Artist Beats Big Brother’s Game

Artists are known for their creativity, right? Well, five years ago, one enterprising artist offered an ingenious solution to combat the growing problem of facial recognition technology which was emerging at the time.

Artist and founder of URME [YER-may] Surveillance Leo Selvaggio set up an Indiegogo fundraiser with a $1,000 goal to “fund the creation of countersurveillance masks with his face on them.” The freedom campaign started in April and finished on June 13, 2014. By June 9, supporters had contributed more than twice the targeted amount to back Selvaggio:

People really got behind the fundraiser’s philosophy:

“We don’t believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside, and you shouldn’t have to hide, either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public.”

Those products come courtesy of URME Surveillance, Selvaggio’s brainchild. Check out the project’s mission:

“URME is dedicated to protecting the public from surveillance and creating a safe space to explore our digital identities.”

Selvaggio spent three years living and working in Chicago, “the nation’s most surveilled city in the country,” according to him, with over 25,000 surveillance cameras:

All of Chicago’s spy cams are networked into a single hub called Virtual Shield which uses software to map human faces to match against identification records:

“The problem is that Virtual Shield comprises military-grade facial recognition software, meaning that you can be anywhere in Chicago and a camera can not only track you but it can also pull up all your corresponding information, as well,” said Selvaggio.

Selvaggio observed that other U.S. cities are embracing the new War on Privacy and predicted that surveillance camera usage would continue to rise. That forecast has come true.

“There just isn’t that much privacy anymore,” was Selvaggio’s conclusion in 2013. He was seized with a desire to protect others from the ever-increasing All-Seeing Eye computer system that is being foisted on us, like it or not, all in the name of safety and security.

The artist began to look into how other people were fighting back against public surveillance. Most strategies involved hiding one’s face with ski masks, hoodies, and sunglasses. The problem is that wearing a woolen face mask makes anyone not on a ski slope stand out in a crowd and become suffocatingly hot during summer months.

Selvaggio then changed the game:

“What if I just showed the cameras a different, alternative identity?”

Let the cameras do their jobs, mapping and identifying targeted faces in the milling throng. Just show the camera’s the wrong face. His face. The cameras track Selvaggio, not the person actually being spied on.

This is pure genius.

URME launched with three products:

1. Surveillance Identity Prosthetic

Selvaggio teamed up with ThatsMyFace.com to create a wearable, photo-realistic, 3D printed prosthetic face mask:

The human eye can detect the false face easily, up close and personal, but a camera’s eye? Not so much:

Furthermore, the prosthetic mask is hardly remarkable at a casual glance, a longer distance or in a crowd:

2. Surveillance Paper Mask

As an alternative to the high price tag associated with a life-like, synthetic face mask, URME’s founder came up with a much more affordable Surveillance Paper Mask, sold as a DIY (do it yourself) kit, complete with instructions and safety hazards:

The low-cost paper masks were designed to shield individuals from facial recognition. But crowds of people, including activists, could turn out in force with their faces obscured by someone else’s.

3. LS Video Encryptor

The third and final product introduced originally by URME Surveillance was the LS Video Encryptor, software “will take any video you currently have and replace up to five faces at a time with my own, while making an entirely new file for you to share and send without fear of the original being distributed,” explained its inventor.

Selvaggio said URME Surveillance “is not a company: it’s an organized, artistic intervention and, as such, I’m not interested in making a profit.”

Selvaggio sells all URME Surveillance products at cost. He also says that resistance to Big Brother’s Spy State is futile.

“Surveillance is here. And it’s here to stay,” promised Selvaggio. “Rather than try and combat that surveillance directly, I propose that we change what is being surveilled until the reason we are surveilled is no longer relevant.”

Selvaggio’s creative genius lies in changing what we do, not what Big Brother does.

“Help me change us.”