Are you scrambling for a clever Halloween costume this weekend? We've got you covered. Here are five ideas for digital rights activists planning to trick-or-treat on Monday.
Facial Recognition Face Paint
Just this week we learned that facial recognition is far more prevalent among local and federal law enforcement than we thought, with at least 26 states using this biometric technology. Of those, 16 states grant the FBI access to their DMV databases. Many large cities have proposed using facial recognition on live camera feeds.
To draw attention to this emerging threat to privacy, you can use your face painting skills to recreate the digitization algorithms on your own mug based on public records we and others have obtained from law enforcement agencies.
Cell-site simulators and IMSI catchers are technical names for law enforcement devices that pretend to be cell towers in order to track people through their phones and devices. One of the main manufactures of this technology is Harris Corporation, whose "Stingray" has become short-hand for all related technologies, just as Xerox and Kleenex have become synonymous with photocopying and tissues.
There are various guides to creating stingray costumes out of towels or bedsheets, and all you'd need to do is add a little antenna or a cell phone on a makeshift fishing pole. If you're in a pinch, though, just grab a cardboard box, roll it around on the ground, and you've a "dirtbox," another form of cell-site simulator manufactured by the Boeing subsidiary Digital Receiver Technology.
A little more than a year ago, EFF launched Privacy Badger, a browser extension that discovers and blocks creepy third party trackers that record your online browsing. For Dragon Con, we came up with our own Privacy Badger costume, involving just a basic badger mask and little cardboard shields representing the browsers (Chrome, Firefox, and Opera) you can use it in to repel tracking cookies.
"Patent Troll" is the word we use to describe "non-practicing entities"—companies that buy patents, don't actually make products based on the patents, but instead base their business model on suing people for alleged patent infringement. One of the worst examples was a company that claimed it owned the patent on podcasting, and started shaking down podcasters big and small for licensing fees. EFF has long fought to reform the patent system to curtail the innovation-chilling practices of patent trolls.
There have many different visual interpretations of the patent troll, from everyone from EFF to the White House (see right). We recommend applying some gross color paint to your skin and picking up a plastic club. If you're a couple, have your partner dress up like Marc Maron, the comic behind the WTF podcast who, after his own experience with patent trolls, has been enormously helpful in our efforts to invalidate the so-called podcasting patent.
Certbot, EFF's latest software project, is a piece of software that system administrators can use to automatically download and install HTTPS certificates for their website from the Let's Encrypt certificate authority. Making a Certbot costume is easy: just take a robot costume, paint a giant lock on the front, and hold either a certificate (shiny gold paper works great) or an oversized key. If you want to go all the way, paint the robot red and black like the Certbot logo, and write "ACME" over the robot's mouth. (ACME is the protocol Certbot uses to talk to the Let's Encrypt server.)
Bonus Treat: Zombie Cookies
Last year, after EFF alerted the public that Verizon was adding unique identifiers to its users' traffic, security expert Jonathan Mayer showed how Verizon and its advertising partner Turn used these identifiers as "zombie cookies" to track the online movements of its users. Under widespread criticism, Verizon and Turn backed off the program, but unfortunately there are plenty of other ways companies can create zombie cookies which are designed to return after you delete them. There are plenty of zombie cookie recipes online if you want to serve them at your Halloween party. Just make sure your guests make them disappear.