Artist devises face mask of his own face, makes many copies, sells them at cost, all to protect the residents of his home city of Chicago from surveillance

When you wear these [“URME Surveillance”] devices the cameras will track me instead of you and your actions in public space will be attributed as mine because it will be me the cameras see. All URME devices have been tested for facial recognition and each properly identifies the wearer of me on facebook, which has some of the most sophisticated facial recognition software around.

Artist Leo Selvaggio of Chicago, IL lives in one of the most surveilled cities in America. I spent only several weeks in the city, but I was utterly spooked. My hometown of New York City is quickly becoming a similar dystopian future.

Rather than sabotage surveillance cameras, which I fully support, by the way, and have wanted to start a campaign around for a while, Selvaggio invites “the viewer to consider the malleability of their own identities by misrepresenting and corrupting” his own:

I have been interested in thinking about identity as data in the face of social media and how this “data” is tied to the larger context of surveillance and its effects on how we perform those identities in public space.

This feels a bit like a remix of that famous penny arcade aphorism:

Normal person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

Of course, Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (more academically known as the online disinhibition effect) has been thoroughly disproven, yet it’s still used as an excuse by companies like Google and Facebook (and, not incidentally, your local police department) to pin your legal identity to every action you take. Danah Boyd rightfully calls the insistence on this identity pinning “an abuse of power” on the part of these companies, but she stops short of accusing the police and the government of doing the same thing, even though they obviously are (which betrays her own bias, but that’s neither here nor there).

Put bluntly, anonymity is not the magical X factor that turns ordinary gold-hearted citizens into Total Fuckwads. Those commenters were already Total Fuckwads.

Given that, I think Selvaggio’s greatest threat comes not from someone “corrupting” his identity, but from The Powers That Be who will make him into a criminal for helping others temporarily abandon their own. The writing is on the wall: helping other people use your own identity online (such as by sharing your HBO password) is in fact already a felony.