Despite objections from privacy advocates and many everyday citizens, surveillance technology such as facial recognition AI is appearing more and more in modern life. The market is booming—by 2026, the surveillance tech market will reach over $200 billion, despite being less than half that size in 2020. New products designed to collect personal data and track physical movements will likely keep popping up until meaningful legislation or public pushback causes companies to slow their roll. And that’s where people like Mac Pierce enter the picture.
Pierce, an artist whose work critically engages with weaponized emerging technologies, recently unveiled their latest ingenious project—an everyday hoodie retrofitted to include an array of infrared (IR) LEDs that, when activated, blinds any nearby night vision security cameras. Using mostly off-the-shelf components like LumiLED lights, an Adafruit microcontroller, and silicone wire, as well as we software Pierce that made open-source for interested DIYers, the privacy-boosting “Camera Shy Hoodie” is designed to enable citizens to safely engage in civic protests and demonstrations. Or, wearers can just simply opt-out of being tracked by unknown third-parties while walking down the street.
[Related: Police are paying for AI to analyze body cam audio for ‘professionalism’.]
Although unnoticeable to human eyes, the garment’s infrared additions wreak havoc on surveillance cameras that utilize the light spectrum to see in evening darkness. Emitting the flashing infrared bursts from the hoodie will force nearby cameras’ auto exposure to try correcting for the brightness, thus obscuring a wearers’ face in a bright, pulsating light.
Speaking with Motherboard on Monday, Pierce argued, “surveillance technology has gotten to such a point where it’s so powerful and so pervasive. And it’s only now that we’re realizing, ‘Maybe we don’t want this stuff to be as powerful as it is.’” Projects like the Camera Shy Hoodie—alongside Piece’s earlier, simplified “Opt Out Cap”—are meant to simultaneously bring attention to the issues of privacy and authority, while also providing creative workarounds to everyday, frequently problematic surveillance tools, he says.
Pierce has made all the designs, plans, and specifications for their hoodie hack available for free on their website. Unfortunately, the project isn’t cheap—all told, the work would set makers back around $200—but anyone interested in a Camera Shy Hoodie to call their own can also sign up to be notified by Pierce when custom kits are available for purchase.
Meanwhile, there are a number of interesting (and cheaper) clothing options in the vein of Piece’s Camera Shy Hoodie, including an apparel line meant to confuse license plate scanning traffic cameras, and facial recognition-obscuring makeup techniques.