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Fashion that counters surveillance cameras


AS TOP designers wrapped up London Fashion Week and made their way to Paris to grab the world's attention with their lavish creations, a group of artists in London were making their own fashion statement - in a bid to become invisible.

Members of "The Dazzle Club" walked around the King's Cross neighbourhood in the British capital last week with bold blue, red and black stripes painted across their faces in an effort to escape and confuse facial-recognition cameras.

"We're hiding in plain sight," one of them said, adding that the bright colours and dark shades of make-up are known to hamper a camera's ability to accurately recognise faces.

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Computers have become adept at identifying people in recent years, unlocking a myriad of applications for facial recognition, from tracking criminals to counting truants. But as cameras appear at unlikely spots across the globe, activists raise fears about lost privacy and say society might be on the doorstep of a dystopia where Big Brother sees all.

Altering people's looks to cheat cameras has become increasingly popular with artists and designers in recent years, as the use of facial recognition has grown more pervasive, raising fears over privacy, said fashion experts. From sunglasses to face masks, numerous wearable devices promising a veil of anonymity are making their way into the mainstream, said Henry Navarro Delgado, an art and fashion professor at Canada's Ryerson University.

"There has always been something subversive about streetwear, and one of the new areas of subversion is definitely surveillance and, in particular, facial recognition," he added.

The Dazzle Club's monthly decorative walks take place in different parts of London to raise awareness about the growing use of facial-recognition technology in public spaces.

Last month, Britain's data protection watchdog launched an investigation into the use of surveillance cameras by a property developer in the King's Cross area.

The revelation that the cameras were capturing and analysing images of people who passed through the site - without their permission - triggered a public backlash and led to the start of the Dazzle Club walks.

In a statement released in September, developer Argent said it had turned off the software, and had been using the technology "only to help the (police) prevent and detect crime in the neighbourhood".

The bright face paint club members wore was pioneered by US artist Adam Harvey in 2010 for an art project called CV Dazzle. The project's name is a nod to a camouflage technique first used in World War One, when British ships were painted in zig-zag patterns to stop German U-boats from being able to tell their size or the way they were heading.

In 2016, he doubled up with a "decoy" textile pattern featuring stylised faces that caused face detectors to register false hits. Some online clothing stores have since printed the pattern onto clothing to sell. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION