Last year I had the opportunity to meet with Xeudi Chen and Pedro Oliveira, the Backslash team at Tisch’s ITP lab. At the time, I didn’t understand how the geographical relevance of their project would change so significantly in a year. Backslash is an NYU project that creates devices to protect protect protesters in countries without the democratic right to peaceful dissent.
Backslash features:
  • A bandana with encoded messages that differ depending on how it’s folded and can only be unlocked when an image of the fabric is scanned with a corresponding app
  • A jammer to block your signal because governments have retaliated against people whose metadata have placed them near the protest
  • A geotagged panic button that warns others when violence has escalated
  • A personal router for when the government has blocked cell service
  • A personal black box to have a record of the protest as police crush cameras and phones – it is discrete and can’t break
All of these were made by non-engineers with low-cost, accessible, existing tech. These products were not intended for use in the US, but their use may becoming increasingly relevant here, particularly as journalists come under deeper scrutiny.