The Privacy Arms Race

Big Brother is watching. Many people have been defeated by the constant improvements in government surveillance. Instead of fighting they lie themselves into complacency by claiming that they have nothing to hide. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that trap. Privacy is an arms race. As surveillance technology improves so do countermeasures:

The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back.

Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey aims to overwhelm and confuse these systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can’t tell which faces are real.

The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face.

Camouflage is older than humans. In fact, much of what we know about camouflage comes from our observations of animals. As predators improved so did the camouflage of prey. To win against the predatory State we must constantly improve our defenses. Against surveillance one of the best defenses is camouflage.

I admire people like Adam Harvey because they’re on the front lines. Will their plans work? Only time will tell. But I’ll take somebody who is trying to fight the good fight and fails over somebody who has rolled over and surrendered to the State any day.

4 thoughts on “The Privacy Arms Race”

  1. That’ll work for about 30 seconds, if that long. I’m not intimately familiar with with the specifics of facial recognition software, but the same techniques that identify a thing called a “face” can, I’m sure, be used to identify a “human outline”, with a “face” sought only at the top, not superimposed over the body.

    Camouflage will work fine, if it’s applied directly to the face. So will a mask, of course. But concealing one’s identity through such techniques is illegal many or most places. Since the facial recognition genie can never be put back in the bottle, pushing back on such laws might be the best approach to advance privacy.

    1. I don’t think the goal is to hide your face per se, but to overwhelm the facial recognition software.

      Performance can be a weakness in any system. DDoS attacks are a great example of this. Even the biggest websites can be crippled with a large enough DDoS attack.

      Anything that shows up as a face to image recognitions software will require at least some processing time to analyze. If you can cause one thousand hits you increase the system’s resource requirement. If one million people cause one thousand hits each that will greatly increase the resource requirements. Eventually the resource requirements become high enough where the system is effectively crippled.

      We know from history that pushing back against surveillance laws doesn’t work. The State is too interested in surveillance to even allow us a voice (which is why it performs most of its surveillance in secret).

  2. Well, we know from history that pushing back against most laws usually doesn’t work. It takes tremendous determination, usually accompanied by civil disobedience, and sometimes by armed defense. It can cost participants their lives, their freedom, their careers, or their savings. Jefferson and his “Tree of Liberty” parable are right on target, I think.

    Your analogy of face recognition to DDoS is a pretty big stretch. Those attacks involve huge numbers of hits. How many faces can be crammed onto one person’s clothing, that are large enough to fool face recognition software?

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m in favor of anything that might work. This just sounds like a pipe-dream to me.

    1. I have no faith that the American people have the wherewithal for widespread civil disobedience or any other form of direction action. If the PATRIOT Act didn’t fire them up then nothing will. As with all forms of self-defense, I think the only realistic solution is to rely on yourself.

      The number of faces you can cram into somebody’s clothing depends on what qualifies as a hit to a facial recognition system. Of course, such a DDoS attack is just one possible method of attacking facial recognition cameras. Other methods have been proposed. One method, which works well at the moment due to the limited infrared filtering many cameras have, is to utilize a device (say a glasses mounted emitter) to blast IR in front of your face. Turning an Internet of Things botnet on central facial recognition systems also holds some promise (at least for disrupting communications between the cameras and the servers that perform the actual analysis).

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