Thursday, June 5, 2014


Suddenly, privacy is becoming fashionable again—literally.

Adam Harvey, a Brooklyn photographer and computer software and hardware specialist—whose most recent work explores the impact of surveillance technologies on society—unveiled samples of his new Stealthwear clothing line at today's annual Personal Democracy Forum in New York. The centerpiece of the collection is an anti-drone Burka that uses metallized fabric to reduce one's thermal signature from aerial heat-seeking probes.

"People are more aware today of how they can be tracked and so are interested in learning how they can protect their privacy," said Harvey, who last year opened the Privacy Gift Shop, a pop up store and collaboration with New York's New Museum. Harvey also is working to build a community of artists, designers and hackers and connect them into an online marketplace for counter-surveillance art and privacy products. "People who understand the strategies and technologies being used to track them have a better chance of doing something about it," he says.

Harvey's ultimate goal? "To inspire people to engage with privacy," he told PDF attendees today. One of Harvey's most recent products is the Off Pocket, a phone pouch that uses special metal fabric to shield mobile phones from cellular, wireless and GPS signals.

But that's not all. Since 2010, Harvey has been exploring how fashion can be used as camouflage against facial recognition technology, which the NSA is using as part of its post 9/11 surveillance net. According to 2011 documents obtained from whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA intercepts "millions of facial images per day." Harvey says that "once computer vision programs detect a face, they can extract data about your emotions, age, and identity."

Harvey has formed a research project called CV Dazzle, which grew out of his 2010 master's thesis at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Harvey says he derived the name, Dazzle, from a type of naval camouflage used by the United States Navy in World War I. It  used cubist-inspired designs to break apart the visual continuity of a battleship in order to conceal its orientation and size. Harvey says his Stealthwear is based on the same principle, with the goal of interrupting the visual continuity of one's appearance for the sake of "jumbling" what spyware is intended to see.

"Fashion is about staying one season ahead of the latest trends, and counter-surveillance is about staying one season ahead of the latest surveillance algorithms," Harvey told PDF attendees. "Both rely on models of deception, but surveillance thrives on conformity and fashion thrives on the unique, which can make surveillance difficult."

For more information about Harvey, check out his "Style Tips for Reclaiming Privacy, on his site, here.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photography, top: Courtesy CVDazzle, part of Adam Harvey's anti-surveillance facial recognition line, developed to reduce what is scannable by surveillance machines. Photo, bottom: Twitter photo by @climatebrad of Harvey with some visuals of his anti-surveillance wearables.] 

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