If you want protection from privacy intrusions by private UAV pilots, don’t go blasting the things out of the sky; that’s super illegal. Instead, try these simple means of dissuasion. You’ll definitely look like a bit of a loon, but that’s just the price of freedom. And/or paranoia.
Blind Them With Science
image: Sean Lema
First off, there’s not much you can do about your neighbour who’s legally flying a drone. Jamming devices — those that actively block radio, GPS, cellular, or Wi-Fi signals — are highly illegal and will get you in just as much hot water with the police as wildly firing buckshot into the night sky. So if you can’t sever the command link or bring down the UAV itself, your best remaining option is to interfere with its imaging payload. That’s actually a surprisingly easy task to accomplish — all you need to do is give the camera something sparkly to look at. Something a little too sparkly.
A camera’s CCD works much like the human eye: Incoming light stimulates specific cells or pixels which register the wavelength and pass that information along as an electrical signal. That means that, just like a human eye, one can either temporarily or permanently blind a camera by projecting more light than the sensor can handle. For conventional sensors that record visible light, a well-aimed low-powered laser pointer beam should be enough to temporarily knock an airborne camera offline.
Be warned, however, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) does not look kindly upon people firing lasers into the sky — there have been several instances of people being prosecuted after shining lasers at commercial aircraft — so you’d better be damn well sure your aim is true and the aerial vehicle is well and truly unmanned.
Of course, if you’re going to run the risk of incarceration for accidentally blinding passing airline pilots, you might as well go all out, get yourself a Wicked Spyder and blow a hole clear through the offending camera — maybe the UAV itself — like a one-man HEL MD.
Or, better yet, install a laser shield on your property like the one guarding Roman Abramovich’s multi-million dollar mega-yacht from the paparazzi. Who says you have to be a multi-kagillionaire to afford privacy? Oh right, the price tag. Still, it’s probably cheaper than hiring Alec Baldwin to stand on a ladder and swat at passing UAVs with a broom — though not nearly as fun to watch.
Infrared cameras are even easier to defeat. Because they’re designed to work in low light environments, it takes an exceedingly small amount of energy to overwhelm their sensors. Plus, people can’t see infrared, which means you’ll be able to deploy the following defences without anyone being the wiser: Very simply, line the awnings, overhangs, window and door frames of you home with strips of infrared LEDs. Your house will look the same to human eyes, but will glow like the white hot indignant rage of a thousand spied-upon suns to an IR camera. And nothing says you can’t equip your clothing with them as well.
Give ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle
Even if you’d rather not treat the neighbourhood to a nightly laser light show in the name of personal privacy, you still have a few effective options — albeit much more obvious and far less high-tech.
Since IR cameras can “see” the thermal radiation (aka heat) emitted by your body just like the Predator, you can fool them the same way Arnold Schwarzenegger did: Cover your house in mud. That’s right, slather it on nice and thick. Make sure to keep it moist at all times — it’s the water’s evaporation that masks the home’s heat signature. Although I suppose simply upgrading your home’s insulation and lining your windows with mylar foil (which appears opaque on IR imaging) would work just as well. Yes, granted, doing so will make your house look like an indoor pot farm, thereby attracting more attention, but at least nobody’s drone will be able to see inside.
Similarly, to avoid surveillance on the go, a number of companies have begun producing anti-IR garments; metalised fabrics similar to space blankets woven into overcoats, ponchos, hoodie — even panties. They won’t cover all of you, but it’s better than nothing.
“KISS” Facial Recognition Goodbye
Don’t think that simply painting your house in mud and mylar will be enough. To ensure a UAS won’t be able to recognise you even if it sees your body heat, you’ll need to paint your face as well. No, really, they did it back in WWI to hide submarines — it’s called dazzle camouflage and is designed to break up an object’s silhouette against the background, not unlike how the stripes of a zebra herd blur the outlines of individual members. And because modern facial recognition algorithms use the relative position of prominent facial features to identify a person, all you need to do is artificially enhance one or two of those features and the algorithm bricks itself.
As Jillian Mayer illustrates in her CV Dazzle tutorial, you’re going to wind up looking like an avant-garde face-painter from the county fair licked a sheet of LSD and then went to town on your face, but if you don’t want to wear the IR LED hat this is what you’re left with.
Or, you know, you could just talk to your neighbour about your concerns with his UAS usage, like an adult, and politely ask that he not surveil your property. [ACLU – JW – Snallabolaget – The Breeze – WaPo – Dismagazine – FAA 1, 2]
Top Image: Mike Flippo