Backslash: a toolkit for protesters facing hyper-militarized, surveillance-heavy police


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2015/12/11/backslash-a-toolkit-for-prote.html


#2

Whats missing in the list is the black kajal. Judging by those pictures it seems essential for protesters.


#3

The other thing missing is democracy. We need to make this kit obsolete.


#4

Ironically, their logo is just a tilted version of the Deutsche Bank logo…


#5

Somebody seems to have been dangerously seduced by ‘design’ when planning this one. And, in what will not prove to be a helpful touch, by the same general flavor of ‘design’ that Officer Tacticool shops for.

Given all the other possible shapes and interfaces for a router, say, why carry one that looks like a grenade? Are you looking to make the perfunctory hearing during which your shooting is declared justified even easier than usual? The so-called ‘travel router’ is exactly the same thing; but looks like a cheap, cheerful, ubiquitous consumer electronics toy(because it is) rather than looking like it was designed to not clash with your M-16 or your APC’s upholstery.

The ‘drive’ has the same basic problem: if you want something because you are worried that the cops might seize your camera and/or storage; do you really want your storage to be a cool(but unusual) looking black box, or do you want it to be as small or banal as possible?

5 and 6 seem to suggest some deep conceptual confusion: You are deploying a stenciling system that is useless to anyone without a smartphone and the correct app; but you are also sufficiently nervous about RF tracking that you are carrying a notably-illegal-in-pretty-much-all-jurisdictions jammer into an environment where the cops are just looking for something to charge you with?

If you can’t use its networking capabilities, a phone is a pure liability: lots of unique IDs, untrustworthy baseband and/or firmware, often no removable storage or removable storage that is hard to get to fast enough to pull your SD card before your phone gets grabbed, often contains lots of juicy locally stored data unless it’s a burner just for the occasion. Phone cameras are great for chance encounters, since they are the camera you have; but if you are planning ahead, there is no reason to bring a phone(or if you do bring it, power it up and have it outside of a shielded case) rather than an ‘action cam’ or ‘dashcam’ that will take the same video with none of the RF, and at lower cost(for the truly impecunious, the low end prepaid phones are cheaper than dedicated action-cams, so an under-$20 burner with the RF capabilities physically disabled would be worth considering). Why would you bring yours, or use a message-passing system that forces others to bring theirs?

I realize that this is probably intended to be, in large part, a conversation piece, so the quasi-militarized look is intentional; but it seems as though the actual objectives of a real protester are pretty ill-served in the process. Failure to KISS, deliberately visible and provocative styling of things that you would want(and can get) in either ‘ubiquitous consumer hardware’ or ‘very small and sneaky’ flavors; and a combination of utter dependence on smartphones with a fear of them great enough to bring an excellent excuse to level charges into the picture…

The combination of such heavy style-capture that you’d think you were at a fashion show, the fetishization of technology and equipment without sufficient regard for context, and the part-aspirational-part-dystopian ‘futuristic’ edge remind me a lot of the (now painfully retro) puff video that was generated starting the the late 90’s for the ‘Land Warrior Future Soldier System’.

If you took the people behind that and fed them a slide deck containing the words ‘Globalized’, ‘Social/Mobile’, ‘data-centric’, ‘Millenial’, ‘politicized urban space’ in more or less any order; this is basically what would have happened.


#6

Considering that they aren’t making this stuff available, or even publishing build info, this seems like a rather useless attention-getting project.


#7

Because it’s specifically a provocative piece of performance art – a fact disclosed several times in the OP.

It’s specifically a provocative piece of performance art – a fact disclosed several times in the OP.


#8

I have no problem with that(not that they need my permission); it just seems like a rather barbed irony that the provocative performance art ends up so closely resembling not just the militarized equipment(which I suspect was fully intentional); but the design decisions and aesthetics of military equipment programs that failed, because they succumbed to technophilia and style at the expense of pragmatic assessment of the needs of the intended users as discovered through experience.

Even if it retained the specifically militarized edge, for the purposes of the art piece, I would think that the model for protester gear would be successful cheap-side-of-an-‘asymmetric’-war combatants, and situations where ‘almost as good and a lot cheaper’ or ‘worse is better’ and similar design philosophies carried the day.

I can appreciate the 'military styling because part of the point is “Look at the stuff you have to wear just to peaceably assemble in some semblance of safety”; but when protesters are almost always staring down a more heavily armed force, the fact that you’ve fallen into the style of hubristic technophilia that even military budgets couldn’t make work seems like a conceptual flaw.

(Yes, technically, ‘Land Warrior’ didn’t entirely fail, some of it lives on in GSS/NW; and the XM25 CDTE time-delay grenade and laser rangefinder combo is a derivative of the scrapped OICW; but it mostly dumped a lot of extra weight on the grunts without delivering on the ‘warfighting through visio’ information-centric-etc. stuff)


#9

So? I am not clear how this context explains anything. Does its artistry make it relevant?

I am a multimedia artist, and I can appreciate political/social actions as art. As art, this project strikes me as being superficial. If the “conversation” it inspires is only to consider such things more pragmatically, then that is what I will do.

I think that proliferating counter-police technology makes for better art than merely making poof-of-concepts with a lame aesthetic sensibility.


#10

I want a ham sandwich.


#11

Yes. “Art” is a term that can be applied to pretty much any human handiwork, but when it is used in this sense, it usually implies that the handiwork under consideration was not intended for practical purposes, but to be considered as a sort of exhibit rather than an object in and of itself. (You’ve seen this, I’m sure. Have you seen the sculpture that is an actual pipe labeled similarly? Think about it.)

My fiancee says similar things about abstract impressionism. Frequently, when people see art as superficial, it is because they’re missing the point. “My five year old could draw this,” etc.

I suspect the conversation in question is not just about considering such things more pragmatically, and that this is the part you are missing.

If they tried to actually proliferate the technology*, they would be making a very different statement than the one they made. It would be a different work of art. I don’t see this as being much different from saying: “I don’t like this painting of melted clocks. Dali should have painted melting pruning sheers instead.”

Making something intended for actual use by people in the field would be an overt political statement that people should be using this in the field. Proliferating it would have political implications as well. Is it possible the creators were trying to ask questions rather than to make statements?


#12

One thing I thought about with digital cameras. Having two different slots for SD cards. A regular one and a “secret” one. One you take in and out as normal, and the other requires taking off the shell or access in a non-traditional way.

When a pic is taken it goes to both cards. If confiscated, they take the real card, but the secret card can be accessed later. Also a good back up system for people who might lose or damage a card.


#13

Idea. Leverage the EyeFi/Transcend wifi SD cards. Upload photos as they are taken to a nearby storage.

The Transcend cards have an embedded linux server, and can be very easily rooted (there is a .sh file that can be put to the card root and runs on startup). All sorts of shenanigans are possible with those. Maybe one could be even convinced to run as an accesspoint of its own and be in a camera, and the other one with a small battery hidden in e.g. a shoe? (Other way, with backup card’s AP in the shoe, would be liable to detection by being visible as an accesspoint nearby the shoe. This way only the camera one is visible, and the camera is seen anyway.) Metadata stripping can be done during the data exfiltration.

For the phones, no need for jammers. A phone case from a metal or a sufficiently conductive plastic, with hole for the camera lens, will do the job well enough. Measure the attenuation after making it, to be sure.

There are those little cameras in keychains or “spy pens”. These could be leveraged, either as-is, or by taking apart and transplanting their guts into something else.

For an actual counterattack, a helium (or hydrogen) balloon carrying a police radio jammer could be quite annoying. Requires low-wind weather, or tethering. Short-term operation doesn’t require big battery, saving weight and cost.

And there are more possibilities but I am too sleepy now.

Edit: Also, in addition to active objects masked as innocent ones, use (by other personnel) innocent objects that bait attention - these will eat the adversary’s resources and, if reported, cause embarrassment (“police overreacts at a tactical bottle opener”).

Also, possibility to use wires or embedded conductive fibers/strips in clothing for assisting with relaying the wireless signal from the camera to the shoe (a passive reradiating antenna - one antenna near the shoe, one near the camera (in a sleeve), connection in between via thin coax or flat stripline/microstrip), to increase survivability in EM-hostile environment (jammers, or just too many people using the 2.4GHz ISM band at once). Would require quite some testing, and somebody skilled in the ghost-ridden area known as microwave engineering.


#14

Of course, I grew up with Duchamp. I disagree with the suggestion that art somehow makes for an exclusive perspective for interpreting anything, It is a valid perspective, but only one among many. Also, those who perceive it are not beholden to the intentions of the artist, not obliged to take their statements of intention at face value. For example, I have been billed in concerts as being a musician, despite never having claimed to be one myself. That I don’t consider my audio work to be music makes little difference to those who assume that it is. In this case, I feel no need to let the creator’s remarks about their work determine how I perceive it.

It could be just as easily that I disagree or disregard their point, as to assume that I must have missed it. Despite their presumed intentions not interesting me, I still have opinions.

Statements - not unlike beauty - exist in the perceptive faculties of the beholder. There are any number of ways to interpret them. This is why the same realization can indeed be many different works of art, depending upon who experiences it. I chose to interpret it as more situationist/performance than industrial design, and mentally critiqued it according top those criteria.

Why would assume this to be the case? Was Dali suggesting that people should melt watches? And why would one assume that political statements cannot be made as art? Even subjugating a police force can be done with aesthetic nuance.

I think it’s basically the same thing. When people are thinking, even the most concrete of statements functions mainly to inspire more questions. Statements are ephemeral cognitive scaffolding.


#15

I’m pretty sure I never claimed otherwise.

That is a valid perspective, but only one among many.

You made an inference about the intent of the piece. I think it’s reasonable at that point to assume you have some interest in determining the intent of the piece. If you now claim that you have no interest in doing so, then I can only conclude that you’ve changed your mind somewhere in the course of our dialog.

Sure, but even if you disagree or disregard the point, does that imply that it is a “useless attention-getting project”?

I used to get called a music snob. I eventually realized this is because I was prone to saying stuff like “this music sucks.” I stopped being called a music snob as soon as I switched to this sort of phrasing: “I’m not really into this music.”

If you’re not the audience, then you’re not the audience. But when the initial statement seems to be that the thing has no value to anybody, I have to ask if you’ve actually done any thinking about it. “I’m not interested in the point this piece is making” is a very different sort of claim from “this piece has no point at all”.

Umm, I obviously disagree.

“We should fight the police!” <–statement

“Should we fight the police?” <-- question

Quite clearly have distinct meanings.


#16

Once these exist, six months later, the cops and other LEO types will know to look for both cards.


#17

The aesthetics appear to be derived from Cyberpunk genre of the 80s-90s. A genre of a fictional dystopian near-future with such features as extreme income inequality, highly-militarized and violent police who operated above the law, and an underclass who, with enough high tech, could sometimes survive to struggle another day.

As art, its aesthetics strike me as a signal to consider the state of the current real world compared/contrasted to those fictional dystopias in light of the fact that these things now actually exist and are needed by people.


#18

And would the devilled ham be to Sirs liking?


#19

they do sell wifi enabled cards, that will wifi photos/videos to a device of your choosing like a wifi enabled ssd drive or smart phone.

so you can wifi the photos and videos to a device that then sends them to secure offsite backup.

(edit: just saw @shaddack posted something very similar. should have read all the comments first. :slight_smile: )


#20