Yesterday at the launch of Biometrics 2014 in London, Isabelle Moeller, chief executive of the Biometrics Institute, came onstage wearing a rather unusual face mask.
With a lace-style finish, the mask covered most of her face, finishing in a point some 10cm beyond her head. She described it as a piece of head jewellery designed with the sole purpose of protecting her identity, bought from an unnamed designer at a wearables event.
“I started wondering if people will start wearing these kinds of headpieces and jewellery in order to protect their identity,” she said, a comment that was met with amused giggles from the assembled biometrics and surveillance experts.
However, as the day continued, her point seemed increasingly valid.
Biometrics 2014, a highly regarded event in its 17th year, is by no means encouraging Big Brother to rise up. The speakers are focused on improving the field and refining technologies to weed out errors, and there is impressive work being done on many different aspects.
Yet there is much in the field to make non-experts concerned. Dr Itier Dror of the University of London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, for example, brilliantly demonstrated how operators of biometrics systems can unintentionally introduce bias into technologies we think of as incorruptible, such as the leading fingerprinting system AFIS (automated fingerprint identification system).
Possible new recognition systems were also highlighted. Dr Maja Pantic, professor of affective and behavioural computing at Imperial College London, explained how our range of facial expressions are so unique that they too could be used as a form of biometric identification, in the same way iris scans and fingerprints are.
With so many developing and emerging ways to identify us, and an increasing range of surveillance options to boot, there is naturally growing concern that surveillance is getting too good, and many of us are starting to long for the ability to move around untracked.
Could, then, face masks such as the one worn by Moeller really become a viable part of future fashion?
A number of organisations have started developing high fashion-style anti-surveillance wear, as well as more technologically-focused designs and DIY-centric users can take matters into their own hands using online guides. Dazzle makeup designed to prevent facial recognition from surveillance cameras is also gaining prominence.
The trend does not just extend to head wear – a growing range of clothing designed to protect our identity is also emerging, such as the Stealth Wear range designed by Adam Harvey.
For now, however, the trend is still very much on the fringes, and it will undoubtedly be some time before it has any chance of gaining prominence.
Mainstream anti-surveillance fashion would require the perfect storm of increased privacy concerns, adoption by celebrities and other high-profile individuals and the inclusion in collections by leading fashion houses.
This is all likely to be prompted by how visible future surveillance is. If it remains quiet and largely unseen, or at least unnoticed, most people will undoubtedly spend little time worrying. However, if it becomes more visible, such as through increased drone use and police body cameras, then anti-surveillance fashion may become a serious prospect.