They’re Watching (Part 3)

In Part 1, I outlined the legal foundations of the surveillance state in 2032. In parts 2a and 2b, I listed some of the capabilities law enforcement and intelligence agencies will have to watch where people go and what they do, say or write. So now that you’re all paranoid and depressed, let’s talk about how people get around this in South.

Security consultants.” The 2032 version of the handyman is the semi-illegal freelance security consultant who can detect bugs, clear keyloggers off your computer and make the GPS tracking puck in your bumper show that you’re several states away. Luis employs Nathan, a Chinese guy in his twenties, who cleans Luis’ house and store of hidden microphones and cameras. The Cartel considers Nathan to be a legitimate business expense, the only way Luis can afford his services. People with fewer resources have to put up with the surveillance.

Burner phones. In reaction to the (justified) fear that government agencies are recording or eavesdropping on their phone calls and data sessions without any accountability, a large number of people carry a second, anonymous prepaid cell phone – a “burner phone” that can switch identities with a change of SIM (or equivalent) chip bought at nearly any store that sells consumer electronics. This is one instance where the clash between free-market fundamentalism and unbounded desire for social control breaks to the advantage of the average Joe: the two surviving cellular network providers (AT&T and Verizon) make too much money on prepaid phones to allow them to be outlawed or restricted. Luis gets his chips from Target (he dislikes Wal-Mart) and buys them ten at a time, sometimes discarding one after a single call.

Transmitter detectors. These are available now, but bought mostly by security professionals or the truly paranoid. By 2032 paranoia is considered an asset, and a lot of people own the next-generation-times-three of these devices to sweep their own cars, homes and offices. As now, these work only on active targets, that is, bugs that are powered and transmitting more-or-less constantly. Passive (non-powered) bugs or those that use infrequent burst transmissions are much harder to find, which keeps Nathan in business.

RF jammers. These devices – available from sketchier places online – will scramble radio signals in a particular frequency band. Cover a wide-enough chunk of spectrum and you isolate any bugs or cameras that communicate through radio signals. You also disable your (and everyone else’s) cell phone in the jamming range, which is why these beasties have already been used in jails, movie theaters, restaurants and mass-transit systems. They’re currently illegal for civilians in the U.S., but someone has to enforce that for it to be a problem.

Filmed windows. Sometimes the classics are the best. In order to defeat what they fear is pervasive use of facial recognition on traffic cameras, many people get all their car windows filmed so they’re essentially opaque from the outside. Yes, it’s still illegal in many states (including California, where most of the action happens), but again, someone would have to enforce that, right? With all but the biggest city police forces reduced to what Our Hero Luis calls “mall cops with guns,” and many of those are willing to overlook considerably more heinous infractions for a few bucks, this is an almost no-risk “crime”. It also provides a private refuge for young people who still live at home (over half the under-30 population) to get frisky with their main squeezes.

Similarly, many people have filmed their windows at home. This not only cuts down on heat transfer from sunshine, but keeps the windows opaque to drone-based cameras.

Window vibrators. These are devices that attach to window glass and introduce low-frequency vibrations, which defeat laser-based attacks on the windows. Used in concert with filming, this can render laser-based eavesdropping useless. These devices exist now; I’d love to link to a source, but the places I found information are pretty skeevy, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Big sunglasses. One of the rare times a fashion choice has a practical application. A 2031 fad for large, thick-rimmed sunglasses sparked off by a popular web show (the successor to TV shows) set in the 1980s is also found to greatly decrease the accuracy of facial detection. Facial recognition algorithms depend heavily on matching eye size and distance to example photos; big dark glasses mask both these attributes.


While the political leaders of 2032 have managed to get government off the backs of corporations, they’ve managed to expand the number of “crimes” individuals can be charged with. For instance, abortion is outlawed across the country, and homosexuality and mixed-race marriages are illegal again in most of the states of the old Confederacy. However, there are thresholds. Because of the lack of resources, most minor crimes aren’t prosecuted or even investigated. This means not only the end to “broken window” law enforcement, but also that burglary and theft are essentially no longer crimes unless they result in major injury.

So in South’s world, it’s possible for the police and intelligence services to monitor every twitch you make if they take notice of you. It’s that caveat—if they take notice of you—that keeps this from being Orwell’s 1984. If you keep your crimes small and/or acceptable, they won’t waste time on you. But if you do something that draws their attention, such as being inappropriately political, discomfiting a church or associating with the social enemy du jour, they can turn the full capabilities of the State on you.

These aren’t the only countermeasures savvy citizens of 2032 America use to escape the all-seeing eye, just the ones I’ve come up with now. If you’ve read Parts 2a and 2b and have other ideas, let me know.

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