ScareMail – Benjamin Grosser


ScareMail is Benjamin Grosser’s answer to Prism: a browser extension to defend our email from surveillance by the National Security Agency. Once installed, ScareMail automatically generates a meaningless story within each email; one able to ostentatiously attract the interest of the NSA. Based on natural language processing (NLP), each instance of ScareMail creates a unique text based on the book Fahrenheit 451, in which nouns and verbs have been replaced by terms considered risky to national security. The aim is to create an email highly likely to be subject to surveillance, but with such an excess of keywords as to be useless: to find everything is to find nothing. The project aims to uncover defects in surveillance based on analysis of keywords wide-ranging, such as those found in the Black Book of the NSA. Many terms that could hypothetically indicate a message exchange between terrorists are extremely common and de facto make everyone subject to monitoring. ScareMail responds to this attack on the confidentiality of personal information by proposing a model of privacy diametrically opposed to the common concept: privacy that emerges from the multiplication of words in plain sight rather than from encryption and subterfuge. Benjamin Grosser says that although his project has garnered a fair amount of attention, downloads have been few and he is sure that the number of users are even less. It seems citizens wanting to escape the gaze of the NSA would rather do so in the shadows rather than the spotlight. Ylenia Cafaro