Science Fiction Today – Surveillance

SSurveillance is an important issue especially in today’s world. A recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
(above if you have 30 minutes) highlights this importance with an interview with Edward Snowden.

Surveillance is a huge part of most science fiction, usually in some form of a dystopia. Part of what surveillance is used for is usually for some form of control. It is often presented as a path towards social good because people can be watched and tracked. This means when crimes are committed that they can figure out who actually did it. At the same time this often means disregarding any concept of privacy.

On one level there is external surveillance, where there is an idea of privacy behind closed doors. Then there is complete surveillance where it might be something injected into each person or installed in every location. Neither option is usually very appealing.

Public Surveillance

When we have surveillance in public the idea is usually to protect the public. It is often not just about being able to see what is going on, but being able to track the path of every citizen. When everything you do in public is potentially being watched how do you react?

There is an idea that if we know we are being watched we will behave better. At the same time in many stories it is not always about knowing that you are being watched, but the people in power watching nonetheless. The difference is simply whether the people in power are spying to try and capture people doing something wrong or if you are trying in some ways to prevent the wrongdoing.

Personal Surveillance

Personal surveillance brings the whole watching game to a completely different level. When suddenly everything a persons does can be on display to be watched so that at any given time someone could be watching. This means that everything you do could be scrutinized, taken out of context, or used against you. There is no way to not incriminate yourself because everything you do can be watched.

On another level what if not only what you do, but your vital signs could be tracked. If there could be a way to know when someone is having a heart attack or to tell when someone is in danger… The problem is again how much do you sacrifice? There is a thought that if at any point someone could see that you are in trouble then help could always be a moment away. At the same time the most private and personal moments would be on display at any given moment.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

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10 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Surveillance

  1. This also gets tricky the closer we come to being robots and cyborgs. I mean, if I have a phone with GPS and wi-fi and stuff, it’s pretty much a given that someone could track that. But the alternative is to not have GPS and wi-fi and stuff.

    This is actually a major plot hole in Chappie, in that robots can be tracked everywhere they go, but none of the authority figures seem to realize this…

    Liked by 3 people

    • The tracking with GPS in our phones is one of those really scary things. This actually reminds me of the movie Enemy of the State with Will Smith. The Government used all sorts of tracking video, satellite, phones, etc to track where a person was at any given moment. There were ways to get off the grid, but you had to completely disconnect.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Surveillance in this context, especially in science fiction, both fascinates and terrifies me! It would be akin to being stalked, only on a much grander scale. Hannah’s point reminded me of the show Intelligence – the way the main character could link to any network with his mind (needed wifi or gps). It was really cool! Though, when you think about the cameras in all the equipment we have lying around, and the thought someone could be watching…okay I’m scaring myself now!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Cameras are installed into almost everything now a days. One of the things that some people had complaints about the Xbox One with the automatic Kinect included was that it could track you at all times. There are shows that often show someone turning a camera on for someone’s computer and watching them without their knowledge, which is truly creepy. We already have Facebook stalking because we in a way do not always filter ourselves as much as we should.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think it is better used in moderation. For instance, when families are being filmed for TV for a reality show, they soon and often forget the cameras are there and behave in ways that perhaps they wouldn’t had they recalled the surveillance! I like them being in the street though, so that at least criminals can be identified. If you aren’t doing anything wrong then you shouldn’t be worried – should you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • For reality shows I wonder how much they really forget the cameras, but with what some people do on screen it makes sense that they eventually forget that they are there. The cameras on the street seem like such a good idea, but at the same time what if something is caught on camera without context, could it be spun in a way where you look like the criminal. Some of it depends on do you trust the people who are making the decisions based on what the cameras catch. That question can sometimes be raised with automatic traffic cameras. I think the tickets still have to be vetted by a person, but what happens when that goes away.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know how I feel about surveillance. I think that law officials should have surveillance equipment from multiple angles so that when there is an event, there is undeniable proof of fault, as this protects the suspect and the police should things get violent (see all of the news from Ferguson last year, as well as other police-related shootings/harassment). But I do not think people need to be followed individually.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The surveillance for law enforcement is important because of that protection. The problem when it comes to he said, she said or other similar scenarios is who do you trust. At the same time are their times where surveillance could be misused or mishandled even in those situations, possibly. One thing with surveillance of any sort is that it takes a level of trust in the people and the system controlling it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. I’m a big fan of dash cams on civilian cars, smart phone use, and so on, but I agree that surveillance footage that mysteriously is “faulty” or “corrupted” is almost too common when actions are brought into question. That’s why I was thinking that for law enforcement, there should be at least 2 cams at all times–ON the subject, mind you.

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  5. Pingback: Science Fiction Today – Privacy | Comparative Geeks

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