A work during a film festival in Stuttgart / Germany a few years back offered another interesting idea for countersurveillance. The device called I-R A.S.C. basicly consists of a headband and infrared LEDs. The headband can be worn in public like any other accessory. But since the LEDs work in the infrared range of the light spectrum, humans do not see the light it is emitting. However, video surveillance cameras, which work with IR filters during the night, are blinded and the face of the person wearing it is not recorded. This is a surprisingly simple yet effective solution if one would not like to be recorded by a camera. Please note that during the day probably most cameras are in day mode and do not work with IR light. So don’t get too comfortable.
In the “fight” against video surveillance, a new type of real-world game was recently invented in Berlin/Germany: Camover. And the rules are quite straight forward: Destroying as many video surveillance cameras as possible, filming the act and uploading it to YouTube. While not required, it is recommended to conceal your identity while filming. The game ends on 19 February; the day the 16th European Police Congress starts in Berlin (Anonymous Austria initiated a similar operation recently as well). One might think of this game as a valid method to fight suppression, surveillance and intrusion into our privacy. However, I think it should be seen as what it is: Pure vandalism, which will not change a thing. The cameras will be replaced with new, state-of-the-art megapixel cameras. In the end, it is we, the tax payers, who will have to pay for the damage done. Video surveillance in public is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if we look at some recent “success stories” in Austria, where crimes were solved using video surveillance. And I know of not one case, where video surveillance in the public has been abused (yet). Having said that, making sure that abuse is not possible and that our right to privacy is not tampered with, is a main concern of mine. This can for example be achieved by creating feasible laws and by new technology, which has been built with privacy by design in mind. But destroying cameras is definitely no solution.
- This Game Awards You Points For Smashing Real World Cameras (kotaku.com)
- Berlin activists create CCTV-smashing street game (boingboing.net)
- Anti-surveillance activists turn smashing CCTV cameras into a competitive game (theverge.com)
- Camover – Fighting the System with Gamification (urbantimes.co)
Following my recent post about the anti-drone hoodie, the work of Asher J. Kohn is worth mentioning. He drafted an architectural concept for an “anti-drone city“, which uses several technological tricks to defend against detection from drones. Towers, which change heat patterns are used to confuse thermal detection systems. Windows made out of LED screens project changing patterns to produce false detections. Displays in the courtyard show QR patterns and fake shadows.
All deflection systems used are meant to confuse completely autonomous military drones to draw attention away from humans. However, as soon as a human is in the loop and looks at the drone’s camera images all this effort is worthless. Further, the concept is targeted at military applications and thus is basically another defence system for war zones.
I believe that anything developed to save human lives is a good effort. But concepts that can protect individuals from urban, every-day drone surveillance are worth thinking of as well. For example, wouldn’t it be interesting to develop a kind of opt-out surveillance system? To define a standard, in which individuals can choose if they want to be seen or not? Similar to location tracking on smart phones. Individuals, who do not want to be tracked would be left out of the image (e.g. by pixelating them or replacing them with an avatar). Of course, this system could be overruled for Police use but it would protect us from private drone surveillance in the future. It would be a good compromise between growing drone usage and the protection of our privacy. I believe, these ideas are worth developing further.
If you are worried about the coming wave of drone surveillance technology, stealth wear is the right thing for you. Adam Harvey developed the “Anti Drone Hoodie” to make yourself invisible to thermal cameras attached to drones. He has even more designs, which are actually quite fashionable. They work by using “highly metallized fibers” to shield heat from getting outside. Thus, thermal cameras, which detect heat at certain wave lengths, cannot pick you up. Unfortunately, most drones for non-military use currently work with usual color cameras where this protection does not help. But it definitely is a nice geek accessory. And it looks good too!
An Independent interview with Andrew Rennison, the UK’s first and just now appointed surveillance commisioner, creates some controversy. One interesting fact about this article is that the UK, the world’s most prominent state when it comes to public surveillance, appointed a surveillance commisioner for the first time. This is a remarkable turning point in thinking about surveillance technology in the UK.
In the interview, Rennison basicly states that video surveillance technology has become so advanced that the UK is turning into a surveillance state. As examples he cites cheap 16 Megapixel cameras and face recognition, which can identity a person from half a mile away with accuracy of over 90%. These provocative and just false facts caused a flaming reaction by IPVM, a popular blog about video surveillance. Face recognition is just not there yet. A system, which I tested myself last week, was just able to identify me from a 5 meters distance after I enrolled in the system and looked straight in the camera. This system used one of the current leading algorithms in face recognition, NEC’s NeoFace.
So no, what Rennison states is just not correct. However, his warnings are valid. Even if we are at least 5 to 10 years away from working face recognition in the crowd, the point will come when technology will be available that can identitfy all persons on public places in real-time and high accuracy. And we have to think before this time about how we want to deal with it. Shouldn’t we expect to be identitfied if we are in a public space? If so, by whom? Of course, we are identified by our (private) cell phone provider all the time already. And with larger and larger international carriers, isn’t this a much bigger problem, which we are facing already today (not mentioning the even larger SmartPhone software procuders Apple & Google)? I for one trust a public authority more than a private firm, of which I do not know by whom it is owned and controlled. I guess the reason why we are more suspicous towards governments is because they control an executive body, which can use force upon someone. But to think that large companies do not have similar power nowadays is just naiv.