January 10, 2006

Surveillance with a Bang!


How long is it until guns are mounted on surveillance cameras? Scott Kildall recently created an installation called Gun Control that examines just that.

Gun Control is an electromechanical installation, which explores underlying issues of both security and surveillance. Each of the four units incorporates a police-issue revolver and a small video camera. As people move into the installation space, the cameras track the movement and the guns follow.

However, the technology is imperfect. The cameras do not always function properly. The revolvers point at different targets. They sometimes twirl about playfully. The armatures shake and rattle. We are directly in the line of fire. This piece raises questions about our security-surveillance apparatus by prompting a visceral reaction.

[ Link via we-make-money-not-art ]

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December 21, 2005

Scottland Ban on Baseball Hats and Hoodies


Shops in Paisley, Scottland are now banning people wearing hoodies or baseball hats. Why? Because people who hide their faces are aparently deviants, and if you're trying to avoid surveillance, you're probably a criminal.

[Stelios Haji-Ioannou] has put a similar ban in place in his cafes in Glasgow and Edinburgh, claiming the headgear is linked with "deviant" behaviour.

Paisley Town Centre Management Group has backed the ban as a means of tackling shoplifting, which is viewed as a major problem in the town.

Aparently there are also bans in internet cafes, schools, and malls. This is a really creepy trend, especially with facial recognition adoption growing with surveillance.

[ Link via we-make-money-not-art ]

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December 06, 2005

Spyeye Disposable Security Camera


The Spyeye is a portable and disposable security camera designed for military operations. It can be mounted on a variety of surfaces to quickly to keep an eye out.

This sounds like the kind of thing one might want for the next time you go on a bank heist or go 24 on the local terrorist organization.
Once the Spyeye has been attached, the universal joint design enables the user to aim the camera at the area to be monitored.

Police or special forces entering a hostile area may deploy Spyeyes in key locations to monitor enemy activity. Spyeyes are small (slightly bigger than a ping-pong ball) and light weight (less than 50 grams) which make them easy to transport.

The Spyeye is battery operated and uses wireless communication to transmit images to a receiving monitor. Spyeyes are inexpensive so they can be treated as disposable units and can be deployed in a wide range of circumstances without the user having to be concerned about retrieving the units after use.

[ Link via del ]

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September 19, 2005

Blinding Surveillance Cameras

A friend of mine was just telling me about a wearable device that Steve Mann made to try to prevent surveillance cameras from photographing him, and coincidently, there's a CNet article on a similar project with the same goal:

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have come up with an inexpensive way to prevent digital cameras and digital video cameras from capturing that secret shot.

The technology they've devised detects the presence of a digital camera up to 33 feet away and can then shoot a targeted beam of light at the lens, according to Shwetak Patel, a grad student at the university and one of the lead researchers on the project.

I know their approach is more than slightly flawed, but oh how the tables are turning...

[ Link via /. ]

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September 13, 2005

Steve Mann Interview: Domewear and Sousveillance


I recently interviewed Cyborg, Steve Mann regarding the CFP conference, Domewear , and "Maybe Cameras". Mann's work revolves primarly around cameras, and inverse surveillance, or in his words, "Sousveillance", and wearable computing. To see more pictures from the CFP conference, like the one above, check out Mann's photo album. I wish I could have been there to see what it was like to have hundreds of maybecameras around everywhere.

You recently distributed 500 identical domewear units for ACM (Association of Computing Machinery)'s CFP conference. What was the reaction of attendees?

The actual streaming of live video from some of the units created an interesting reaction, especially one of curiosity as to which of the domes were transmitting. In a way this reversed the Panopticon model from one of never knowing whether or not we are being watched, to one of never knowing whether or not we were doing the watching.
What other kinds of domewear units have you made?
I designed and built a number of various kinds of maybecameras, Steve Mann, ``"Reflectionism" and "Diffusionism": New Tactics for Deconstructing the Video Surveillance Superhighway'' Volume 31, Issue 2 / April 1998, pp 93-102, as well as in Steve Mann, ``Existential Technology'', Leonardo 36(1), 2003, pp19-26 (The second paper was given the 2004 Leonardo Award for Excellence).

Do you have any plans for DIY domewear or maybecameras?

Mann and Family wearing "Maybecamera" Sweatshirts
The first article (above), Leonardo Volume 31, Issue 2 / April 1998, pp 93-102 describes some simple instructions for people to make their own maybecameras.

A number of people have successfully followed these directions for making the systems. For example, Dr. Stefanos Pantagis, a physician in New York, built 25 of them and gave them out to artists, such as blind poets, in New York, as a further extension of "Shooting Blind" projects.

What kinds of experiences have you and your students had while wearing domewear units?

There have been a wide variety of experiences. You can interpret the experiences on a couple of different levels. On a 20th century "us-versus-them" level, "What's good for the goose is good for the gangster", and collective sousveillance helps to strike a balance with collective surveillance. In a more "Howard Rheingold" kind of perspective, we're all just working together to reduce crime. One day a person may be a cab driver putting his or her passengers under surveillance, but the next day that same person may be a passenger in somebody else's cab. So we drift back and forth in our various roles as surveillers and the surveilled. Therefore we likewise drift back and forth in our roles as sousveillers and the sousveilled. In this sense the experiences we've had may either be read as balanced, or as cooperative. You can read about my experiences in more detail in the popular culture book "Cyborg...".

Do people generally recognize the devices, or do you find yourself explaining what they are?

It's amazing how people are so blind to surveillance, it's like the domes are invisible. Because they're so ubiquitous, people don't see them. Sometimes I put a TV screen or other video display on the clothing, so people see their own reflection on TV and that gets quite a stronger sense of Reflectionism. The TV acts like a mirror like what you see at the entrance to a shop or mall where they hang a TV from the ceiling with a "no shoplifting" sign. With the TV, no explanation is required.

To purchase Domewear units yourself, visit the EXISTech store. I also highly recommend Steve Mann's book, "Cyborg..." if you are interested in this kind of work.

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December 08, 2004

The Shift from Guns to Cameras

Coats_Bags_03gif.gifThere's been this interesting trend of surveillance where guns are being replaced with cameras, and our favorite cyborg surveillance artist has some interesting thoughts on the subject:

'In today's world, the hand gun has a lesser role to play. Wars are fought with information, and we live in a world in which the appearance of thugs and bandits is not ubiquitous. While there is some crime, we spend most of our lives living in relative peace. However, surveillance and mass media have become the new instruments of social control. Department stores are protected with security cameras rather than by owners keeping a shotgun under the counter or hiring armed guards to provide a visible deterrent. While some department stores in rough neighbourhoods may have armed guards, there has been a paradigm shift where we see less guns and more surveillance cameras.' [Defn. of "Wearable Computer", Steve Mann]

As I've said before, check out the Photographer's Bust Card. Many people think there is some kind of legislation that requires that you get their permission to take photos of them, which is pretty silly when you look around at all the surveillance cameras everywhere, but knowing your rights as a photographer is important, and just like the ACLU bust card, it's worth printing up and putting in your wallet.

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July 28, 2004

Open Access Cameras

Open access cameras are the beginning of a truely transparent society. Seems that DNC cops are doing that with unsecured 802.11b cameras, but probably unintentionally. It may be an oversight, but personally I'm all for open access cameras so that power of information is not consolidated solely to the government.

[Link via boingboing]

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Surveillance Society

Surveillance in our society is becoming more and more pervallant. I've been thinking about doing a side art project for Burning Man involving mock surveillance, which may not get a good reception from participants. It's interesting because, Burning Man used to be an almost refuge from normal society by people with creative careers. The idea that pictures may escape the event is a controversial idea, but it is generally accepted that pictures will be posted on participant websites.

But despite our regular society getting more and more transparent and locked down in terms of technology, you just don't see surveillance cameras at Burning Man. In fact when I saw a dark sphere looking down on me, I automatically assumed it was for protection of "The Embassy's" satellite uplink from yahoos. As it turned out, the camera was just for recording the event's climax with the burning of the man, as one of the Embassy techies showed me by grabbing a nearby joystick.

And there are other projects which involve cameras on the playa, such as Folding Time, which is described as "A Timewave Panorama of Burning Man Showing the Rise and Fall of Black Rock City". Even so, I think transparency at Burning Man is something many are experiencing and reacting to by building more private camps and less willing to talk to "strangers". Donalde Davis wrote this in his conclusion of Burning Man 2003 (last year):

"When I first went to Burning man in 1997 the event was half its current size and you could do anything you liked with impunity so long as it didn't involve guns, explosives, and non art cars. There were no arrests that year, the police serving as a constructive rather than a harassment influence and no greedy gun toting BLM goons peering into private areas.

Of course now long gone are the days one could safely light up a pipeful of Cannabis or urinate out in the emptiness. A web of surveillance using night vision equipment provided nearly as little privacy, even out in the open, as in a prison yard.

This years Burning man festival was in my observation a fabulous thing to experience, undoubtedly continuing to send out cultural 'echoes' as more people realize what fun such a thing can be. There is more talk of regional similar events springing up. Perhaps at such smaller burns the initial freedoms will be enjoyed until they too grow large enough to attract the attention of the cops and especially those BLM swine. Inevitably with enough people involved things have to be reigned in a bit to keep folks from getting killed. Such concerns as well as the headaches of grappling with federal agencies and groups hostile to the event have confronted the Burning man organization over recent years."

Which is why I'm pretty sure people would tear down my artwork if I made a non functional sculpture like this:

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