Many people, upon learning of the government's expansive programs to monitor electronic communications, probably thought to themselves, "Huh, I wonder if there is any steps I can take to make sure my emails do not end up in the pile that the NSA 'touches.'"
But not Ben Grosser. Grosser, an artist whose work explores the effects of software in society, had a different idea: How can I put my emails—the ones about my new cat, the invitations to meet up for coffee—under surveillance?
The result of this counterintuitive line of thinking is ScareMail, a new extension for Gmail that tacks text onto the bottoms of emails, algorithmically generated to capture the attention of the NSA's filtering mechanisms.
One of the strategies used by the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) email surveillance programs is the detection of predetermined keywords. These “selectors,” as they refer to them internally, are used to identify communications by presumed terrorists. Large collections of words have thus become codified as something to fear, as an indicator of intent. The result is a governmental surveillance machine run amok, algorithmically collecting and searching our digital communications in a futile effort to predict behaviors based on words in emails.
ScareMail proposes to disrupt the NSA’s surveillance efforts by making NSA search results useless. Searching is about finding the needles in haystacks. By filling all email with “scary” words, ScareMail thwarts NSA search algorithms by overwhelming them with too many results. If every email contains the word “plot,” or “facility,” for example, then searching for those words becomes a fruitless exercise. A search that returns everything is a search that returns nothing of use.
And he demonstrates in a quick video: