The Modern protester believes connectivity is a basic human right.
The future of technology in protest looks dark. The hyper-militarization of law enforcement has become widespread as global governments attempt to suppress dissent and monitor their citizens. There is a huge disparity between the amount of technologies used by the authorities and the technologies available to protesters and activists during protests and riots.
Backslash explores the colorful global culture of dissent and challenges the role of technology in protests of the future. The project critically examines current parameters to expose the imbalance, implant questions and start a conversation about the tense relationship between technology and protest.
In future protests, how will the underground fight back?
The Kit - Survival gear for future protestors
The Backslash kit is a collection of functional devices designed and built to facilitate safe and effective communication in areas of conflict.
Could we develop devices to help activists communicate during a network blackout or to aid protesters in avoiding conflict with the authorities? The Backslash kit is a collection of fully functional devices that explores existing and accessible technology in novel and unconventional ways. They stand to provide a strong argument for the necessary debate about the role of technology in protests.
The kit includes a range of devices developed after extensive research of diverse protest conditions around the world: A fast deployment router, a wearable that can notify others blocks before entering a conflict area, or a way to keep your phone from being track and identified. This is just the start.
Embed Messages in Patterns
Scenario: Today, young Iranian activists still face life time prison sentences for talking to Western journalists during protests following Iran’s 2009 elections. Maybe in the future, with a custom app, they would be able to send a message to others inside the protest, or perhaps through a photo to a journalist at the New York Times.
This smart bandana is developed using a computer-generated pattern inspired by the traditional kaffiyeh, an important symbol of activism. With this bandana, protesters are able to preserve their identity while embedding hidden messages in it. Unlike QR codes, messages are not stored in the pattern itself. The pattern provides an extra layer of authentication, a tracker, a way to unlock the message. Different messages can be unlocked depending on the way you fold the bandana.
Scenario: A common practice used by Police is called bottlenecking where they block off certain streets and force the flow of protesters to a point of conflict. In these restricted areas, protesters are beaten and arrested.
This network-independent wearable device can notify others blocks before entering a certain area if it’s under conflict. When a person presses their panic button, other devices that comes within 10 to 15 block radius will vibrate and blink to let people know they are entering an unsafe area or to find a safer route. This wearable works independently, with no need for a paired cellphone, making it ideal for third world countries where number of smartphones are still low.
Scenario: Local off line networks are not new to protests. We’ve seen mesh networks in many colors and flavors used in past protests, Firechat being the most recent.
The Backslash router is one that is tailor made for fast deployment in emergency situations. With the quick pull of a strap, someone can launch a node for an offline network, which can allow localized communication even during internet and cellular blackouts. Additionally, when used in combination with the Backslash network of wearables, protesters have the ability to plot areas of conflict accurately on a map.
Scenario: In modern protests, the majority of photos and videos are user generated, sourced from protesters who consider themselves a new independent media. They show us brutal acts of law enforcement and document historical events from the inside. The power of these images is a threat, which leads to cameras being confiscated or broken.
This wifi enabled storage device allows you and others around to upload photos and videos anonymously, without metadata, to a personal cloud. Your personal blackbox for protests keeps a backup of the vital data so that abuses can be documented even if something happens to your phone or camera.
Embed Messages in Tags
Scenario: Warchalking was an activity initiated in 2002, which involved marking down wifi hotspots in public spaces.
Inspired by this act, the stencils were created. Expanding on the CV technology used for the bandana, the stencils are used to mark notable activities in urban environments. The tags are read by an app, warning people to turn off their wifi and bluetooth and advertising the fact that the area is under surveillance or a possible use of Stingray.
Scenario: Smartphone owners have become easy targets during protests. The government In Sochi collected information from activists and civilians near protests areas. The information collected through wifi antennas and scanners were later used by the state to track them down. There has also been talks about possible implementations of killswitchs that would allow cellphones to be turned off remotely by authorities.
This short-range personal jammer was created to block all outside communications to the phone while still allowing the user to access their camera and features without worrying about their personal information being collected and used against them.
Disclaimer: Jammer was developed and tested in an academic environment for academic purpose.
Backslash highlights current socio-political tensions to provoke and inspire creativity and innovation in the community.
Political, social and cultural landscapes vary immensely from country to country. Not all the protests look like Hong-Kong, where the average protester had at least 3 personal devices connected to the internet. A one-size-fits-all solution to these dynamic situations is irrational and impractical. Alternately, we believe Backslash is the starting point for local design and maker communities to collectively reinvent the technological culture in protests.
Backslash is not created with a political agenda nor is it a call to action. Instead, it is design to provoke thought, to spark debate and design that can empower the individual to better their community.