Join the Electronic Frontier Foundation, io9, and a coalition of fan groups over Labor Day weekend for Project Secret Identity, a cosplay photo campaign to raise awareness of how online anonymity and privacy are key to free expression. Visit ProjectSecretIdentity.org during Dragon Con (Aug. 29 – Sept. 1) to participate online or visit us on the second floor of the Hilton Atlanta or the Southeastern Browncoats booth, #1000 at AmericasMart.
For the first time in my life, I’m donning a costume at a convention.
At Dragon Con this weekend, I’ll put on a balaclava, a utility vest and a pair of flashlight glasses, shave my beard into a mustache, and draw a mole on my cheek. For a few days I’ll become Robert De Niro’s character, Archibald “Harry” Tuttle, in Terry Gilliam’s classic dystopian dark comedy, Brazil.
There are three reasons for this.
First: Brazil has had a lasting impact on my life since I first saw it on VHS as a teenager. It put me on a track that has found me defending civil liberties at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The film is one of the early imaginings of a society where an authoritarian government uses big data to manage and control a population. The plot revolves around a simple clerical error, which results in government agents kidnapping, torturing, and eventually killing the wrong guy—Harry Buttle, who they’ve confused with Harry Tuttle. Now, Harry Tuttle is a renegade heating engineer who’s been branded a terrorist for making unauthorized repairs. He’s a handyman superhero who hates paperwork and throughout the film, he keeps dropping his catchphrase: “We’re all in it together.”
That brings me to reason #2. When it comes to mass surveillance, we are all indeed in it together, both as data points in the giant databases and as allies in the battle against them.
That’s why I’d like to invite you to participate in Project Secret Identity, a cosplay activism campaign by EFF, io9, and a cross-fandom coalition of wizards, space cowboys, and other creative organizations.
We’re asking you to put on your mask and pose for photo holding a sign that says “I Have a Right to a Secret Identity” or another fandom-specific message about the importance of Internet freedom.
As we explain at ProjectSecretIdentity.org:
From George Orwell's Big Brother to J.K. Rowling's Ministry of Magic, science fiction, fantasy, and other genre fiction have long explored and criticized the intrusion of government on our private lives.
Today, many of those fictions have become reality, whether it's NSA mass surveillance, local police use of spy technology, or big data brokers scraping personal information from social media networks. Some governments are even trying to ban online anonymity.
Project Secret Identity underlines the belief that we must protect and advocate for ourselves in order to shape the future.
In addition to EFF and io9, the campaign is supported by the Harry Potter Alliance, Southeastern Browncoats and the Baker Street Babes. Anonymity isn't just important for privacy; it’s deeply engrained in fan culture, which is why the coalition also includes Wattpad, a community of 30 million readers and writers, and the Organization for Transformative Works.
As OTW's Claudia Rebaza writes:
Fan pseudonyms range from ordinary names to fanciful titles and are a long standing practice. There are many reasons why some fans might choose pseudonymity. Not only is it a standard identity and privacy-protection precaution, but it may follow fan practice within the spaces they're part of online and it may mirror the use of pseudonyms in publishing where different names are used when writing for different audiences.
You don’t have to be at Dragon Con to participate: Just upload your image at ProjectSecretIdentity.org and share it online.
But if you are attending Dragon Con, you can get your photo taken at either our table (second floor in the Hilton Atlanta) or the Southeastern Browncoats’ booth (#1000 in AmericasMart).
Dragon Con is renowned not only for its cosplay, but for the intellectual curiosity of its attendees. They understand the possibilities of technology and also appreciate that writers, artists, and fans have been censored and oppressed for challenging governments on these issues.
Dragon Con hosts the Electronic Frontiers Forum, a panel track devoted to exploring the intersection of technology with civil liberties. EFF Deputy General Counsel Kurt Opsahl and I will be participating in a number of discussions on issues ranging from cell-phone searches to the Freedom of Information Act. Opsahl will also be presenting an updated version of his talk, “Through a PRISM, Darkly: Everything We Know About NSA Spying,” which went viral when it first debuted at the Chaos Communication Congress last winter. We will also help with screenings of the documentaries Terms and Conditions May Apply and The Internet’s Own Boy.
You can check out the forum schedule here.
As for the third reason I’m cosplaying as Harry Tuttle: Terry Gilliam himself will be at Dragon Con. If we’re all in it together, surely that includes a selfie with me.