With the recent developments being made in the fields of domestic surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles, and metadata-mining algorithms, it’s quite understandable how many people are afraid for their privacy and their freedom. And with things expected to get worse, thanks in part to mind-machine interfacing and brain scanning, it was only a matter of time before some began to develop countermeasures.
Not too long ago, I came upon a drone art campaign over at DeviantART that addressed the issue of a surveillance-society. In addition to some wonderful artwork, the campaign also showcased a new fashion line known as “Stealth Wear”. Created by Adam Harvey, these “anti-drone garments” were a form of metalized fabric that protect against thermal imaging surveillance, a technology used widely by UAVs/drones.
As it turns out, Harvey and his associates are hardly alone in this venture. Predicting the rise of mind-reading surveillance machinery, a group of designers in Italy began working on a series of thought-blocking accessories designed to maintaining private thoughts in an era when national security agencies and marketers want to get inside our heads.
Designers Lisa Kori Chung and Caitlin Morris, both researchers at Fabrica, started work on the project after they began thinking about the relationship between clothing and privacy – how it both protects and conceals. They researched current surveillance techniques, including facial recognition software, as well as brain scanning technology that’s beginning to accurately recognize emotions and thoughts.
We imagined what it would be like for these things to converge, if clothing played a role in intellectual and emotional privacy as well as the physical privacy it’s always been associated with.
Predicting how the technology might continue to evolve, they created three accessories – a hat transmits sound through bone conduction, a collar that sends a tiny electric shock, and a mask that flashes bright lights. As they explain it, the accessories do not block scanners, but allow a person to distract a surveying machine from seeing whatever it is they want to keep private from it:
Aside from the realistic constraints of long-distance scanning, the premise of detecting people’s general thoughts and moods based on a low-resolution brain scan is a possibility that’s already proving very realistic. We looked into recent studies where researchers were able to detect precise emotions in subjects, and that data is already being used for information on brand recognition and advertising.
Each object has a detailed, almost Baroque design inspired by other protective objects. Each one is designed to draw attention away from telltale indicators like the person’s facial structure towards the art itself, along with its special, surveillance-busting features. As they explain, the merger came from existing security concepts, but was altered to look artistic:
We were fascinated by examples of devices intended for security, but designed to look ornamental–such as window bars, fences, the printing inside security envelopes. We wanted to build on this, and to design these technology-heavy pieces as beautifully crafted accessories. It’s an aesthetic that’s missing in a lot of future-wear, but the awareness of craft and textile is an important part of our connection to objects, especially objects that are increasingly technical.
In addition, new technologies are emerging that are designed to counter unmanned aerial drones – something which is expected to become far more common – by alerting people to their presence. It’s known as the Drone Shield, a project that started out in May as an Indiegogo lark, but has since morphed into a serious business affair intended to protect people and businesses from unwanted intrusion.
With the growing popularity of hobbyist and commercial-grade drones, privacy and security are becoming much more than an abstract concern for a wide-range of interests. Many believe it’s only a matter of time before these kinds of simple drones are engaged for corporate espionage – like taking photos or landing on a roof and hacking into a Wi-Fi network. Or even a physical attack.
Designed by two engineers – Brian Hearing and John Franklin, both of whom spent most of their careers working in the defense and intelligence industry – the UAV detector is a small portable or mountable box that listens for drone noise and sounds an alert if one is close. Using a microphone tuned to pick up background noise, the box analyzes noise and identifies the characteristic acoustic signatures of different kinds of UAVs.
The goal is to give you enough warning time to either go inside and shut your blinds … or for commercial uses, it’s to call the cops or alert your security… Our longer-term plan is to improve the product so it’s ready for enterprise sales; turn some of our pilot installations into long-term customers, and expand overseas. We’re envisioning installing one of our devices every place you have a security camera.
While the device isn’t sensitive enough to detect military-grade drones high overhead, Hearing claimed it can catch hobbyist devices and (with the help of more expensive and sensitive microphones) commercial drones as well. Another company has tried to detect radio frequency communications of UAVs with a person on the ground, but these signals are easy to mask and as drones grow more autonomous, they will be fewer.
Acoustics are good because it’s very difficult to hide them. They sound really unique. There’s really not much else out there that sounds like it–it can tune out leaf blowers, weed whackers, and hair dryers.
Right now, Hearing and his co-founder John Franklin are improving the product to use higher-quality hardware and microphones and sell at a higher price than $100. Having raised the seed money they need through their Indiegogo campaign, they plan to grow their business and expand their current customer base to include major companies.
So in addition to major advances in the fields of biomedicine, nanotechnology and fabrication, the world of tomorrow may also be a place where surveillance wars are a constant, with companies and mischievous individuals constantly trying to get one-up on their competitors. And the rest of us, as usual, will be caught in the middle, looking to protect ourselves.