When Adam Harvey attended the Tabula Rasa conference, he was stunned by a prediction Dr. Anders Sandberg presented to the audience: by 2050 it will only cost a country .01% of their Gross Domestic Product to execute total surveillance on their population. “Total surveillance” is more jarring when you put it in context. Sandberg meant recording audio and video of every citizen, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you’re worried about privacy rights, there’s already plenty of technology to hide from. Digitized information collects our data, from financial transactions to driving records. Smart phones are equipped to track your every movement. Even Facebook is listening to what you’re doing, so it can share what you’re watching on television. If this were “The Conversation,” Gene Hackman would have done a lot more than tear his home apart by now.
That’s where Adam Harvey comes in. Paranoid about surveillance? Harvey’s designed some artifacts to help cover your tracks. As culture and technology continue to erode privacy, Harvey thinks our wardrobe will evolve to both guard our secrets and communicate an unwillingness to participate in information sharing. Here are four of the inventions Harvey’s produced to make countersurveillance the next best wearable technology.
Let’s start with Harvey’s “Stealth Wear,” using metallic fabric to tailor hoodies, burqas and hijabs that hide your thermal signature from imaging cameras. It’s actually similar fabric that protects firefighters, but used to block aerial surveillance instead of flames. But why choose Islamic cultural apparel? Harvey’s designs are also a political statement about the use of surveillance in the Middle East.
Next on the runway, Harvey presents “CV Dazzle,” a hair and makeup guide to confuse facial recognition software. Named after a naval camouflage experiment called “Dazzle,” the style makes use of the same cubist aesthetic to break visual continuity. Facial recognition uses algorithms that require the identification of features like your eyes, nose and mouth. The composition of cosmetics keeps the camera from locating these specific features, disabling its ability to recognize you. Harvey recommends avoiding makeup enhancers, using asymmetrical designs, and obscuring the nose-bridge area and one eye to disorient the software.
What if you’re dedicated to privacy but can’t live without your smartphone? If you’re not already living in a Faraday Cage your next best bet is Harvey’s “OFF Pocket.” Funded through Kickstarter in 2013, this sleeve blocks wireless signals, Bluetooth, GPS, text and all data connections. Harvey prototyped and tested the sleeve for a year before its release. You can use it for more than privacy too. The sleeve can also protect your device from hacking or be used to prevent the distraction of your phone’s continuous feed of notifications.
Finally, Harvey’s accessory line includes “Camoflash,” a purse with bright light-emitting diodes that flood digital camera sensors to obscure the owner. This concept is very similar to the anti-facial recognition visor that we previously covered, created by the National Institute of Informatics.
What do you think? Has surveillance reached the point where Harvey’s inventions are necessary for privacy? Or is this more of an artistic and political statement? Personally, I’d wear one of those stealth hoodies, but only if it were long enough to cover my torso and forearms. Together, they’re the hottest parts of my body and would attract thermal targeting like a magnet.