Privacy in Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation

The TV series Black Mirror covers different topics in each episode, including security, data science and robotics. Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation, which is the last episode of this TV series, talks about a controversial topic — privacy.

After the extinction of bees, the government in the episode invented autonomous bees, named Autonomous Drone Insects (ADIs), to mimic the behavior of bees and act as pollinators across the UK. However, a hacker named Garrett Scholes broke into the system through an encryption backdoor to control the ADIs to kill the person who ranked the top of the votes on Twitter through the hashtag #DeathTo (source). ADIs are for more than just pollination. In the episode, Shaun Li, a National Crime Agency (NCA) officer, has admitted that the ADIs are used for government to spy on people (source). In terms of government, it seems that the use of ADIs is more effective than the military to supervise or manage people, since no one can hide from ADIs. They are flying everywhere across the country, and what they are watching can be synchronously exposed to the government (source).

Obviously, the ADIs represents the shady nature of government’s surveillance. In the real life, some people also suspect that the government has been using certain kind of tool like ADIs in the episode for covert surveillance. (source) The Chinese government, for example, has claimed that they are using the facial recognition technology to text a jaywalker a fine. However, some conspiracy theorists still doubt that the government is using this technology to spy on people. With the rapid development of technology, people are increasingly worried that even though the government stated a good use of technology, it does not mean that they do not have insidious purpose, that is, government’s invasion of privacy (source).

Additionally, Rasmus Sjolberg, the creator of the ADIs reveals that he knew about the government’s plan to use the ADIs for surveillance. From a professional ethics perspective, it begs the question: should Sjolberg have blown the whistle on the government program? There wasn’t much direct discussion in the episode about the question, as there were other, more pressing matters, but it does provide a scenario for viewers to consider. For Sjolberg to have decided to become a whistle-blower, he would have had to decide whether the surveillance has the potential to harm the public. From the information provided in the show, we don’t know Sjolberg’s assessment of the situation. For all we know, he decided that the potential harm of not implementing artificial bees outweighed the potential harm of government surveillance. Alternatively, his motives could have been self-centered in getting the ADIs funded by the government. It is impossible to say without more information, but the show does pose the question, even if it doesn’t answer it.

Written by:Ming