Tag Archives: Surveillance

Science Fiction Today – Privacy

This was a topic we almost covered during our A to Z Challenge posts on Science Fiction Today. However, it’s a big topic and probably not best in that shorter format. Also, we hit on Surveillance, so we somewhat hit on the topic. But government surveillance is only part of the topic.

My take on Privacy is that it is only somewhat a right – it is also something you have to fight for. We can have expectations of Privacy, but things like government surveillance remind us that we don’t always know when or where we’re being watched. But it can be simpler and lower-tech than that – when I am home I might have an expectation of Privacy, but if my blinds are wide open then someone may well be watching!

That’s what I mean as to fighting for Privacy – perhaps working on Privacy is a better term. Constant vigilance! Or maybe the blog is the best example. We have a right to free speech – we can write what we want here, and we’re not worried about getting dragged off to jail. However, we have been careful regarding our Privacy – like names, picture of us, things like that. Or of the Geek Baby. I know a number of bloggers who use a pen name, and plenty who splash their picture and such all over. It’s a personal decision, about how much Privacy we’re looking for. We’re not all looking for the exact same level! No matter what Facebook thinks…

I’m a librarian. I know Privacy is tough. I was working in a library when the Patriot Act was passed – when the FBI got the right to come in and request library records. When libraries around the US got paper shredders to destroy paper records. Got programs to erase browser history and downloaded files and such between computer users. It’s a fight. So let’s look at a couple of possible futures when it comes to Privacy.

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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!

Science Fiction Today – Justice System

JThe justice system is a complicated process and deals with not only finding the people who commit crimes, but also convicting and judging them. There are a lot of different areas that make up the entire justice system and in science fiction we see these areas dealt with in very different ways.

In some stories it is about compressing the process, in that way justice can happen more swiftly and not have to deal with the lengthy processes of trials or other things. Another option that can be found in science fiction is creating some sort of automated or surveillance-based system. The basic idea is that someone is always watching and keeping track. Both of these futures look to hasten the path to justice, but at a cost.

Cop, Judge, Jury

Karl Urban as Dredd in DreddThe obvious reference for a science fiction justice system are things such as Judge Dredd or Robocop. In these situations someone or something finds the criminals, decides their guilt, and passes the sentence. A lot of time this occurs because crime has risen to such a level that justice needs to happen swiftly in order to deal with the growing number of criminals that are out in society. This means that a person is trained to do every step of the process instead of having one person to arrest and investigate, another to decide to go to trial, and then a judge to pass sentencing. It narrows the process down to one person to speed up the process.

Automated Justice

In a few science fiction stories they look at justice as the need to watch things at all times. This can be seen in Minority Report (in a way) and in the surveillance system set up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now each of these stories add an additional level of judging a crime or criminal before it happens and basically convicting before a crime happens. At the same time the idea is still their that surveillance is used as the ultimate justice system.

The idea that we can track citizens at every moment could mean that we could track the actions and give tickets and sentencing based on those actions. Now imagine that it is not external surveillance, but something that gets imbedded underneath the skin of each individual. Something that could track you and automatically send a signal to the police or automatically take fines out of your bank account, points off your license, etc. Something like in Fifth Element when his car was deducting points from his license as he drove.

Obviously the extreme problem with all of this is can either of these solutions really be called justice? Both of them are quick to convict and not take the time to fully examine or look at a situation. It is about the swiftness of justice instead of the ethics or morals of justice. What do you think?

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!