NEW METHODS OF DECEPTION
A response to the era of widespread facial recognition technology and high-tech surveillance; Designer Rus Brockman and AR designer Ben Ferns have developed a micro-zine to help navigate an age of 'total surveillance' and the collection of data by the way of biometrics and other technologies in our Digital Age; reassuring us that it's not too late to rebel or opt out.
Words & Interview by Rebecca U
What is the primary purpose of ‘New Methods Of Deception’? Should I feel invincible? Should I feel comforted? or Should I feel fear?
That depends on your perspective. A touch point for the original work was Rus' idea of 'a manual for paranoiacs and dissidents'. It’s implied that only the fringes of society would want to deconstruct their lives in an attempt to subvert these systems, which may or may not have the powers described, and were apparently created for the good of all. The intent was to create a manual for counter-surveillance from a speculative future where cameras, microphones, sensors and storage were so ubiquitous and cheap almost everything was captured. This wasn't just a concept of CCTV, but of us observing and recording each other intentionally and unintentionally as part of our everyday lives. The other key element was the concept of an ability to process this data and extract patterns, and what capacities a future state-scale entity would have based on that predictive ability. The document itself would be a compilation of techniques used on the fringes of society, copied, edited and handed on. I did assume we would reach this point in terms of surveillance capability, but not at this speed and with such a lack of political discourse. Despite the current capabilities of surveillance technology, phone-call metadata is still considered cutting edge in news and legislatures.
An element of each emotional state. The project was based around a narrative of figures at the periphery of society, a catalog or primer of the techniques to deflect and obfuscate systems and surveillance with a combination of low-tech and hi-tech methodologies. We imagine these marginal figures as a mix of social outcast and revolutionary, of Luddite and Hacke, reading low-tech paper manuals whilst employing an array of technological apparatus. Today the public is now at least dimly aware of the breadth and depth of the state's powerful surveillance apparatus to render the world visible. However, when we were developing this project in 2010, advances in AI, mass data mining and general knowledge about surveillance tech’s development were at a nascent level, so we were projecting into an era of ubiquitous surveillance and capture that has now been to a very real extent; achieved.
Cyber crimes have become more sophisticated with the rapid emergence of cyber criminals, government surveillance, hack attacks from nation states and the application of technology to nearly all aspects of life. Becoming a Neo-Luddite to avoid being compromised, is this the best path for humanity? Do you foresee a major rise of modern-day Luddites?
RB: One of the major inspirations for this project was the conspiracy and survivalist zines printed in the early-mid 90’s. These magazines/fanzines published by mail order small presses like the USA’s Paladin Press, were very strange DIY documents. Printed and very often traded on, they covered a diverse range of topics from building underground shelters, to becoming a private eye, to surviving WW; they were hastily written, filled with typo’s and rough sketched, direct insight into the writers often fevered mind. There was a strong libertarian and often times a Luddite sensibility at work in these documents, informed by a desire to be free from government interference; to live off the grid. The anarchic underground spirit of these publications was something that we really wanted to channel in the work. While I don’t see an emergence of a neo-Luddite philosophy gaining traction as a mass cultural movement; it’s an increasingly difficult and onerous lifestyle choice, can see the emergence of a new kind of post-internet tribalism. What will be interesting about these new tribal forms and it’s relationship to technology is to see if it manifest as an introspective force.
Luddism isn't necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. I can see situations where people would want to opt into Luddism; a leisure space for overly-observed figures, guaranteed to be free from any kind of digital recordings, or a period of time when a group disconnects from the net prior to an organised protest. There are already isolated groups e.g. (bombing of nanotechnology labs in Mexico) http://www.nature.com/news/nanotechnology-armed-resistance-1.11287 It’s hard to gauge whether those ideas will catch on in broader cultures explicitly due to surveillance technology. There will likely be a growing ‘disease’ with technological progress as a whole though, as automation and AI begin to remake the world within people's lifetimes and become a manifestation of change itself.
Aside from worrying about privacy issues, we (society) should increase our awareness and concern about disruptive technology developed in secrecy, I feel this will cause so much unaccountable chaos. What do you have to say about tech developed in secrecy?
BF: The people closest to these types of projects that can still talk about them (research academics and tech company executives) have been trying to raise the alarm for a while now. Technology has given individual humans greater and greater abilities over time, and unless there is a shift in some underlying truth, it seems like that will continue. Drawing that out, you get to the stage where smaller and smaller groups of people can destroy civilisation (we are currently at the state level, with nuclear weapons). Later, you can imagine small groups of people able to destroy humanity through misguided intentions who say 'Oops'. The argument against secrecy is that the rest of the world can draw a line on what is 'acceptable' knowledge to pursue. Unfortunately, I think that's a relatively naive view of human nature.
RB: Malicious weaponized tech employed in cyber-attacks, we face more obscure existential threats. The development of AI and the enormity of the effects that could be wrought by a truly artificial intelligence seems immens, they defy comprehension. The idea of nations been caught in an AI arms race, developing the projects in secret, in a dash to achieve geopolitical pre-eminence seems a very real possibility with potentially dire consequences to civilization. On a more immediate level, tech that is a daily part of our lives, has the potential to cause tremendous chaos. A society whose consensus of idea and civics are imagined solely through their online engagements seems to be leading to an increase rather than reduction in tribal identities, and I think we are only beginning to understand how the internet can reflect and expand upon the faultlines and fractures present in our culture(s).
‘New Methods Of Deception’ presents innovative ways to live with big data and surveillance. Will the rapid improvement of surveillance and big data technology render some of these methods redundant?
This project (the earlier version of ‘New Methods of Deception’) was conceived and completed in 2010. This is really an updated time capsule of our conception of surveillance technology as we imagined it into the near future from that point. he ability to collect, store data and mine it effectively has increased dramatically beyond the scope we envisioned. The cumulative impact of these developments seems poised to create an environment where the act of ‘active’ disappearance may itself become an impossibility, rendering everything in ‘New Methods of Deception’ redundant.
Undoubtedly. When we worked on the earlier version of NMOD (‘New Methods of Deception’) some of the surveillance systems we described were in the research lab, and some didn't exist yet. Unlike software exploits used over the internet though, these require physical presence, hence the very real risk to being discovered. A hacker can probe software safely at home to find a security hole, then go and try the attack on a real server; if caught they can disconnect and leave nothing but an IP address that goes nowhere. To find reliable methods in NMOD would put individuals and organisations at risk, so you would expect the ensuing arms-race to be very one-sided compared to internet exploits. The techniques with the most longevity are ones based on human behavior—becoming part of a group the state has no interest in, or acts erratically.
While I was reading through NMOD, I imagined a scene of ordinary looking people living amongst a community of individuals walking lopsidedly, wearing irregular makeup, teeth overlays, body padding and odd sized shoes; Am I imagining the near future?
BF: It’s one of the more visually evocative ideas in the manual; the explosion of creativity needed to totally transform appearances and behaviour so they're wildly outside norms. It’s an avenue that’s open, especially as part of an explicit rejection of surveillance by young people or out-groups. However, the easier routes involve using communities that society already mostly ignores; the homeless, addicts, untouchable castes, minor religious sects etc.
RB:The performative aspect of avoiding surveillance is something that really appealed to us. As new subcultures form and gain momentum, even something as seemingly outlandish as the visuals described above could become a reality but it would need a critical mass of people to adopt it to work in the kind of surveillance masking role we were describing.
Can you foresee an increase in ready-to-wear fashion and beauty brands adopting anti-surveillance designs and methods?
BF: If this does happen, it will likely come from an evolution of consumer choices rather than explicit design. In the early 2000's there were designers creating elaborate anti-CCTV fashion/wearables involving patterns or LEDs. In the end, the hoodie proliferated as a low-cost, adaptable way of disarming CCTV for school kids and spies alike.
RB: I think the business model of fashion and our desires as consumers are rooted in quite traditional aesthetic choices, ones that are tweaked and refined rather than revolutionary; we can see this with the slow adoption of wearables. Without a doubt, the hoody and lately the face mask (Occupy, Antifa) remain the current fashion solution to maintain anonymity.
Surveillance implementation does not stop at local government and law informants, but could also be carried out by opponents, stalkers, and by people that simply have a problem with you. Easy accessibility to this kind of technology means that anyone can be your enemy. Do you sympathize with people who fall victim to unwanted surveillance, data mining and/or cyber-crimes?
RB: The array of surveillance technology that can be deployed against the individual by another is staggering, simultaneously the skill barrier and costs needed to implement are falling, making it far more easier for even lone actors to deploy. Our desires to take advantage of the benefits of connectivity are in conflict with our notions of privacy and individual agency, so it’s hard not to feel sympathy.
BF: Absolutely. The depth and breadth of what is possible now is already almost beyond anyone's capacity to understand it as a whole, especially when considering the future implications of data collected today. Like most technologies, we make it to meet our desires, then it gradually remakes us in unforeseen ways.
Passwords or fingerprint locks?
BF: You can change a password. You can forget a password.
RB: I listened to a podcast recently with a cryptologist and security analyst who uses only physical backups for passwords and cycles to new ones routinely. Interesting that someone in that profession uses such analogue methods.