We all have those days when we just want to cover our faces and disappear into anonymity. Usually sunglasses and a scarf are the best we can do but now there’s a new prosthetic mask that gives wearers a completely new digital identity to combat surveillance. The rubber mask, created by Leo Selvaggio as part of an anti-surveillance project called URME, consists of a remarkably accurate scan of Selvaggio’s face. The artist, currently a postgraduate student at Columbia College Chicago, tells Metro why the public needs to fight for its privacy.
Are you trying to start an anarchist-style revolution?
[Laughs] I don’t know about a revolution. I think what I’m interested in is promoting the idea of civic duty. I don’t condone violence or crime but I do hope it inspires us to rally together.
I take it the movie “V for Vendetta” has some influence on your mask?
Absolutely. I wasn’t consciously trying to mimic it but subconsciously I imagine it had an influence. I love that movie; I have seen it seven times. V for Vendetta-style masks are nothing new — people have been using masks to assume different identities since tribal times.
Do you feel like Chicago and other large cities are under Orwellian-style surveillance?
It is and it has the potential to extend its reach. One of the things that makes Chicago’s surveillance so interesting is not the amount of cameras but rather the fact that the city has the leading fiber optic network in the United States. All of the surveilled information is being routed into one network called Virtual Shield.
You must have huge concerns that criminal gangs are going to use the mask in illicit activities. Is it really worth the risk?
I do, I absolutely have concerns. I realize the potential that I may be associated with a crime that I didn’t commit. But this has already happened. One criminal robbed six banks wearing a rubber latex prosthetic that made him appear as an African-American male. He purchased it from a Hollywood mask company that specializes in detailed masks and got away with it to a degree. It was only because his girlfriend turned him in that he was caught. But prior to that a black man was arrested and accused of robbing these banks. I certainly don’t want to go to jail but I think it’s worth the risk if I can create a platform that promotes discourse amongst the public. We’re at a precipice with privacy — and what’s at stake is the freedom of our identities.
Have you had many orders from large protest groups?
I haven’t been directly contacted by any protest groups per se, but I know that some of the donations that came via the Indiegogo page were from people connected to with those kind of activities.