“Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.” – Seth Godin
First it was Humans, which offered a slightly concerning, but mainly thought-provoking, insight into the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, the six-part, real-life series Hunted – which concluded last night – sheds a light onto the complex and powerful world of surveillance.
The show comes at a time when Home Secretary Theresa May’s new, proposed surveillance bill – dubbed ‘the snooper’s charter’ – raises questions about the ethics of spying on members of the public.
The real-life thriller, where 14 individuals go on the run, saw the country’s top detectives and analysts use high levels of surveillance to track them down.
In the first episode, ‘fugitives’ have their social media profiles scanned by detectives. Whilst some consider this an invasion of privacy, we can’t really complain when we volunteer this data ourselves.
With technological advancements leading to us placing so much of our private lives online, one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is how much of our private life actually is private? The answer: not much. Technology has become the main way to store data and communicate. If anything, the way to prevent our privacy from being breached is through going offline. But with technology being such a huge part of all of our lives, it’s become something we all have to accept – the small-print when it comes to signing up to email services and social networks.
Aside from how to best protect your privacy, Hunted shows the somewhat unethical methods the state can use to get information. In the third episode, we see the ‘hunters’ impersonate Ricky Allen in an attempt to get his friends and family to reveal information about his location. Similarly, later on in the series, we see the investigators use a phishing technique to gain access to someone’s iCloud so they can clone their iPhone. This type of impersonation (when the hunters sent texts pretending to be Ricky) must be illegal, surely? Whilst that may be a grey area, we all know that phishing – along with when the hunters hack a fugitive’s Facebook to display a wanted poster – are both illegal if a member of the public were to do these actions. This of course raises the debate of our country’s surveillance services using unethical means to protect our national security or for ‘the greater good’.
Another ethical question which is raised from the show is how the hunters place certain amounts of psychological pressure on the fugitives. Surely this raises questions from a human rights perspective – being almost like a form of psychological torture – as well as from an ethical perspective?
Lastly, another issue for discussion is the use of recording devices. In the world of journalism, the undercover news reports that use covert cameras can only be used when it is in ‘the public interest’. Two main ethical codes (Ofcom and IPSO) prohibit journalists from using covert recordings if it is not for that reason. Whilst this isn’t journalism, but surveillance, surely similar rules must apply to this too?
On the whole, it’s fair to say that the best way to protect yourself is by being offline, but with almost everyone having a smartphone these days, that is near enough impossible.
In terms of ethics, questions need to be asked as to how many rules can be broken by the state where it may be illegal for a member of the public to do the same thing. In particular, with this new ‘snooper’s charter’ bill, we need to ask what new powers this gives the state.
What do you think about the so-called ‘snooper’s charter’? Have you been watching Hunted? Comment below!