Why protests are becoming increasingly faceless

Why protests are becoming increasingly faceless

August 25, 2019 Off By administrator

Contributors Zoe Sottile, CNN

On a humid Sunday night in Hong Kong’s financial district, hundreds of young people ready themselves for the latest protest.

Some wear flimsy medical masks and swimming goggles, others heavy-duty respirators and protective glasses. All are covering their faces to protect themselves not only from police tear gas — but also to obscure their identities.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists are concerned about being identified by authorities and prosecuted. Since mass demonstrations kicked off in June, roughly 700 people have been arrested, many for unlawful assembly.
This weekend, demonstrators attempted to tear down or dismantle some of the city’s 50 newly-installed so-called “smart lamp posts” — which have cameras and sensors — in a protest against perceived government surveillance. The Hong Kong government said the lamp posts, which are intended to track data such as air quality and traffic flow, are not equipped with facial recognition software and “would not infringe upon personal privacy.”

But Hong Kong’s protesters aren’t the only ones worried about protecting their identities.

Activists, designers and artists around the world are inventing creative ways to avoid detection.

As state surveillance becomes more advanced — and widely used — wearable technology has been proposed as a way to thwart monitoring systems.

A protester wearing a mask during anti-government protests, which began in response to a proposed extradition law, in Tai Po, Hong Kong, on August 10, 2019. Credit: Miguel Candela/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Fighting technology with technology

After witnessing police brutality at protests in his native Brazil in 2013, United States-based designer Pedro Oliveira began researching how authorities around the world deploy technology against demonstrators.

In some countries, there were internet black outs. In others, widespread censorship.

Hoping to raise awareness about the tactics authorities were using against protesters, Oliveira and fellow designer Xuedi Chen created a slick-looking protest kit as part of their art and design project, Backslash.
It includes a “smart” bandana that serves to simultaneously conceal the wearer’s identity, while communicating messages between protesters through a computer-generated pattern that can only be read by a custom app.
A woman wears Backslash's smart bandana. According to the concept's designers, different messages can be unlocked depending on which way the bandana is folded.

A woman wears Backslash’s smart bandana. According to the concept’s designers, different messages can be unlocked depending on which way the bandana is folded. Credit: Backslash.cc

The kit also features a wearable device that alerts fellow demonstrators to the presence of police, and a stencil that creates graffiti “tags” — readable only by an app — to inform protesters when an area is under surveillance.

But the kits are not for sale. Instead, Oliveira and Chen hoped to start a dialogue about what they see as an increasing power imbalance between authorities and demonstrators.

“We didn’t feel that these should be offered to protesters as a…

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