CH: In 2013, you launched the Privacy Gift Shop at the New Museum store, featuring a line of products that explore the future of living with surveillance. Will there be a time when there will be more investment in privacy than in surveillance?
AH: It’s possible. Although privacy seems quaint and defensive compared to the impressive and offensive capabilities of surveillance. In the early 1900s camouflage faced a similar challenge. At it’s worst Theodore Roosevelt was rumored to have described camouflage as »a form of effeminate cowardice, a mere defensive strategy that all but announced an unmanly desire to hide instead of fight« (Elias, Ann. Camouflage and its Impact on Australia in WWII: An Art Historian’s Perspective. Salus Journal. Vol 4, No. 1. 2016.). Throughout WWI and WWII the idea that camouflage was somehow unmanly was quickly overshadowed by the catastrophic losses of war. By the end of WWII camouflage had emerged as a sign of intelligence. I think there is a parallel between this story and the challenges that privacy faces today.
CH: Your products also include anti drone fashion or camouflage make up. How would you like to change people’s attittude towards their own privacy?
AH: I would like to show the creative side of privacy, that it’s not only about hiding. Privacy is also about appearing in new ways which is why the overlap with fashion seems natural.
There is a very strong narrative from companies like Google and Facebook that privacy does not exist anymore. Not only is this wrong, it’s beginning to feel as dated and awkward as wearing your trendy wardrobe from a few years ago. Both privacy and countersurveillance, like fashion, are about staying one season ahead of the latest trends. Unfortunately for Facebook and Google, I think the new trend is towards privacy. For fashion this is great news because it opens up many new opportunities for modulating appearance, especially as it relates to computer vision analysis.
»If you live on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram then you are 100% living in a surveillance state. If you live in London and spend all your time on Facebook then you are 200% living in a surveillance state.«
CH: Do we already live in surveillance states?
AH: Probably, but it depends where and how you live. If you live on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram then you are 100% living in a surveillance state. If you live in London and spend all your time on Facebook then you are 200% living in a surveillance state. Elsewhere or offline, the problem is less acute. I understand that telecommunications have changed privacy forever, but there’s a big difference between the attitudes towards privacy in Germany, for example, and in the United States. The lack of regulation on data collection, sharing, and surveillance in the US is astonishingly punitive towards consumers and, ultimately, towards democracy.
CH: What was the reaction on your projects by media and also politics so far?
AH: It’s interesting that several projects have appeared on both left and right wing news sources. But the most interesting is when projects appear in security reports years after first releasing the project. This makes me realize that despite an initial buzz around the release, a project can have a long and lasting impact on discussions, or implications for security.
CH: One of your latest projects, HyperFace, that was first presented at 33c3 in Hamburg, works with false faces printed on textiles to confuse or distract facial recognition software. How will this project be developed further?
AH: My current plans are to release HyperFace as a collection of garments in the fall of 2017. The HyperFace patterns can also be printed as wallpaper and used in more architectural ways. Although there hasn’t been as much interest in this application, I hope to continue experimenting with this idea and to explore the aesthetics of figure and ground relationships in computer vision and architecture.