Counter-Surveillance Meets Fashion at South By Southwest Installation

Counter-Surveillance Meets Fashion at South By Southwest Installation

Since the advent of surveillance technologies, and the ramped-up focus placed on privacy after the 2013 NSA disclosures, a wary public has looked for ways to cope with and combat being watched and identified.

While individuals, government agents and corporations alike have turned to counter-surveillance solutions to protect themselves and their information, many of their efforts are technical in nature, combating gadgets with other gadgets. For example, camera lens finders, bug detectors, jammers and more are an effective way to identify listening devices and block their signals.

Now, however, a team of scientists working with an artist that focuses on digital privacy have come up with a low-tech way to fight back against surveillance tactics: Fashion.

Known as HyperFace Camouflage, the resulting fabric takes the images of 1,200 pixelated faces and turns them into a mosaic designed to confuse facial recognition software.

HyperFace was first unveiled at this year's Sundance Film Festival, but garnered renewed attention during a recent exhibit at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.

The project was just one aspect of a larger exhibition known as NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF), which looked to explore ways in which women of color relate to and will impact the technological future. The installation was created by a global collective of scientists, architects, engineers and artists known as Hyphen-Labs.

HyperFace Camouflage was designed by Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey as a way to overwhelm algorithms built to identify faces, such as Facebook's photo identification searches or the proposed scanners in Amazon's physical store. The fabric was included in the NSAF installation for more political reasons, however.

"We're looking at like, what if people were to wear this to protests?" speculative neurologist and Hyphen-Labs member Ashley Baccus-Clark told NPR. "When you have so many faces on a garment, you can ultimately, if enough people are wearing it, break the surveillance system entirely."

Other counter-surveillance fashion featured in the NSAF installation were a visor that deflects an onlooker from identifying the wearer's face, as well as oversized earrings outfitted with hidden cameras and microphones (something we at BrickHouse Security know a little bit about). The earrings are meant to document interactions with police with the push of a button.

While none of these counter-surveillance wearables are being mass produced, they represent a future in which fashion and technology work in tandem to defend privacy.

(Photo by Adam Harvey, via The Guardian)

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