Is there such a thing as privacy in the digital age? When one considers the sheer volume of personal information we display and archive on social media, the simplicity with which a determined hacker (or government) can find their way into our phones and the ubiquity of surveillance cameras in our towns and cities, it is easy to think that we are careening towards a future where every moment in our lives is a matter of public record.
There are those who don’t see the harm in this. ‘If you’re not doing anything wrong,’ their argument goes, ‘then you have nothing to worry about.’
Leo Selvaggio is not one of those people. The Chicago-based artist has just launched an Indiegogo campaign that aims to allow you to walk through the street without having your identity recorded by those pesky cameras.
The URME Surveillance Identity Prosthetic is a 3D printed mask that has been created using a scan of Selvaggio’s own features. Crafted using thatsmyface.com and printed in resin with stereolithography, Selvaggio’s fake fizog has realistic skin tone, texture and hair.
With this little baby strapped to your face you can stride the streets in confidence, knowing that the nosey powers-that-be won’t be able to pick you out from the crowd, while the mask’s realism will allow you to blend in without alarming other members of the public.
Also part of Selvaggio’s campaign is a simpler, cut-out-and-wear paper mask and the URME Video Facial Encryptor, open sourced software that protects the media you share online from being distributed without your permission using facial encryption.
While, inarguably, the URME Surveillance Identity Prosthetic is practical, one does wonder about whether or not the whole thing isn’t a little…well… creepy. Say the mask proves popular. Could you imagine walking down a busy street where every pedestrian has the same indistinguishable face, their sunken, hollow eyes unblinking, their features locked in an identical ghostly, detached expression? Wouldn’t it be sort of like that bit in Being John Malkovich, when the titular actor enters his own mind, only to find himself trapped in a nightmarish surreality where everybody he meets bears a mirror image of his own countenance? Is that really an enviable alternative to the surveillance-happy world we now inhabit?
And what of the artist? Surely Selvaggio must feel a tad peculiar about the prospect of every member of the general public going about their daily business looking exactly like him. Actually, no. In fact he seems pretty excited about the whole thing. Just take a look at the bonkers campaign video below:
To be fair, the artist’s intention seems as much a protest against the increasingly fragile nature of privacy then to turn the world into some narcissistic Halloween party where everybody has to show up dressed like him. As his project page explains:
URME Surveillance isn’t just about anti-surveillance devices. At its core is an instigation towards public discourse and a platform for community development through our common concern over surveillance.
Well, it certainly has got us talking. If you fancy getting involved in the campaign, pop over to the project page here. For a pledge of $400 (about 240 quid), you can get your very own camera dodging replica of Leo Selvaggio’s mush, signed by the man himself. And remember, as sci-fi novelist Jim Butcher once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.”