Here’s How To Protect Yourself from the NSA by Looking Completely Ridiculous

Photo: Nadine Ajaka

Nothing sells a product like fear, whether the threat is real or imagined. This is probably why an entire cottage industry has sprung up over the past year aimed at making a buck off skittish hipsters convinced the NSA is watching their every move. What would lead them, or anyone else, to believe this has of course been the hyped-up reporting of Glenn Greenwald and the often outlandish statements of his one and only source, Edward Snowden. This isn’t to say that the disclosure that there is in fact an NSA and it does in fact engage in both domestic and foreign spying isn’t legitimate and can’t be worrisome when you understand some of the details. But irresponsibly claiming that the NSA is watching everything we do serves no purpose other than to incite irrational fear and in turn exploit that fear in the name of fame and fortune.

The concept behind “CV dazzle” has actually been around for a few years, but with the coming together of the Alex Jones Right and the Snowden/Greenwald Left into one giant pop culture meme it’s now getting a second look. And that’s what you’ll be getting if you follow the CV dazzle strategy: a second look from everyone you run into, followed by a third and a fourth, followed by laughter or a quick move to the sidewalk opposite yours. What you won’t be getting, though, supposedly, is your identity lit up like a Christmas tree in some NSA computer somewhere. This is because computer vision dazzle, which is really nothing more than a form of altering your appearance through specific makeup design and hair placement, reportedly fools facial recognition software.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 5.46.51 PM

Put simply, CV dazzle makes you look ridiculous. Like ridiculous to the point where unless you’re either at a post-punk revival show or you’re a citizen of The Capitol, you’re going to stand out in a crowd. Sure, the spy computers may have a hard time spotting you, but everybody looking in your direction and pointing at you would probably be a dead giveaway that something is up. The Atlantic‘s tech writer Robinson Meyer wrote a piece a couple of days ago in which he documented wearing the geometrically shaped makeup designs out in public in the streets of Washington, DC and the reactions he got. He says he was forced to explain to a lot of people that while he was interested in the soundness of the claims made by CV dazzle’s creator, Adam Harvey, and is legitimately concerned with NSA overreach, the whole thing was really just an experiment. But it was one that left Meyer with quite a few questions about the potential side-effects of slathering odd-looking makeup all over your face, seemingly for no reason. Not as a fashion statement. Not with any specific purpose that’s immediately clear.

One evening when I was wearing the dazzle, I was struck by a wave of throat-tightening nausea. I held onto a lamppost for support. Men in powder-blue dress shirts and women in pencil skirts passed on both sides. The entire scene did its best impression of the surreal, time-lapse movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, and I wondered: If I became sick—really sick—on the street would anyone help me? Or had the dazzle effectively opted me out of that? By making myself look strange, had I placed myself beyond the public trust?

Notice my assumption here: In the event of injury or illness, some kind Samaritan will inevitably emerge from the anonymous urban public and ensure my safety. This is not even an assumption but an actual experience: On two separate occasions during the past year, an asthma attack and a bad bicycle injury sent me to the sidewalk, and both times strangers stopped on their way and made sure I was fine.

This is partly, I think, because of who I am. I’m a white 20-something male, and (in t-shirt and shorts or button-down and pants) I look and dress the way society expects me to look and dress. Walking on the street, I don’t fret about getting stopped-and-frisked or assaulted.

Dazzle made me squeamish about not my safety—I was worried that the markings on my face would set me off as so “other” as to be beyond help, or to be pranking or play-acting my distress. It made me impossibly noticeable.

The fact that Robinson Meyer is a 20-something white male makes him really the perfect person to test out CV dazzle, since it’s tough to imagine any other demographic being so concerned that they’re important enough to be tracked by the NSA that they would actually walk around in public in urban camouflage designed to thwart its or anyone else’s surveillance. The narcissism here is just staggering and it’s worth mentioning that it must be fantastic to live a life so free from real threats that phantoms — phantoms that you believe are targeting you specifically — are all you have to worry about. That’s the very nature of paranoia, particularly this newly minted brand of bullshit first world paranoia Snowden and Alex Jones are peddling. Wearing CV dazzle makeup and hairstyles, or wearing a baseball cap that supposedly blinds cameras to you, or carrying a cell phone sleeve that claims to prevent the NSA from tapping your phone and recording you, is really nothing more than donning a modern tinfoil hat.

By the way, when I say that Snowden is peddling some of this kind of stuff I mean it literally. During his most recent internet appearances from Moscow he’s slyly lent his seal-of-approval to several brands of anti-surveillance software, using his newfound notoriety to cast himself as an online security expert and pitchman. It’s a slight variation on the business model First Look Media has adopted, with one side of the company running as a non-profit and publishing Greenwald’s terrifying sky-is-falling stories about how the government is watching you at all times and the other side selling you privacy software and tools, presumably to help you cure the disease it’s just warned you is in the air and everywhere. It’s an “exit through the gift shop” approach to journalism.

Because, again, nothing sells a product like fear.

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  • j hentai

    it reminds me of the story (probably an urban myth) of the northern irish bank robbers who thought that lemon juice would foil security cameras. everything went well until they started to sweat under the stress. police arrested two blind robbers shortly after!

  • CygnusX1isaHole

    Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report

    Interviews with dozens of leading journalists and attorneys found that U.S. government overreach is eroding critically important freedoms

    The impunity with which the American government spies on journalists and attorneys is undermining the American people’s ability to hold their leaders accountable, thus threatening the core of our democracy, charged a joint report published Monday by two leading rights organizations.

    The report—With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy, published by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch—draws from extensive interviews with dozens of top journalists, lawyers and senior government officials. What the authors found is that recent revelations of widespread government surveillance have forced many professionals to alter or abandon work related to “matters of great public concern.”

    Unedited: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/07/28/government-surveillance-threatens-journalism-law-and-thus-democracy-report

    • Jason

      We never really see this crew comment directly about issues like this.

  • Ashes Defacto

    It should have been obvious a long time ago that the people behind the whole internet paranoia industry don’t have any respect for the people who follow them, left or right.

    Someone somewhere must be getting a big laugh about convincing people to go out in public looking like that.

  • formerlywhatithink

    Narcissism + stoked paranoia = profit.

    Something Greenwald/Snowden have in common with the NRA.

  • dbtheonly

    Myers’ questions goes back to the punk days. My answer is that if you’re going to dress to “piss off the power structure”; you can’t be surprised when the power structure is pissed off.

    Chez,

    ” Snowden is peddling some of this kind of stuff I mean it literally.”

    Okay. But what else is the guy supposed to do with his time? How is he going to earn a buck? Celebrity Spokesman to the paranoid seems the only job available & I assume Russian Sanctuary doesn’t come cheap.

    • condew

      I thought Snowden had a regular job working for the Russian version of Facebook.

      • dbtheonly

        Thanks.

        Though I find it hard to believe that anyone would trust Snowdon around any confidential information.

  • Tort Master

    Since when did 20-something white males become such toddlers? Asthma attacks, falling off of bikes and makeup-fainting never used to be so commonplace.

    I really like your writing, Chez, but when you write, “… and the Snowden/Greenwald Left ….”, don’t. By the way, the mighty men of yesteryear could go a whole playoff series wearing face paint:

    Elaine: Alright, you almost ready? Cause Jerry and Kramer are gonna be here any second.

    [Puddy enters wearing a Devils’ jersey and red and green paint all over his face.]

    Elaine: What the–

    Puddy: So what do you think?

    Elaine: What is that?

    Puddy: I painted my face.

    Elaine (still in disbelief): You painted your face?

    Puddy: Yeah.

    Elaine: Why?

    Puddy: You know, support the team.

    Elaine: Well, you can’t walk around like that.

    Puddy: Why not?

    Elaine: Because it’s insane?

  • Mike Lumisch

    Since when is Snowden/Greenwald on the Left?

    Sure the hysterical ninnies of the Daily Kos suck up that spooge with a straw, but they are not exactly intellectual giants nor are they known for their ideological coherence.

    • Tort Master

      Haha! I didn’t see your comment until after posting my comment above. We think alike. Sorry. Get help.

    • Richard_thunderbay

      Though Greenwald pretends not to be (being overt about might reduce page clicks), Snowden is a libertarian, a Ron Paul supporter to be more specific.

      • RocketRaccoon

        Greenwald is actually quite open about being a paultard.

        He goes to conventions with Rand Paul’s campaign staffers. He writes insanely long articles defending both Ron and Rand from progressive attacks.

        He was the very first interview on the new Ron Paul tv channel.

        The problem is both Greenwald and his fellow ratfucker libertarian followers think everyone is stupid…and will twist themselves in to knots trying to convince people that GG isn’t a Paul style libertarian.

        I remember back when it was revealed that Ron Paul was such a giant homophobe that he wouldn’t even use the same bathroom as a gay man.

        Greenwald (gay himself) twisted himself inside out trying to explain why he didn’t care. And shouted everyone down with a big FUCK YOU.

        And a gratuitous…Obama-lover.

        • Jason

          You are so simplistic in your perspective that it is almost cute. Almost

    • Jim Maris

      Snowden is most definitely not on the left, he’s a pretty solid libertarian.

      Greenwald on the other hand, supports a few things that the libertarians oppose, like having a social safety net. Plus almost all of his non-Paul endorsements have gone to Democrats. But when you read his Salon piece where he discusses his reasons for endorsing these people, it’s clear that he only cares about their stances on Israel and how much they share his revulsion for the NSA and surveillance. Quite frankly I think he only does it because no libertarian is popular enough to have a shot at winning a seat, so he picked the next best choices.

      Of course in most other nations supporting a basic social safety net and endorsing members of a center-left party is not enough to consider someone a leftist But unfortunately here in America he’s considered fairly progressive when compared to the Republican loons.

  • condew

    Paranoia is profitable; a $630 cell phone said to block NSA sold out “its entire first production run”.

    http://fedscoop.com/paranoid-talkers-rejoice-blackphone-finally-ships/

    But if you drop one of those in the basket at the airport, doesn’t it just shout to TSA that you are somebody who should be given that extra-special body search?

    • Tort Master

      The $630-NSA-blocking cellphone is a pretty obvious FBI sting. The salesmen are all forty-year-old guys with mustaches and short hair. Even the backdoors in its software has backdoors.

  • Razib_Taif1

    Sorry, but contemporary image recognition algorithms cut right through this. I’ve worked on one for private industry that can identify you with an uncanny degree of accuracy with any epidermis showing. It turns out we are walking biometric turkey shoots.

  • feloniousgrammar

    Get. A. Job.

  • Truth Hertz

    Is it just me, or is that Bryce’s doppleganger in that photo above?

  • CL Nicholson

    Creating a disease and providing the cure? Isn’t this the plot of the movie adaptation of “A Scanner Darkly ” (which ironically has a guest spot from Alex Jones)? For the neophyte, the plot twist is that government backed rehabilitation clinics were the main suppliers of Substance D that got Keanu Reeves strung out.

    And for those who don’t know, the author Philip K. Dick (whose short story was the basis of Blade Runner) is also a proto dude bro, a brilliant but troubled drug addled neurotic whose fear of surveillance would make an ex Black Panther to tell him to relax.

    Oh dude bros, paranoid to the parody.

    • nevilleross

      Actually, the basis for Blade Runner is the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

      • CL Nicholson

        Nerdy semantic. Duly noted.

        • nevilleross

          No problem.

    • feloniousgrammar

      He writes great stories. Hitchock was also a ball of roiling fear. It’s nice that they found a forum for their paranoia.

  • Jason E

    Just add big floppy shoes and a red foam nose and no one can spot you.

  • http://dadorq.tumblr.com/ Da Dorq

    And here, I always thought The Misfits was just an 80s punk band with crazy hair and makeup, but I guess those guys were actually counter-espionage visionaries and beacons of personal privacy and identity protection. Thanks, Glenn Danzig!

    http://www.roadrunnerrecords.co.uk/media/QmdWC-3SinRJ0U45ggla1zOHq5VPmGpPreDFtAxfZNAD17p7qtxMBktv0E9KL3mg.jpg

    • Aaron Litz

      That’s exactly what I was thinking; devil locks are supposed to block facial recognition software? Huh.

  • JMAshby

    This is even better than those special pants that mask radio signals. You know, so Big Brother can’t remotely activate the microphone on the phone in your pocket and listen to you fart.

    • kate perry

      Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the>>CLICK FINENCIAL REPORT FOR MORE INFO AND HELP