Smile, you’re on Countermanded Camera

IDPS : Miquel Mora
Image from Miquel Mora’s website

We’ve looked before at a number of technologies and products aimed at ‘preventing’ photography and image recording in some way, from censoring photographs of ‘copyrighted content’ and banknotes, to Georgia Tech’s CCD-flooding system.

Usually these systems are about locking out the public, or removing freedoms in some way (a lot of organisations seem to fear photography), but a few ‘fightback’ devices have been produced, aiming to empower the individual against others (e.g. Hewlett-Packard’s ‘paparazzi-proof’ camera) or against authority (e.g. the Backflash system intended to render a car number plate unreadable when photographed by a speed camera). The field of sousveillance – lots of interesting articles by Régine Debatty here – is also a ‘fightback’ in a parallel vein.

Taking the fightback idea further, into the realms of everyware, Miquel Mora’s IDentity Protection System, shown last month at the RCA’s Great Exhibition (many thanks to Katrin Svabo Bech for the tip-off), aims to offer the individual a way to control how his or her image is recorded – again, Régine from We Make Money Not Art:

With IDPS (IDentity Protection System), interaction designer Miquel Mora is proposing a new way to protect our visual identity from the invasion of ubiquitous surveillance cameras. He had a heap of green stickers that could stick to your jacket. Or anywhere else. The sticker blurred your image on the video screen.

“With the IDPS project I wanted to sparkle [sic.] debate about all the issues related to identity privacy,” explains Miquel. “Make people think about how our society has become a complete surveillance machine. Our identities have already been stored as data in many servers ready to be tracked. And our self image is our last resort. So we really need tools to protect our privacy. We need tools that can allow us to hide or reveal our visual image. We must have the control over it.”

“For example in one scenario a girl is wearing a tooth jewellery with IDPS technology embedded. So when she smiles she reveals it and it triggers the camera to protect her. With IDPS users can always feel comfortable, knowing that with a simple gesture like smiling, they are in control. The IDPS technology could be embedded in all kind of items, from simple badges to clothes or jewellery. For the working prototype I’m using Processing to track the stickers and pixelate the image around when it founds one.”

IDPS : Miquel Mora
Image from Miquel Mora’s website

While the use of stickers or similar tags (why not RFID?) which can be embedded in items such as jewellery is a very neat idea aesthetically, I am not sure what economic/legal incentive would drive CCTV operators or manufacturers to include something such as IDPS in their systems and respect the wishes of users. CCTV operators generally do not want anyone to be able to exclude him or herself from being monitored and recorded, whether that’s by wearing a hoodie or a smart black hat with maroon ribbon. Or indeed a veil of some kind.

Something which actively fought back against unwanted CCTV or other surveillance intrusion, such as reversing the Georgia Tech system in some way (e.g. detecting the CCD of a digital security camera, and sending a laser to blind it temporarily, or perhaps some kind of UV strobe) would perhaps be more likely to ‘succeed’, although I’m not sure how legal it would be. Still, with RCA-quality interaction designers homing in on these kinds of issues, I think we’re going to see some very interesting concepts and solutions in the years ahead…


  1. Pingback: University Update - Georgia Tech - Smile, you’re on Countermanded Camera

  2. Ian Kemmish

    So where is this celebrated “unwanted” CCTV camera? I’ve seen thousands in my life, but never that particular famous one. I guess I shouldn’t complain though, as from the publicity it gets, it seems that every crook on the planet is clustered around it, and that’s preferable to having them clustered around me….

  3. It’s bad enough when some digital cameras deliberately deny the ability to operate without making a ‘shutter sound’ to alert others that a photo has been taken, e.g. gallery invigilators.

    I think the modern obsession with owning and controlling one’s images despite publication is akin to the superstition that cameras steal one’s soul.

    But, this time the superstition is not borne by the irrational fear of the individual, but by the irrational fear of the corporation (and corporatised celebrities) that it is a valuable asset of IP to be protected, and a vulnerability to be denied to potential exploiters.

    If it’s public, it belongs to the public.
    If you want to keep it from the public, then keep it private.

    You can’t have it both ways, to give it to the public and yet keep it private. There is no technological solution. This is a law of nature.

    • Yeah,

      You are 100% right. If it’s public, it belongs to the public. They can’t use it both ways.

  4. The sousveillance article you link to is interesting. There’s definitely a good point about technology allowing surveillance to be a two-way street.

    The author gives “How’s My Driving?” signs as an example of sousveillance. The problem I have with these is the class dimension – they ask the working class to provide surveillance of another member of the wroking class, for the benefit of bosses. You never see “How’s My Managing?” stickers 😉

  5. What I want to know is why my post of Jul 10th is still awaiting moderation – nay, why on earth it has been determined that it needs to await moderation!

    Either all comments should be delayed a day or so, or none should (with spam being weeded out post-publication).

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation” is a politically charged statement goddammit!

    Moderate this.

  6. freedom to tinker does that too, and worse, it sometimes just “disappears” perfectly legitimate comments. Even ones with no links in the body, and which therefore can’t possibly be link spam.

  7. Dan

    My apologies, Crosbie. This blog is currently often getting over 200 spam comments a day, and I’m fairly sure the experience for readers is better if I don’t weed these out post-publication.

    But sometimes legitimate comments are mis-identified by the anti-spam software. I’m now running both Akismet and Spam Karma 2, and it was Spam Karma 2 which judged that your earlier comment was spam:

    …based mainly on the ‘Javascript disabled’ criterion (your second comment passed this test – ‘Valid Javacript Payload’) Of course, this is stupid if this is the sole criterion, but the aim I think is to weigh up a number of factors (the so-called ‘Anubis’ process). Given the unreliability of the outcome in this case, I will try disabling the Javascript test and see if the filtering is still as good.

    I know “None of” has been annoyed in the past by the apparently capricious spam-judging criteria of the plugins I use on this blog. I think in his case it was some kind of IP-blacklisting, in combination with repeated commenting (which is what many of us would do if we thought our comment hadn’t been received), which tipped Anubis’ scales the wrong way. The IP-blacklisting occasionally causes problems – for example, a (perfectly legitimate) trackback from a blog hosted on Microsoft’s Live service was reported as spam the other day, based on ‘’ being a blacklisted address.

    When a successfully posted comment subsequently disappears, as has happened a few times in error on this blog, it is because of a retro-classification as spam, based on subsequent behaviour (in the spam-filter’s view) of that IP address. So say I post an innoccuous comment, which gets let through, and then, from the same IP address, later post a spam comment, my earlier comment may well (in time) be treated as spam too.

    The filters pretty much have to work this way – about half the spam comments this blog gets are things like “Nice blog, this is a really interesting site, I will tell all my friends”, which all contain a unique identifier: bots/people mainly (from the server logs) in China and Pakistan then search for those unique identifiers to see which blogs have allowed the comments to be posted (and thus do not ‘know’ that they are spammers) and then, having identified that vulnerability, start the mass spamming with actual spam about Cialis, Mortgages, Payday loans and German teens.

    But again, I apologise, and as I say, I will try disabling the Javascript test and see what difference that makes.

  8. It’s all part of my cunning plan to get put on a whitelist…

    It’s interesting to discover that I can write Javascript without even realising it.

    Anyway, there are hidden costs to these architectures of unintelligent editorial control when applied to comments and their authors.

    How about a linguistic catpcha? I like the one they use on

    “Prove you are human by retyping the anti-spam code. For example if the code is unodosthreefour, type 1234 in the textbox below.”

    An easy thing you can fix is to make it clear whether a comment has been held for moderation because of a human decision or a ‘comment spam’ detection algorithm.

  9. I’m fairly sure that on all blogs that do it, “held for moderation” is an automated decision. The human decision is whether to toss or keep the comment that was held for moderation.

  10. None of 2, you may be sure, but I’m not. Until a blogger makes it clear that a message arises from an algorithmic analysis as opposed to human appraisal, I assume the latter (especially when the message doesn’t indicate otherwise). As far as I was concerned Dan the blogger, or one of his many administrative staff, decided that my post was a wee bit too racy and could cause offence, and thus either required a tadette of moderation or needed special permission to be published unedited.

    I think it’s a dreadful situation when we have to assume that all moderation decisions are made by computer.

  11. Pingback: Techy-Feely » links for 2007-07-17

  12. […] Normalising paranoia at fulminate // Architectures of Control a catalogue accompanying a specially printed newspaper designed to be used with rose-tinted spectacles: Feeling brave? Read the paper as usual. Feeling fragile? The spectacles block out bad news stories which are printed in the same hue as the lenses so i Camera Silens Regine 7/28/2007 4:52:29 AM Camera Silens (1994) is an installation for one user at a time a completely sealed-off chamber equipped with a dentist’s chair and a closed-circuit surveillance system. The work refers to a research project at the university clinic in Hamburg Eppendorf, which was suspended in 1973 due to outraged public discussions. Psychiatrist Jan Gross and his colleague Peter Kempe had set up 3 years earlier a “Camera Silens”, an anechoic and nearly soundproof chamber, to conduct investigations of the effect of “social isolation and sensory deprivation” on both healthy test persons and patients at the psychiatric hospital under conditions of total separation from natural surroundings (as wikipedia says [citation needed]). Artists Olaf Arndt and Rob Moonen copied this “Camera Silens” to refer to experiments involving the complete control of the human consciousness.
    by gsub_spamCarma_1186990996[…]

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