So you’ve covered up your laptop camera, switched to the anonymous web browser Tor, and removed your cell phone battery to thwart tracking — and you’re still vulnerable to the prying eyes of Big Brother and friends (hackers, technology companies, the NSA, and anyone else interested in your personal data). What’s a 21st-century privacy seeker to do?
In response to ubiquitous surveillance, Marcha Schagen and Leon Baauw, aka Dutch design duo KOVR — pronounced “cover,” derived from the Esperanto — created a line of bags and jackets that protect wearers’ data.
The project started when Schagen, a fashion designer and performance artist, and Baauw, a research-based designer, began studying surveillance systems in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. They discovered some systems were more visible than others. “Everyone knows about CCTV, but the majority of the people aren’t aware, for instance, of the microphones in trams that can record your conversations,” Baauw told Hyperallergic.
While doing this research, we learned about the NFC and RFID chips that are already in everyday products — like our Dutch public transport cards, bank cards, and passports. They can even be found in clothing labels. These very small chips contain information that can be really valuable to others and are fairly easy to skim, trace or hack. With the use of a smartphone, it was possible to read all personal information on the chip of an ID card, even containing a high resolution color photograph where the normal printed one is in black and white.
Over the course of a year, to launch what they call a “wearable countermovement,” the pair designed a metalliferous fabric, composed of layered nickel, copper, and polyester, that blocks every in- and outgoing signal. “It’s based on the principles of the Faraday cage,” Schagen said. The fabric soon turned into prototypes of sci-fi-chic, anti-surveillance coats and bags. When your cell phone and wallet are tucked into the pockets, it’s impossible for outside parties to access your information. These lightweight, rainproof garments also have special pockets for phones made of signal-penetrable fabric, in case you want to be reachable (and trackable).
Style-wise, the shiny, silver coats are reminiscent of Freedom of Choice-era Devo garb and/or slimming couture hazmat suits. For extra privacy, the coat’s big hood can be zipped over your face, so “you’re completely shut off from your surroundings,” Schagen said.
The idea of wearing an anti-surveillance jacket might sound a bit paranoid — until you remember that the NSA has full access to your dick pics. And in the apocalyptic event of a Trump-ruled police state, such designs could prove crucial for the future of free expression. “We believe that this kind of fashion is already commonplace,” the designers said. “We wear clothes to protect us from the cold, firefighters and race car drivers wear heat protective outfits and soldiers have bulletproof uniforms. Clothing has always been there to protect us — this is doing the same, just from a modern day threat.”
The products are currently in prototype stages, but KOVR has just launched a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of bringing them to market.