As a nerd, you typically watch popular TV shows and think: come on. Hey, CSI, you can’t take a low-resolution and blurry security camera image and create a high-definition sharp image of a license plate. And you certainly cannot do that with just a few keystrokes and no mouse movement at all.
It’s also fun to look back at old TV shows and movies and laugh at how the entire plot is moot if one or more characters had a cell phone or iPad. And for years nerds have known that you can’t just ‘hack’ into XYZ server in a few minutes time — even if you are Chloe.
But then we found out that maybe if you are the government you can hack into these places. Not because you are that good of a hacker, but because the NSA had already spent months hacking into the system in preparation for you needing access at a future crucial point in the plot.
Which now presents TV and movie writers with a really awkward problem: they know just how powerful the NSA is, and it is more powerful than they thought the public would find believable to begin with.
This all came to a head last night when I was watching the most recent episode of ￼Homeland￼ (warning: possible spoilers ahead). In this episode the main character, Carrie (former CIA), is trying to escape the watchful eye of the CIA. Now pre-Snowden this episode would have been fine, but post Snowden (and even logically) it had a lot of problems.
- Carrie kept her cell phone with her. She called a CIA contact that had the CIA listening in on the call next to him on this phone. Yet the CIA couldn’t find her? Come on. First of all it was an Android phone and we should have every reason to suspect that not only could the NSA/CI,A working together, find her, but that they could tap the mic on her phone to listen in. Yet, the CIA, didn’t find her. Magic phone?
- Carrie also went to an ATM and into the branch of the bank only to find her accounts frozen. In reality the NSA/CIA would have known about this about 1 second after it happened, and yet… nothing. Dumb luck?
Ok, it’s fair to say that (due to the “twist” ending) the CIA really didn’t want to find her, but even still wouldn’t a trained CIA person, well anyone at the CIA, still ditch their phone and stay away from banks and ATMs? That seems like “on the run” 101.
Even if you don’t buy that, then what do you make of the fact that the kids in the episode who went on the run ditched their cellphones saying “they can track the GPS in these”. Yeah… oops the the former-spook didn’t think to do that, but a couple if dumb-shit teens thought of it? Come on.
This is very likely to be an ongoing problem for TV and movies going forward. In order to make the show based somewhat in reality, writers now have to account for the fact that if the government is after you, you are likely screwed. And that is just going to cause all sorts of problems for future plots, as characters are going to have to go dark and no longer will there be that tense period of “the character doesn’t know the government is after them, but the character manages to luckily escape”.
Basically all future characters will have to use pretend encryption on everything, thus talking to no “normal person”, and/or go on the run before anyone is after them.