http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/13/arts/design/13ARTS.html By MATTHEW MIRAPAUL May 13, 2002 An Internet-based artwork in an exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art was taken offline on Friday because the work was conducting surveillance of outside computers. It is not clear yet who is responsible for the blacking out - the artists, the museum or its Internet service provider - but the action illuminates the work's central theme: the tension between public and private control of the Internet. The shutdown also shows how cyberspace's gray areas can enshroud museums as they embrace the evolving medium. The work in question is "Minds of Concern: Breaking News," created by Knowbotic Research, a group of digital artists in Switzerland. The piece is part of "Open Source Art Hack," an exhibition at the New Museum that runs through June 30. The work can be viewed as an installation in the museum's SoHo galleries or online at newmuseum.org. Although the installation is still in place, and the work's Web site remains live, the port-scanning software that is its central feature was disabled Friday evening and was inactive yesterday afternoon. Port scanning sounds like a cruise-ship captain's task. The term actually refers to a technique for surveying how other computers are connected to the Internet. The software essentially strolls through the neighborhood in search of windows that have been left open. Merely noticing where they are is no crime. Things get dicier, though, if what is seen is conveyed to a ne'er-do-well relative, who then breaks in somewhere, rearranges the furniture and makes off with a gem-encrusted putter. One court has ruled that port scanning is legal so long as it does not intrude upon or damage the computers that are being scanned. Internet service providers, however, generally prohibit the practice, which can cause online traffic jams. That prohibition appears to be what led to the shutdown. After the Knowbotic work started its peeping, the Internet service provider for one of the targets of the scan complained to the museum's Internet service provider, Logicworks. In turn, Logicworks notified the museum that port scanning violated its policies. On Friday, Lauren Tehan, a museum spokeswoman, said the museum was seeking a creative technical solution to keep the work online. That effort did not succeed. Ms. Tehan said the museum, at Logicworks' request, shut down the work after the museum closed on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, Christian Hübler of Knowbotic Research said the group realized the port-scanning software had been disabled and decided to move the work's Web site to an Internet service provider in Germany. Ms. Tehan said that the museum suggested a way to put the work back online but that Knowbotic rejected the proposal. The dispute calls attention to one of the very points the piece is intended to make. Because the lines between public and private control of the Internet are not yet clearly defined, what artists want to do may be perfectly legal, but that does not mean they will be allowed do it. Before the New Museum exhibition opened on May 3, Knowbotic Research had already decided to remove the most troublesome features of the port-scanning software. Mr. Hübler said the group changed the work after consulting with a lawyer who specializes in Internet law. "I wanted to know the situation I'm in," Mr. Hübler said, "because when I work with the border as an artist, I want to know at least what the border might be." When it is functioning, "Minds of Concern" resembles a slot machine. Viewers are prompted to scan the computer ports of organizations that protested in February against the World Economic Forum. While colored lights flash, a list of the vulnerable ports and the methods that might be employed to "crack," or penetrate, them to gain access to private information scrolls across the bottom of the screen. No internal information is exposed, but the threat is suggested. European digital artists are more politicized than their American counterparts, and "Minds" is designed to advance a social agenda. By choosing to explore the computers of anti-globalization groups instead of Nike or Coca-Cola, Knowbotic is warning those groups that they are at risk of losing sensitive data. But to present the work at the New Museum, Knowbotic had to defang it. At first, the group reviewed the 800 tools in the port-scanning program and removed 200 it deemed intrusive or malicious. After consulting with a lawyer, the group then encrypted the name of the organization being scanned because it was unsure if publishing the information was illegal. In place of the name on the screen, one saw the phrase "artistic self-censorship." The group's disappointment in having to scale back the work was obvious in a message to an electronic mailing list: "Due to the ubiquitous paranoia and threat of getting sued, the museum and the curators made it very clear to us that we as artists are 100 percent alone and private in any legal dispute." There is a sense of a missed opportunity here. The dozen works in "Open Source Art Hack" are intended to prompt discussion about the public versus the private in cyberspace while demonstrating how artists "hack," or misuse technology, to creative effect. Port-scanning software, for instance, is meant to be used for reconnaissance, yet Knowbotic has made it a political tool. But "Minds of Concern" is also the only online work in the exhibition to operate in a legal gray area. In its fully functional state, it had the potential to cause a ruckus that might have yielded some black-and-white rulings. But instead, the exhibition commits no real transgressions. Steve Dietz, the new-media curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, was one of the exhibition's curators. Its goal, he said, "was more nuanced than bringing cracking to the dull havens of a museum." "Being bad and doing something illegal hold very little interest for me," he said, "but being tactical and creative hold a great deal.` Artists like to be bad, and although museums are sometimes their targets, they can also serve as shields when artists become controversial. A recent example was the exhibition "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art," for which the Jewish Museum, not the participating artists, took most of the heat. As museums embrace cyberspace, its fuzzy rules are posing unfamiliar problems, and "Minds of Concern: Breaking News" is a case in point. As for how well those issues can be raised within a museum's walls, Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum, said: "That really is the dilemma. 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