Privacy SOS

Camouflage your face to escape the face recognition matrix

Even before the NATO summit began, riot gear clad Chicago police officers raided an activist house, conducted an extensive search and arrested people, all absent a signed warrant from a judge. The department has made clear it intends to "control" protests using tactics new and old, borrowed and blue.

These are the control mechanisms the police are discussing in public. But what about the secret surveillance?

The ACLU of Illinois released a report back in February 2011 showing that Chicago boasts an extensive, technologically advanced surveillance camera network. The system was extremely advanced then; it's likely more powerful now, given the designation of the NATO summit as a "National Special Security Event," and the prominent role played by the Secret Service. From the ACLU's 2011 report:

Many of Chicago’s cameras are highly visible to the general public, like the more than 1,000 cameras with flashing blue lights installed by the Chicago PoliceDepartment. Many others are unmarked or invisible. Under a program known as “Operation Virtual Shield,” all of these public and private cameras are integrated together, and monitored by the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (“OEMC”).
In addition to vast numbers and tight integration, Chicago’s cameras have three powerful and potentially invasive technologies:
  • The cameras have a “pan-tilt-zoom” capacity, meaning operators can increase substantially the size of the captured images.
  • The cameras have a “facial recognition” capacity, meaning a computer can automatically search for a particular person’s face.
  • The cameras have an “automatic tracking” capacity, meaning a computer can automatically track a person or vehicle moving along the public way, jumping from one camera to the next.  

Pretty creepy, so how can you protect yourself from the cameras? One way is to wear a mask, though the police will likely view such an act as provocative. Another, more creative way to avoid the omnipresent eye of Chicago PD's many thousands of cameras is to paint your face. 

Artists and designers have come up with pretty neat ways of tricking face recognition systems so that they cannot identify people. Designer Adam Harvey put together a thesis show on the topic, and offers this advice:

Here are several guidelines to follow when creating your own looks:
1. Avoid enhancers — They amplify key facial features.
2. Partially obscure the nosebridge area — The region where the nose, eyes, and forehead intersect is a key facial feature.
3. Partially obscure the ocular region — The position and darkness of eyes is a key facial feature.
4. Remain inconspicuous — For camouflage to function, it must not be perceived as a mask or disguise.
NB: Wearing masks or disguises can be illegal in some cities, including…in NYC.

He also made the following videos, illustrating how the technology and the trick work:

For more information on this project, and to see some designs that you can paint your face with in order to avoid getting trapped in the face recognition matrix, click herehere and here.

Click here for more information on face recognition and biometrics.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.