Counter-surveillance device

Wormhole is a counter-surveillance device that emits stimuli to fool surveillance bugs. It was designed as a ‘technology probe’, a probe which combine the social science goal of collecting information about the use and the users of the technology in a real-world setting, the engineering goal of field-testing the technology, and the design goal of inspiring users and designers to think of new kinds of technology to support their needs. Our task was to design and build such a technology probe, which could fool a simple ‘bug’ consisting of an Arduino UNO equipped with light, motion, temperature, vibration, humidity, and sound sensors. Our design is informed by practical as well as conceptual considerations, effectively neutralizing the bug’s threat while also providing a commentary on the ubiquitous technological surveillance in contemporary society.

The bug, which is the target of our design, increases the spatial reach of a human surveillor by facilitating remote data collection. However, ironically, the bug itself, with its limited perceptual capabilities, has a limited concept of ‘space’; the only way ‘space’ or ‘distance’ is understood is by the magnitude of the signal that the bug’s sensors receive. For instance, light loses intensity proportionally with distance, so moving a light source away from the bug’s light sensor would be recorded as a decrease in luminosity. From the bug’s perspective, there is no difference between a decrease in brightness from simply turning a light down, and an increase in distance resulting in the same decrease in brightness.

Hence it is possible to create two environments, varying in their physical dimensions, that are virtually indistinguishable from the bug’s perspective, simply by manipulating the intensity of signals. Our proposal, therefore, is to exploit this limitation in spatial awareness to fool the bug, calling to attention that although the ubiquity of technology can be used to further the scope of surveillance, it also drastically alters the perceptual faculties of this surveillance, thusly affecting the ‘phenomenology of surveillance’ from the perspective of the surveillor.

Our proposal was to construct a five sided box which can be placed over a bug to block out external stimuli. Inside the box, an Arduino YUN with various modules emits signals mimicking those of the outside world to fool the bug’s sensors. Thus, the concept behind the physical design is to fool the bug by recreating stimuli in a smaller enclosed environment, exploiting its limited understanding of space. Externally, the viewer’s perception of space is also manipulated by the reflective sides of the cube. Conceptually, the outside mimics the inside – fooling the perceiver, either the bug internally or a human consumer externally, into receiving signals that suggest a false perception of space. This reflects back on the changing first person perception or phenomenology of surveillance due to technological advance and computational ubiquity.