Artist Helps You Become Him With The URME Mask

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Artist Leo Selvaggio wants you to be him. Not completely – that’s impossible – but as a commentary on surveillance technology, Selvaggio has created something called URME, a mask that replicates his face and will essentially fool facial recognition systems into believing he is everywhere. It’s like a Guy Fawkes mask, only it’s Leo Selvs.

Selvaggio has created a Indiegogo campaign which is already fully funded (he only wanted $1,000). More importantly, though, he’s making an interesting point about the ubiquity of surveillance and how powerful the machines are that track us. While his claim of “military grade” facial recognition is a bit farcical – the military has approximately the same stuff that’s available to the consumer, although they just have more money to get it right – I could imagine protestors creating masks of a famous person or politician to make a point.

He writes:

I have researched several of the strategies out there and there are two major themes. You can either hide your face by wearing something like a ski mask, which looks very suspicious or you can destroy private or public property vis-a-vis security cameras. URME offers a different way. With facial recognition technology being widely used now a days, rather than try to hide or obscure one’s face from the camera, these devices allow you to present a different, alternative identity to the camera, my own. When you wear these devices the cameras will track me instead of you and your actions in public space will be attributed as mine because it will be me the cameras see. All URME devices have been tested for facial recognition and each properly identifies the wearer of me on facebook, which has some of the most sophisticated facial recognition software around.

Striking back against surveillance is probably hopeless by now. Cameras are, to be clear, everywhere, and most can’t be seen. If I were a paranoid type I’d estimate that 95% of our movements are recorded in most public areas, especially in buildings and airports. However I cannot with a straight face say that authorities have any idea what they’re doing with this data and that. Government is a bureaucracy, an organization with all the peccadilloes and fiefdoms of corporate America and staffed by people who can’t be fired. That this sort of organization can come together to find one face in a crowd and track it through multiple jurisdictions is ludicrous on a human level but trivial on a technical one.

What Leo is really doing here is allowing us to have the option of not ending up in that ineptly run database. That’s what I’m really afraid of. I’m afraid of the Kafka-esque situation of being the guy everyone is after because some bad SQL query changed my last name. That, in the end, is what we should all fear: the banality of government IT.