‘Hacking’ Big Brother. Activism to escape massive cyber surveillance

As Theo Anthony argues in his documentaries Subject to Review y All light, Everywhere, Every image, fixed or moving, is open to the interpretation of those who contemplate it.. Or what is the same: images generate narratives. Like the human eye, the lens of a camera has virtues and defects, a frame that excludes what it does not encompass and, ultimately, a purpose in observation. When we see a photograph or a video we see what was captured, but we do not see who places/holds the machine, nor do we perceive the machine itself. When we observe, we do not see our own eyes.

Even with the Twin Towers standing, around 1996, there were already organized campaigns and groups in the West that denounced the unstoppable growth of video surveillance in the world’s major capitals. London, Beijing, Madrid, New York, security cameras began to multiply in all of them and registration located outside (street lights, traffic lights, poles, cornices…) and inside buildings (banks, train, subway and bus stations, restaurants, shopping centers, galleries…).

At that time, specifically in New York, a group of activists made up of theater actors and actresses founded the Surveillance Camera Players as a germinal form of protest against these devices. Mainly using the performance comedy and theater, they showed banners with messages warning the public about the presence of surveillance cameras in the subway networks and in the busiest public places, handing out leaflets and pointing with an outstretched arm where they were. Its leader, Bill Brown, declared in an interview: “We act in front of the cameras to demonstrate their existence.”

The SCP took security agents and the police as its target audience and performed adaptations of novels such as 1984 and theatrical pieces such as Waiting for Godot with the ironic purpose of entertaining those who were in charge of watching hours and hours of footage without content, in addition to using this as a distraction method for their purposes of monitoring passersby. Another of the activities they carried out was the concise mapping, block by block, of certain crowded areas of the big city where They noted the type, location and body to which the video surveillance cameras belonged. that they found on their tracking routes, and then shared them publicly.

By the 2010s, this Stage 0 of signaling and warning about devices became insufficient. Thanks to the expansion of the Internet, global awareness was made possible regarding this systematic and naturalized supervision of our daily lives as citizens. Anyone on the planet with access to the Internet could find hundreds of websites from which to view avenues, parks, airports and events of all the world.

If in 1971 William Powell published his controversial Anarchist’s Cookbookin which he gave specific instructions for the manufacture of explosives, synthetic drugs and weapons for the urban guerrilla, faced with this new situation, the last update of a work that could be similar to it appeared in 2000: the Guide to destroying CCTV. It breaks down the types of video cameras known up to that date, including those that were nothing more than non-operational replicas solely designed for deterrence, and the ways that were known to disable them. They could be sprayed with black spray, broken with hammers, taken down with poles, cut the cables, clouded with laser pointers… a whole set of techniques that were tested and perfected by those groups that joined the game. online denominated CAMOVERa challenge born in Germany around 2009 that was quickly imitated in the UK, Greece, Finland, Russia, China and the US until it became a self-documenting movement.

The missions and loot obtained by these video camera search and destruction cells They were displayed on the YouTube channels and blogs of the small groups involved. Specifically, the most organized and effective were perpetrated in China by Hong Kong citizens during the demonstrations of the so-called Umbrella Revolution in 2014. The protesters, mostly students, sublimated the exposed practices by adding novelties that included radio frequency inhibitors and communication through encrypted instant messaging systems. The umbrellas that gave their name to the riots, crowded together, served as a veil while some of the protesters destroyed the video surveillance cameras.

Along with this, given the advanced level of bureaucratic-cybernetic control, a large part of the protesters wrapped their identity documents with aluminum foil and traveled by public transport without using their personal passes to make it difficult to monitor their routes. Thanks to these events, the Project KOVR developed coats and accessories made with materials that isolate objects with electromagnetic chips from any potentially invasive signal. Their garments protect the wearer from the infosphere.

The methods devised during Stage 1, which changed signaling to attacking devices, proved obsolete due to the unstoppable proliferation of video surveillance and geolocation systems. The physical confrontation with the machine turned out to be absurd. The number of eyes to blind was already infinite.

Thus, Stadium 2 bursts onto the stage as next unavoidable phase: the hacking to surveillance developed to the present day, whose diversification and specialization of control methodologies has evolved beyond mere conventional filming. Now there are programs for facial and license plate recognition, remote control of the satellite location of vehicles and mobile phones, and professional piloting of drones for military and demographic purposes. That is to say, there is an unimaginable amount of data that can be and is used as evidence in political, war and judicial processes, which means, among other things, non-consensual supervision of our daily behavior. What eyes and why are they watching us? What and why is outside the scope of your objective? What and why are they looking for within the framework that encompasses their objective?

Starting with the least drastic of the methods to hack facial recognition programs, we have the example of the Dazzle Club collective. Based in London, its four activists (Evie Price, Emily Roderick, Georgina Rowlands and Anna Hart) dedicated themselves between 2019 and 2021 to developing makeup made with patterns and colors that distort the master features of human features, that inverted triangle formed for eyebrows, eyes, nose and lips. The technique is inspired by a mechanism from the beginning of the century used during the Great War. To hinder the calculation of the position and speed of movement of its units on the high seas, the British Army painted with contradictory geometric designs on the hull of many of their ships, which confused human vision through telescopes and binoculars.

In a similar vein, the artist Leo Selvaggio, founder of the URME projectmade to manufacture with high level of detail masks of his own face that, under the lens of a camera, can only identify him and not to the person who carries it. His manifesto, comparable to Erik Urano’s repeated motto in his song No I.d. “I am everyone under the balaclava”, it is very simple: hide your face with mine because, in a video-surveillance society, U [tú] R [eres] ME [yo]. Another more subtle example of hacking in plain sight is that of the Privacy Visor Glasses, the work of Sunphey Optical, designed to fade master facial features to black when a camera equipped with an infrared filter focuses on us, such as those located on roads and highways around the world. The balloon.

The hacker Kate Ross, like digital artist Simone C. Niquille, decided to employ the opposite strategy. If cameras look for faces and alphanumeric characters, why not bury them in them? Both activists designed, respectivelyclothes full of mocking license plates and incomplete faces to produce saturation in the algorithms of device recognition, specifically against Facebook’s facial recognition and tagging system.

However, The biggest troll of all on an international scale has yet to be met: Adam Harvey. This multidisciplinary artist and his team have taken their projects to the limit to combat surveillance in all its aspects. He has not only developed devices to instantly flash photographs that are shot at us (CamoFlash), but also virtual facial encryption programs, regeolocation applications that falsify the real position of our devices (DATA POOLS) and a line of clothing designed to make the subject invisible to night vision and thermal cameras (STEALTH WEAR). Regarding the latter, the US Air Force itself surreptitiously warned on Twitter that its use could have unexpected consequences for whoever committed it.

In these times when many police forces around the world carry individual cameras on their uniforms, when cities like Baltimore were illegally photographed from the air Google Earth style for months by a drone belonging to a private company, what could we expect? of the future Stage 3 of video surveillance? Architect Asher J. Kohn wanted to give a first answer to this question 10 years ago and is still perfecting it: Shura City. He designed, taking as reference the aesthetics of the Habitat 67 buildings in Canada, a drone-proof housing complex (UAV). In it, the buildings are organized at different heights and generate nooks to prevent the UAV from flying level or stable, which, in turn, causes the intricate exterior appearance to not fit with the internal spatial harmony. Some of the rooftops have strategically placed minarets that maintain a dome of uniform temperature, sabotaging any thermal scanning of their surface. Furthermore, and if things were to get ugly, the windows of the complex are covered with lattices with QR codes that threaten the UAVs due to their excessive proximity by being able to read them. If they persist in approaching, the windows explode to knock them down..

At least in appearance, perhaps to preserve our privacy, in the near future we must follow Italo Calvino’s stele and invent invisible cities. Stage 4 will be to populate them.

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