The counter-surveillance era that aims to combat the increasingly widespread government use of unmanned surveillance drones is being led by a wave of technology designed at keeping a users’ identity concealed.
The latest counteractive surveillance gadget to be prototyped is causing quite a stir, and, it has to be said, is sadly reflective of what the world has come down to.
The anti-drone hoodie is a silver hooded top that comes down to the chest. It has wide shoulders and a zip that covers up right to the nose and effectively makes its wearer invisible due to the thermal imaging that is utilized by surveillance drones.
Designer Adam Harvey has developed the anti-drone hoodie and insists that his new product is principally a piece of fashion and art.
“These are primarily fashion and art items,” Harvey tells the Guardian. “I’m not trying to make products for survivalists. I would like to introduce this idea to people: that surveillance is not bulletproof. That there are ways to interact with it and there are ways to aestheticize it.” (1)
Despite the New York-based designer’s claims that his latest product is primarily for fashion and art, given Harvey’s portfolio of creating some of the most truly innovative anti-surveillance items, it is not difficult to believe that the anti-surveillance hoodie has been designed with the sole intention of, similar to the hoodie itself, “sticking its finger up” to surveillance devices.
Prior to the anti-drone hoodie, in 2010 Harvey had brought the world Camoflash, an anti-paparazzi clutch bag that responds to a paparazzo’s camera by generating a counter flash that creates an orb of bright fuzzy light around the subject, a paparazzo’s worse nightmare.
The Camoflash was quickly followed by the somewhat less technologically sophisticated CV Dazzle, the use of military-style camouflaging makeup and hairstyle techniques designed to deem computer software recognition all but useless.
While Harvey’s innovative and highly original “counter surveillance fashions” are provoking excitement at exhibitions and fashion events and making the headlines in tech publications around the world, it undoubtedly highlights how ubiquitous surveillance drones have become.
Government Use of Drones
In 2012, the first complete assessment of the British spending on unmanned drones, conducted by the advocacy group Drone Wars UK, stated that since 2007 the British government has spent over 2 billion pounds on surveillance drones. The study also revealed that even though the single biggest spend of unarmed surveillance drones having yet to be released, it has so far cost British taxpayers 847 million pounds. (2)
The affinity for a government to employ drones as a means of utilizing domestic surveillance is by no means confined to the United Kingdom. According to the Guardian, over the next 15 years, the US Federal Aviation Administration estimates that more than 20,000 new drones will be established in the skies above America, which will not just be owned by law enforcement agencies, and the military, but also private companies and public health bodies. (1)
Some may argue that such surveillance equipment is necessary and society only has itself to blame. For example, the notorious UK riots of 2011, which sent waves of shock throughout the world at just how powerful and disruptive a discontented mob could be, resulted in authorities stepping up patrols and heightening surveillance throughout the UK.
As disruptive and shocking the 2011 UK riots were, governmental use of unmanned surveillance drones has evoked plenty of concern, namely that people’s privacy was being eroded.
As much as we might despise the prospect of being spied on by drones, such technology looks like it is here to stay, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg states, the battle is already over. In a radio interview, the New York Mayor said that surveillance drones are an inevitable part of our future and compared them to the thousands of cameras already located around Manhattan.
“What’s the difference whether the drone is up in the air or on the building? Bloomberg asked. “We’re going into a different world, uncharted… you can’t keep the tide from coming in.” (3)
Michael Bloomberg might be right about drones becoming an inevitable part of the future and it is exactly this increase in visibility and decrease in privacy that is leading to the emergence of counter-surveillance technology.
Similar to Adam Harvey, Guy Cramer designs items are aimed at concealing people’s identity, and in 2012 made the headlines by claiming to have made a fully-functioning “invisibility cloak” which uses light-bending optical camouflage to make a soldier disappear.
There is some fear that this technology will fall, as Cramer puts it himself, “into the wrong hands”, so only an elite handful of military have been able to see the cloak in action.
Cramer is skeptical about such technology being used commercially.
“It doesn’t matter how good your clothing is, if you’re not masking every part of your body – your hands, your face, your eyes – it’s going to give away your position,” Cramer told the Guardian. (1)
While anti-drone hoodies and invisibility cloaks will undoubtedly liven up the stands at tech exhibitions and make headline news, the plausibility of such items being able to effectively counteract the prying eyes of governmental drones seems unlikely. What is more certain, is the fact that the niche for such products shows just how painfully mistrustful society has become of the government.