An Act of Silence / Un acto de silencio

Filed under: 2015

John L. Yates es un pescador que fue sorprendido arrojando al mar unos pescados de tamaño inferior al legal durante una inspección. En lugar de una sanción administrativa, fue condenado a prisión por el delito de eliminación de datos en una investigación federal: un delito que tras el caso ENRON de fraude financiero -durante el que se eliminaron toneladas de papel y documentos informáticos inculpatorios- pasó a ser severamente castigado.

“Un acto de silencio” representa el juicio posterior en el que la defensa del pescador, una vez cumplida su condena, acusó a la administración norteamericana de emplear incorrectamente la ley al entender el lanzamiento de peces al mar en los mismos términos que un borrado de datos informáticos. Su argumentación convenció al Tribunal Supremo de Estados Unidos, que reconoció el error.

A fish is no doubt an object that is tangible; fish can be seen, caught, and handled, and a catch, as this case illustrates, is vulnerable to destruction. But it would cut §1519 loose from its financial-fraud mooring to hold that it encompasses any and all objects, whatever their size or significance, destroyed with obstructive intent. Mindful that in Sarbanes-Oxley, Congress trained its attention on corporate and accounting deception and cover-ups, we conclude that a matching construction of §1519 is in order: A tangible object captured by §1519, we hold, must be one used to record or preserve information.

En “Un acto de silencio” finalmente, además de la documentación del caso, tres disquetes reproducen la discusión de las partes durante este último juicio. Cada vez que una de ellas guardaba silencio en la argumentación, uno de los discos en la pieza se pone a girar. La reproducción de los silencios hace sonar al medio: el ambiente financiero y digital que engulle y reemplaza el mundo por su codificación espectral.

John L. Yates, a fisherman from Florida, was caught while throwing undersized fish overboard during an inspection. Instead of being sanctioned, he was convicted to prison, as he was declared guilty for a charge of destruction of documents that impeded a federal investigation: an offense that became severely punished after the ENRON case of financial fraud, where tonnes of paper and digital documents were destroyed.

“An act of silence” represents and documents a subsequent trial, three years after his release from prison, where the defense of the fisherman accused the United States administration of misunderstanding the law, as the throwing of fish was understood in the same terms as a computer data deletion. Their argumentation convinced the Supreme Court, who recognized the error.

A fish is no doubt an object that is tangible; fish can be seen, caught, and handled, and a catch, as this case illustrates, is vulnerable to destruction. But it would cut §1519 loose from its financial-fraud mooring to hold that it encompasses any and all objects, whatever their size or significance, destroyed with obstructive intent. Mindful that in Sarbanes-Oxley, Congress trained its attention on corporate and accounting deception and cover-ups, we conclude that a matching construction of §1519 is in order: A tangible object captured by §1519, we hold, must be one used to record or preserve information.

In “An Act of Silence”, together with the documentation of the case, three floppy disks play this last trial. Whenever a Justice or attorney kept silence during the arguments, one of the floppy disks rotates. This play of silences makes a specific and all-encompassing media sound: the financial and digital media that scans and replaces the world with its spectral codification.