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ScareMail Gets The NSA’s Attention By Mixing Some Terrorism Into Your Mundane Emails

This program cleverly adds all the words that the government is searching for to your otherwise innocuous emails so you can quietly protest our surveillance state. But don’t blame us when the feds knock on your door.

ScareMail Gets The NSA’s Attention By Mixing Some Terrorism Into Your Mundane Emails
[Image: Flickr user Followtheseinstructions]

If you haven’t already disconnected your computer, burned your social security card, and moved to an isolated cabin in New Hampshire to try and evade the watchful eye of the surveillance state, your emails are likely still fair game for the National Security Agency’s sweeping data mining programs that Edward Snowden revealed earlier this summer.

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That said, artist Ben Grosser might have devised a way to turn the potential NSA signals in your emails into pure noise. He’s invented a Gmail extension called ScareMail, and like Flagger, which adds “scary” tags to all of your URLs to try to catch the eye of the NSA, ScareMail adds chunks of “scary” text to all of your emails. The goal, Grosser writes on the ScareMail site, is to flood all of your messages with triggers, and thus “disrupt the NSA’s surveillance efforts by making NSA search results useless.”

Like Troll the NSA, a one-off event aimed to muddle NSA monitors earlier this year, ScareMail uses a vocabulary of keywords likely to grab algorithmic attention. Grosser sourced those words from a 2011 Department of Homeland Security report with a list of terms its National Operations Center monitored on social media, then ad-libbed them into a bit of original text. The text he used? Fahrenheit 451.

Here’s what an email to my dad looks like:


“The results are without (intended) meaning, yet they read as plausible sounding and looking narratives,” Grosser writes. “They also retain the general formatting style of the original, including dialog quotations and paragraph structure. The most direct relationship between the final texts and originals are that some proper nouns are retained–so in the case of Fahrenheit 451, ScareMail will occasionally spit out the word ‘Montag’ or ‘Clarisse.’”

By Grosser’s logic, ScareMail should make actually looking for information like finding a needle in a haystack. In the very least, emails you send now have some extra military-industrial-grade jazz.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.

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