual cell phones, and even tinier interior dots showing the data available to DRTBox.

Vast Big Box Project Inspiration Doodle
Vast Big Box Project Inspiration Doodle

What is DRTBox?

The Hacker News reports that it is cell phone surveillance technology that can track, intercept thousands of cellphone calls, and eavesdrop on conversations, emails, and text. The lists one version at $100,000. This is not a tool for a home-grown, backyard-basement hacker. This is a tool for law enforcement.


Law enforcement can buy it. Evildoers can probably steal the technology or build something that can mimic its functions.

Questions for discussion

Scooping data from thousands of cell phone users is disturbing. Why? or Why not?

Just because you can, should you?

If the data that I put onto my cell phone boring and innocuous, what do I have to fear?

What if my boring cell phone is hacked by a Genuine Evildoer, not a basement hacker?

Do I want law enforcement to step in?

What is the Vast Big Box Project?

Beginning with blank canvas, a General Pencil 6-H, and a Mobius+Rupper Brass Wedge Sharpener, each part of the piece will be covered with tiny squares and spaces and even tinier shapes to indicate scoopable data. I will cover the pencil drawing with Liquitex Clear Gesso, which will seal the pencil and prevent smudges, and give me a paintable surface. I expect that this will project will fill a wall, presenting an overwhelming image of the length and breadth of this disturbing scoop-ability.

Big Box Project Tiny Prototype
Big Box Project Tiny Prototype


Thank you, Tracie Thompson, for introducing me to the idea of clear gesso.