5 Bizarre Ways People Are Fooling Surveillance Systems
Who among us has never felt like hiding from The Man? I certainly have, and so have you. Don't pretend that you haven't. I know about that thing you did last Wednesday. Unfortunately, modern surveillance methods have rendered our precious need for privacy rather more ... difficult to achieve than most of us would like. GPS tracking, facial recognition software, spy programs, and that strange drone with "NSA" painted on the side that keeps hovering outside your bathroom window when you poop are all out there to keep track of your ass whenever necessary, which may or may not be always.
So it's no surprise that some people have taken it upon themselves to come up with ways to increase their privacy. Unfortunately, not all of their solutions are as well-conceived as they think. Take the following, supposedly efficient methods of fighting constant surveillance. Seriously, take them and use them in public -- I guarantee that you'll garner ten times as much both wanted and unwanted attention as you otherwise would, and will likely get tackled as an affront to mankind by the Fashion Police for your troubles. This is because people are really proposing we fight the system with stuff like ...
Haircut And Makeup Tricks
Have you seen pictures of those old warships that sport really weird, geometrical paint jobs?
Well now you have.
The technique is known as dazzle camouflage, and its function is to create patterns that make it really difficult to estimate the size, speed, and direction of the vessel. Doesn't it sound cool? Yes? Well then you're in luck; these days, the technology can be applied right on your face. Your face.
It's called CV Dazzle, and it's meant to confuse the complex algorithms of facial recognition software. Yes, you too can render your mug blissfully untaggable by the machine cronies of the Illuminati, at the cheap price of spending your days looking like an emo kid who lost eight paintball battles in a row:
Cue the "I needed you but you left me alone" quote from your high school yearbook.
Why It Will Never Fool The System:
Let's pretend you're a cop in, say, Manhattan, patrolling your beat in the way comedy writers with little clue on how cops do that shit assume you do: Keystone Coppin' your way along the street, comically banging your nightstick against lamp posts and bringing your fingers to the brim of your inexplicably 1910's-style police helmet to salute passersby. Suddenly, you see a shifty-looking dude whose hair looks like it lost a fight against a theodolite, wearing the kind of makeup that only seems at home in obscure Japanese cartoons. Fuck! It's your worst nightmare! The Geometry Clowns are attacking!
"Holy shit, there's a whole gaggle of them! Call reinforcements!"
Even if you inexplicably avoid unwanted attention from law enforcement while wearing your Random Cube Vomit face paint and Lady Gaga haircut, the attention you'll attract from random people is going to be thousandfold to the passing disinterest your mug might be able to cause in even the most intricate crowd-spying unit. Then again, if your plan is to only ever walk the streets during Pride parades for anthropomorphic geometry textbooks, it's hard to imagine a better disguise.
I'm not just mocking this because it makes people look like an evil wizard brought a bunch of cubist paintings to life to be his minions. It actually does make people view you differently, which should be an obvious conclusion. In 2014, a tech reporter from The Atlantic spent a few days running around Washington D.C. in dazzle makeup, and his otherness not only made everyone stare at him, but he also became a creepy borderline pariah who would likely be ignored by everyone if he had a heart attack on the street. So yeah. You may be able to alter the way you're surveyed, but it's by turning yourself into Fred the Stinky Hobo in the eyes of your fellow man.
LED Pattern Umbrellas
I can imagine tons of uses for a light-encrusted umbrella, such as finding my way around a strange city on a rainy night, attracting muggers when I inevitably get lost in the worst part of the town, and ultimately fending them off by accidentally electrocuting everything around me when I panickedly flail at them and manage to rip some wire or another.
Or I could spin it and hypnotize people.
To be fair, the CCD-Me-Not Umbrella is more than just some Christmas lights someone rigged into a stay-dry stick. The project's lights are ultraviolet, and thus visible only to CCD surveillance cameras. Basically, you're just a normal schmuck carrying an umbrella, and only special equipment will perceive you as a tentacle monster made of light.
Wait, isn't that basically the plot of They Live?
Why It Will Never Fool the System:
Ever seen Men In Black and its first sequel? They're movies that heavily rely on making stuff seem creepy and alien, and both use the whole "light stripes in clothes and equipment" visual trope as a surefire signal that Dorothy ain't in Kansas anymore. Both also feature similar key scenes in which a character (Will Smith's J in the first one, Tommy Lee Jones' K in the sequel) realizes that aliens are fucking everywhere when seeing these cyclists:
And the message comes across. Boy does it ever. That's the visual cue our brain picks up: You streak your stuff with lights, you're likely from Andromeda or something. Good luck avoiding surveillance by wielding a thing that screams that exact message to every camera in town ... and the people monitoring them.
Facial Recognition Software Camo
If you've ever felt the need to own a T-shirt with a Hawaiian pattern made entirely out of melting Michael Jacksons, it's your lucky day. I mean, clearly someone forgot to lock your cell in Arkham Asylum and Batman presumably hasn't found you yet, because you've secured a gadget with Internet connection and are reading this right now. Also, they now actually make those shirts I described. Behold:
That eye-socket-burning fashion statement comes from the mind of designer Simone C. Niquille, and it's custom-designed to combat Facebook's eerily accurate auto-facial recognition. It's basically a camo pattern for your face, only those brown and green blotches of ordinary camouflage are replaced by distorted images of celebrity impersonators. As a result, facial recognition programs go berserk trying to figure out if you're you or if you're a dozen Obama heads swirling down a cosmic toilet.
Both are entirely plausible.
Why It Will Never Fool the System:
Oh, it might just work. Too bad you'll never wear it.
Let's face it, the kind of people who get a mental boner from sticking it to the man with the magic of surveillance-safe clothing are the kind of people who won't be picturing themselves doing so from behind a hundred slowly dissolving celebrity impersonators. At least, not unless they've got valid, serial killer-y reasons to do so. For the rest of us, "anti-surveillance clothing" conjures images of The Matrix laced with a hefty helping of Rage Against the Machine lyrics: cool, slick, and ready to rumble. Shit, when that's what our anti-surveillance clothes become, I'm the first in line to get some. In every sense of the phrase. Alas, for now, it's melty-faced Britney Spears lookalikes and MC Hammer snuggies for everyone.
The obvious solution to the whole "hide your face from the cameras" dilemma is a mask, but unless you're in the middle of a riot and/or protest, that tends to draw more attention than it can divert. Besides, they can only keep facial recognition programs from catching your visage -- they can't fool them. Or can they? URME anti-surveillance masks attempt to offer an elegant solution to the problem by providing an identity to their masks. These hyper-realistic Mission: Impossible resin faces are 3D printed in the likeness of their creator, Chicago-based artist Leo Selvaggio, with intricate enough detail to fool most facial recognition software. Facial recognition software, it should be noted, doesn't give a shit about uncanny valley. The human eye, however, is another matter entirely:
The question is not who this guy is; it's whether he's hiding a knife or an ax.
Why It Will Never Fool The System:
Wear one of those things and I guaran-damn-tee that within minutes, someone will come up and warily ask you the following questions:
- "Are you all right?"
- "What the hell is that thing?"
- "Do you realize that literally everyone is secretly assuming you're a serial killer, including those 17 police officers across the street?"
... at which point, you'll have to either keep your anonymous facade by ignoring the speaker or communicate with them, which is impossible unless you're really good at conveying meaning with a series of muted "Mmmmffffhnngh!" noises.
Also, there's the small fact that tons of states have staunch anti-mask laws, but since you're already at the stage where you're gleefully purchasing a $200 anti-surveillance mask with a punny name to stick it to the man, I doubt that's going to concern you. So fuck it -- at least make the most of the creepiness factor and get some cheaper paper versions for your friends while you're at it.
After all, it's safer if you have friends to watch your back in the holding cell.
So a bunch of Australian students figured out a way to cheat a biometric (fingerprint) reader that their high-end school had installed as their new sign-in system. They created fake fingerprints and came and went as they pleased without the system recognizing who was signing in and out.
Their material: gummy bears.
And yes, it worked in the exact way you're picturing.
It turns out that the gelatin in gummy bears has virtually the same consistency as the human skin. Just push a gummy-beared finger on the reader and voila! Instant access. Although the reader now believes you're a mutant with tiny bears for fingers and it's judging you quite harshly.
Why It Will Never Fool The System:
Man, I want this to work so bad. The prospect of someone just walking out of a candy store and thoroughly confusing state-of-the-art identification technology with a few pennies' worth of gelatin-based snacks is equal measures scary (if the terrorists use it) and hilarious (the way those students used it). Alas, the gelatin-related problems of fingerprint readers are well known within the industry; the gummy bear incident dates back to 2010, and the first cases of people gaming readers with the stuff happened way back in 2002, so it's reasonable to assume there have been a few patches in the technology over the years. In fact, the only readers this trick will likely work on are pretty simple entry-level devices. Also, the really important fingerprint readers tend to be watched over by large, burly men who will presumably notice and comment if you try to enter a NASA test facility looking like Freddy Krueger after a stop at the candy shop.
Still, it's hilarious to think that once upon a time, in a slightly smaller scale, that is exactly what happened -- and people got away with it. If there's an anti-surveillance memory worth cherishing, friends, that's probably it.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Pop Culture Sex Toys That Can't Be Arousing To Anyone and 4 Strange Problems Only Celebrities Seem To Have.
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