The age of denial is over. Americans now understand that corporations and governments are spying on most of their activities, online and off, with little regard for privacy agreements, legal jurisdictions, or constitutional rights. Still, most Americans haven’t changed their behaviors to avoid this spying, because the spies have been savvy enough to put their devices of surveillance precisely at those places where people need and want to go. Evading Big Brother is inconvenient.
Are you one of those people who value freedom more than convenience? If so, how far would you go?
Artist Benjamin Grosser has created an extension to Gmail called ScareMail. ScareMail automatically inserts noise into users’ email messages, in an attempt to clog up the National Security Agency’s filters. The extension places stories with “scary” language – keywords linked to potential terrorist plots – at the end of messages.
Of course, these stories may make people who send email with the ScareMail extension appear scary themselves. Is the fear worth it?
What about slathering weird makeup across your face? Artist Jillian Mayer provides a video guide for how to evade detection by surveillance systems that use facial recognition software to track where people go. “We all know that cameras are monitoring us at all times, so I wanted to give you this makeup tutorial as a gift, to teach you how to avoid being facially recognized,” she says. Maybe the tactic works. Maybe it doesn’t. However, the makeup requires a person to transform into a weird, cubist version of themselves.
If you’re not an artist, trying to make a statement about our postmodern relationship to multiple selves stored as deconstructed bytes in a database, could you go about your daily life looking like this?
There’s an important lesson in these artistic reactions to NSA surveillance: Spying doesn’t just watch what we do. It changes who we are. We’re like electrons being trained. The very fact that we’re being observed dramatically limits the trajectories we can take.