Technologies of Obfuscation and Resistance

During my studies in privacy and surveillance theory, I’ve gained an interest in technologies of obfuscation and resistance. Especially simple ones that nearly any average citizen can implement.

TrackMeNot is a great example: a simple Firefox extension that periodically issues randomized search queries to popular search engines, thereby hiding users’ actual search trails in a cloud of ‘ghost’ queries, significantly increasing the difficulty of aggregating such data into accurate or identifying user profiles. While it might not fully protect one’s privacy or create a veil of full anonymity, TrackMeNot acts as an expression of resistance, and draws attention to the practice of search query data retention.

I recently came across another example: DIY anti-CCTV glasses: attach infra-red LEDs to a pair of sunglasses, and you become a blur of white light to many CCTV cameras. There’s a great video showing how to do it here.

Commenters at BoingBoing and Schneier have doubted the full efficacy of such a technique, but, as is often the case, technologies of obfuscation and restistence aren’t meant to be 100% fool-proof. Rather, they are meant to tip the balance of power back — even if only somewhat — into the hands of average citizens, and bring attention to the controversal aspects of the growing ubiquity and normalization of everyday surveillance and privacy invasions.

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