Privacy Advisor

Privacy in Popular Culture: Dressing To Beat Big Brother

July 23, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

Sitting in the closing “Quiz Show” session at the IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium a couple of months back, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian got a bit of a laugh with her call for “privacy glasses,” or other “Star Trek”-like privacy technology to defeat Google Glass and other wearable computing technologies that might make covert surveillance omnipresent.

You can see her remarks here:

But, of course, such a thing already exists. Check out these babies:

While not exactly a force field, the visor is the brainchild of Japanese professors Isao Echizen, of The National Institute of Informatics, and Seiichi Gohshi, of Kogakuin University. Essentially, they’ve taken your average plastic goggles and equipped them with “a near-infrared light source that appends noise to photographed images without affecting human visibility.”

All that and stylish, too!

They’re hardly the last word in wearable privacy technology, though. Adam Harvey has created all manner of “Stealth Wear,” which he unveiled this January. I’ll let these folks model the Anti-Drone Hoodie:

 

This Anti-Drone Burqa ain’t bad either:

Harvey even has privacy-enhancing accessories, like the OFF Pocket, a bag for your phone that blocks all signals so you don’t have to worry about turning your phone off to avoid tracking (which is sort of a hassle). It should be widely available shortly, according Harvey’s web site.

And what budding starlet won’t want the “Anti-Paparazzi Clutch”? It’s a handbag that doubles as a high-intensity LED flash to flout all those photographers trying to grab a shot of you stumbling drunk out of the club:

 

Surely Commissioner Cavoukian already has dibs on the prototype, when it’s ready. Perhaps she’s already modeling Harvey’s suggestions for make-up, which make the modern gal invisible to facial detection software:

The Personal Cyber Protection Institute (PCP) takes all of this to its logical extension: “user-controlled privacy habitats.” Like Harvey, the PCP’s Project Stealth proposes a clothing line that creates Faraday cages for the blocking of unwanted outside signals. Unfortunately, so far they’ve only got another phone bag for public consumption, and Harvey’s is a lot sharper, actually, but I’m certainly looking forward to a catwalk performance per this description:

“Coats, pants or pockets can shield and control the transmission of digital radio frequencies. Such smart clothing allows the wearer to protect and hide devices … if a device is wrapped into the faraday pockets of smart clothing, the user is "invisible" for service providers: no more GPS tracking, WiFi, mobile services or NFC (near feld communication). Shielded users do not leave any traces of data. At the same time the devices are also invisible to potential attackers. Project Stealth smart clothing will provide privacy and security on demand.”

Perhaps cargo pants will come back into style! However, I must say the PCP Institute makes a good point about medical devices needing some shielding. Imagine the blackmail potential for someone with the ability to hack a pacemaker or insulin drip! I’ll wear a burqa if necessary to prevent that kind of vulnerability.

Unfortunately, the ironic thing about all of these suggestions for privacy wear, whether artistic point-making or serious suggestion, is that they serve to separate the wearer from the crowd and draw attention in a way that no one seriously concerned about privacy would ever be interested in. Any advocate of hiding in plain sight will tell you that the best way to remain anonymous is just to blend in with everyone else.

Then again, anyone really interested in covert surveillance would never wear Google Glass. Who would ever say anything interesting in front of someone wearing an obvious recording device?

Maybe, in the end, both privacy-enhancing clothing and surveillance-enhancing devices will serve the same purpose. They’ll make the wearers such outcasts that no one would be interested in what they’re up to anyway.

Well, except for the NSA. They’re always interested, right?

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
The Privacy (and Security) Pro in the White House
Harris To Step Down at CDT, Looks To Continue Global Growth, Legislative Progress
First PCLOB Meeting’s Ideas for USA PATRIOT Act; FISA Improvements May Affect Interaction with Private Industry
The Future of Data Dealer Is in the Balance