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Archive for February, 2013

Masking by blinding: The IR headband

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment

IR-ASC

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.

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Camover: Vandalism is no game

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 3.37.22 PMIn 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.

“Anti-drone city” to protect from attacks

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment
(c) Asher J. Kohn

(c) Asher J. Kohn

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.

Starting from March, Facebook might track all mobile users

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Facebook TrackingAccording to a report by Bloomberg published today (in German on n24), Facebook is working on a new version of its mobile app, which will incorporate many more location-based features than before. Specifically, it will notify you if any of your friends are close-by. This is not a new concept, which for example has been out there in the form of the Highlight app or Google Latitude. However, these location-tracking apps do not have a wide user base due to privacy concerns and their battery-draining performance. Facebook adding such a feature is a big deal, considering their user base of one Billion people. Similar to Highlight and Latitude, the app would track the location of users in the background, even if the app is closed. Fortunately, Apple’s design guidelines require developers to get the explicit OK from users to track their location. However, many users might not be aware that once they turn tracking on, they are tracked all the time. For me as a user, this will be a great feature and I will use it. Often I think that it is absurd how many people we know in our city and how few we meet by chance. This could be a great social tool and with a large user base it could actually work. It is just important to be aware what is happening in the background and to turn it off if you really do not want to be tracked.

How to protect yourself from drone surveillance

February 1, 2013 1 comment

stealth-wear-hoodie-sergio1

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!

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