The Hugh M. Hefner Foundation awarded Hasan Elahi (Print Media ’96) one of its 2017 First Amendment Award. Elahi is an Associate Professor at the Department of Art at the University of Maryland and an interdisciplinary artist who asks Americans to explore issues in surveillance, privacy, migration, citizenship, technology, and the challenges of borders. An erroneous tip called into law enforcement authorities in 2002 subjected Elahi to an intensive investigation by the FBI. After undergoing months of interrogations before he was cleared of suspicions, Elahi conceived “Tracking Transience” and opened almost every aspect of his life to the public. Predating public knowledge of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program by over a decade, his project questions the consequences of living under constant surveillance and continuously generates databases of imagery that tracks the artist and his points of transit in real-time. Although initially created for his FBI agent, the public can also monitor the artist’s communication records, banking transactions, and transportation logs along with various intelligence and government agencies who have been confirmed visiting his website.
Christie Hefner established the Awards in 1979, in conjunction with Playboy Magazine’s 25th anniversary, to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for all Americans. A press reception with the winners and judges will be held on August 7, 2017 at the Playboy Mansion.