The unnerving ubiquity of security cameras in public places and the fact that an increasing number of them are connected to facial recognition systems has spurred Chicago-based artist Leo Selvaggio to think of a way to foil these systems.
So he created a 3D printed, hard resin mask in the likeness of his own face – a photo realistic rendering of his features, such as skin tone, texture and hair. He dubbed it URME (“You Are Me”) Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic.
“People have been hiding from surveillance since the begining of networked cameras. Unfortunately wearing a ski mask in public makes you a pretty easy target,” he pointed out. “In response, URME Surveillance has developed a state of the art identity replacement tech in the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic.”
“The basic gist is that rather than hide from cameras, simply give them a face other than your own to track without drawing attention to yourself in a crowd. In other words, when your out in the world doing whatever you are doing, all your actions, which are being recorded are documented as the actions of someone other than yourself, freeing you from any threat of surveillance.”
The mask is, unfortunately, not that cheap (it will be $200 on discount), and Selvaggio says that, at that price, they won’t be making any profit of it. That’s why they have started a successful IndieGoGo campaign that will “cover the start up costs of the project in order to make it sustainable and to continue providing the public with services.”
“Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub,” Selvaggio notes. “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.”
The URME project will also sell a $1 paper mask of his face, as well as a “hacktivist kit” consisting of 12 or 24 of these paper masks, intended to be used by organized groups in public space.
While this mask is not the perfect solution for the problem of public surveillance – some states and countries have anti-mask laws – the project is also aimed at raising the issue of surveillance and how it affects the behaviour of individuals in public spaces.