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Interactive map lets you see the FBI planes circling our homes

In an analysis of over 200 federal aircraft using the flight tracking website Flightradar24, Buzzfeed has put together a visual compendium of where and when government planes have been flying over US soil. The results, concentrated overwhelmingly over urban areas, spanned across flights from August to December of 2015, providing a glimpse into what the government gets up to when we’re not looking. Buzzfeed makes the helpful choice to display this terrifying data using an interactive graph with flashing colors. Weirdly, once you stop thinking about the meaning behind the map and start dragging and dropping it, it becomes a…

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“Tracing You” uses web data to get closer than you’d like

The digital footprint is supposed to be an ominous concept. It’s supposed to be a reminder of all the digital breadcrumbs digital Hansels and Gretels leave in their wakes. But in practice, the digital footprint is too squishy a concept to truly resonate. How do you quantify all the little pieces of yourself given away with every click and pageview? They obviously add up, but in the moment they don’t feel like much. These pieces do feel meaningful to the companies on the other end of each transaction, however, and that asymmetry puts the individual web user at a disadvantage.…

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Facial recognition lends itself to creepy digital portraits

You shouldn’t have to carry ID when you go to grab a coffee. Coffee is not a controlled substance, though it sure is wonderful (and possibly addictive). That does not stop nominally just societies from demanding that their citizens identify themselves while out and about. Inevitably, the burden of these policies is unevenly shouldered by different groups. This problem could easily solved by no longer demanding that citizens identify themselves at every turn. There are, however, two problems with such a proposal. First: Good luck getting municipal politicians and police forces to agree. Second: The elimination of identification requirements means…

Kommissar
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Kommissar is an adventure through the language of despotism

It’s about the language. It’s always about the language. Kommissar is a text adventure masquerading as a thriller—and that’s a good thing. You play as an officer in the Ministry of Truth. This is a plum job seeing as it went to you, a child of the elite, and not some pleb. Suffice it to say this is not an equal society. To the winner goes the spoils, and you are spoilt with spoils. One of those spoils is the power to issue warrants. And do you ever issue warrants, directing investigatory efforts and powers of detentions to various quadrants…

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The Walls Have Ears is security theatre with a side of voyeurism

The Walls Have Ears is security theatre, but what isn’t? Body scanners at airports, metal detectors at sports stadia, fancy uniforms that imply nonexistent authority—it’s all a big show. The Walls Have Ears is about that show, but you’re a performer. More accurately, you’re a desk jockey at an unnamed intelligence agency listening to intercepted communications. The files are arrayed on your screen like flashcards: enigma, DEFCON, rail gun, military intelligence, top secret. You sit and listen to the messages. Hopefully there’s something incriminating in each one, something you can use to flag the interlocutor for further surveillance. You must…

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The NSA Playset is trying to democratize surveillance using the aesthetic of child’s play

Would that surveillance practices were reversible: we’d have a solution to the past decade’s revelations on our hands. But they aren’t and we don’t. Surveillance is more than a series of practices; it is a force with a momentum of its own and the turning radius of a cruise ship. Consequently, the democratization of surveillance takes on some funny forms, one of which is Michael Ossman’s NSA Playset project. Inspired by the NSA’s ANT Catalog, which was published by Der Spiegel in 2013 and described a variety of surveillance tools, Ossman invited security researchers to make their own versions of…

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Finally, a typeface for all the words governments never say about surveillance

Surveillance has proven to be good fodder for games. In Touch Tone, a fictional yet fathomable government has deputized its citizenry to spy on their peers by solving puzzles and decoding encryption keys and codes to access private data. Nothing to Hide applies the logic to your every movement. It is a virtual Panopticon that requires your location, likeness, and actions to be visible at all times. Attempts at evasion are futile. Privacy is dead. There are no secrets anymore. These titles use video game mechanics to make the logic of surveillance explicit.  Their metaphors may even be too successful insofar as they…

touchtone
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This week’s Playlist pick: TouchTone

Sign up to receive each week’s Playlist e-mail here! Also check out our full, interactive Playlist section. TOUCHTONE (iOS)  BY MIKENGREG  Greg Wohlwend and Mike Boxleiter are outraged at the erosion of privacy in the post-Snowden era. But rather than stepping up to a soapbox to rant about it, they made TouchTone: a puzzle game about a fictional government that crowd-sources surveillance of its citizens to protect the state. You bounce lasers around grids in the game’s increasingly tricky puzzles to gain access to emails and text messages that you then deem pertinent or not to the government’s fight against terrorism. It evolves…