What you type tells a story about who you are. At least that’s what governments think. So much so that anti-terrorist organisations like the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ have developed lists of words that they believe a terrorist is likely to type.
If you type the flagged words and the government sees it, well, you may have been added to some list.
Now there’s a tool that shows just how often some of these suspicious words pop up in everyday conversations. It comes in the form of a font.
Created by a Slovenian artist, Project Seen is a typeface that automatically flags all the trigger words used by international law enforcement agencies
These trigger words were revealed back in 2013 as words that cause enforcement agencies to deem someone a potential terrorist. The list is currently growing and, in fact, may top over 40,000 words.
Emil Kozole is the artist behind this project. He made Project Seen as part of his masters in communication design at Central Saint Martins University in London. Kozole explained that he wanted to make a masters project that somehow highlighted the fraught state of security in modern times.
“The biggest news of the summer was Snowden’s documents, where he exposed previously unknown practices of the NSA and British GCHQ,” Kozole told me over Skype chat.
With that as a backdrop, the idea of government surveillance began to permeate his work. “I still wanted to show and educate people on how ‘normal’ words we use in our online conversations on Facebook, emails or search queries on Google are all stored and could potentially get you in trouble,” he said.
Thus came Project Seen, which, at first glance, looks like a pleasant-looking sans serif font. But while you type, it actively analyses the output for any trigger words. If a trigger word appears, it’s automatically redacted. To Kozole, Seen is a way to show people the issue “in a more sophisticated way.” Before, the trigger list was just a list of words. Now it becomes something people can experience.
Kozole first posted Seen on his Facebook page, and from there others shared it online. In just a week it gained some real traction. Someone put it on Product Hunt, and then it even landed on Y-Combinator’s Hacker News. According to the artist, it was a top choice on the popular techie link posting site for nearly a day.
Interest in the font has thus increased. Kozole said that within as week after it hit the viral sites more than 1,500 people downloaded the font (which admittedly isn’t a huge number, but much bigger than one would think for a final project for a Masters).
Additionally, Kozole has seen a marked interest in the product; “Few organisations (sic.) have contacted me and wrote that they are interested in the project,” he wrote. “And of course a few angry emails from the internet people,” he added.
Kozole stresses that Seen is a service for people to better understand the state of the world around them rather than a security tool. “I don’t see it as a tool that I would scan my email,” he says.
Instead, “it is more a conversation ‘trigger,’ where people start asking ‘OK why is the word on the list? why is this one not?”