The growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras in public places is another example of the rapidly expanding use of technology to monitor our activities. I’ve already expressed my concern about tracking our web browsing habits and a potential solution to those privacy invasions. But how can we protect ourselves against technology that tracks our “real world” activities?

URME Surveillance is developing a solution, which it calls a Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic. Leo Selvaggio, an MFA student at Columbia College in Chicago (a city which more than 25,000 surveillance cameras also call home) wants to use his art and and some tech tricks to give the public a little more security.

Selvaggio’s goal is to provide anti-surveillance devices for the common good. He believes that simply going out in public shouldn’t necessitate subjecting oneself to surveillance. The answer? His products, branded under the name URME (read: You Are Me) allow people to “present an alternative identity” when in public.

Resisting The Shield

Inspired by his concern that there was a need to resist Chicago’s Virtual Shield, a network of high-tech cameras feeding into a hub which parses the images through military-grade facial recognition technology, as well as an extensive repository of personal data. Virtual Shield has, not surprisingly, provoked civil liberties concerns since its inception. The only way around this system would be to either hide one’s face (which itself is likely to attract attention and arouse suspicion), or, to stay indoors. But Selvaggio came up with an alternative: assume another identity.

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Alternative Identity Products

But whose identity would one assume? Selvaggio offers his own, in the form of an anti-surveillance mask bearing his own likeness. He has teamed up with the folks at ThatsMyFace.com to use state of the art 3D scanning and 3D printing to create a pigmented hard resin mask, so you too can look like him. The idea is not to hide from the camera, but to give it another identity to track.

The resin mask, dubbed the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic, is currently for sale for $200. Selvaggio backs up his claim that he’s providing a public service by assuring us that he’s selling these at cost. If you like the idea, but aren’t ready to spring for the full 3D mask, there’s also a more affordable alternative in the form of a paper mask. These are available for $1 (or in bulk as the “Hacktivist Kit” for $.50 apiece), and he suggests that the low price makes them ideal for communities of activists.

He’s also got an open-source software-based video facial encryptor (currently for Mac only), which will find and replace up to five faces in a video file (with, yes, his own), so you can distribute videos without fear of being recognized.

URME has an Indiegogo page where it’s trying to raise funding for the project. You can see Leo Selvaggio (the real one, we think) explaining what he’s trying to do in his own words:

Selvaggio insists that he’s not actually against surveillance in all forms. But he does feel that the issue should be a matter of public discourse, and hopes that his products will keep this subject visibile. With his face everywhere, it will certainly keep him highly visible as well. But his promise to produce and sell his products at no profit seems to verify his sincerity.

URME Website: URME Surveillance
Indiegogo Page: URME Surveillance

About the author

Fred Scholl

I'm an unabashed enthusiast of all things Android, open-source, and technology in general. I'm also an avid music lover and musician, playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and a host of other stringed instruments.