Fears over privacy as people are hunted

A new Channel 4 show, ‘Hunted’, sees 14 people trying to evade capture by a team of experts for 28 days. Are we built to fit in with others, or should we cherish the ability to be alone?

They will remove themselves from modern civilisation. They will throw away their phones and bank cards and avoid making contact with friends and family. They will not be able to make a single move without considering how it might give them away.

These are the contestants of a brutal Channel 4 reality TV show, Hunted, which was launched last night. The show follows the travails of 14 ordinary people as they try to evade capture for 28 days and a team of experts try to track them down.

The experts (known as hunters) are led by Brett Lovegrove, a former head of counter-terrorism for the City of London police. He says the chases are very similar to those which take place in a police and security operation. He adds that, as they accumulate information from a variety of sources, his team will eventually know more about the person they are chasing than do their friends and family.

The actions of his team will ignite ongoing debates over privacy and surveillance. In recent years, the revelations of the organisation Wikileaks and the former CIA operative Edward Snowden have shed light on the amount of data being collected by governments, sparking furious rows. Incidents such as the tweeting of a photo of comedian Michael McIntyre taken from a police helicopter in July have also caused concern among privacy campaigners.

Meanwhile, the fate of the contestants – who will attempt to survive either on their own or in pairs – will shed some light on the difficulty of hiding in the modern world. They will be unaware of many of the ways in which they could be tracked and their ability to perform even ordinary tasks will be limited; using a bank card or mobile phone, for example, could easily give their position away. They will face a physical challenge and, perhaps more significantly, a psychological one: to fight the temptation to affirm their place in the world around them, for example by making contact with loved ones.

In solitude

Philosopher Aristotle said: ‘man is by nature a social animal’. We are designed to connect with others; this explains our abilities to empathise with and care about each other. Abandoning the world around us means denying a fundamental part of human nature. We are part of something bigger than ourselves, and no man or woman has evolved to survive alone.

But psychologist Dr Sherrie Bourg Carter worries that the level of connectivity we experience today has deprived us of the ability to find solitude. Being alone allows us to unwind, think deeply for ourselves and enjoy the freedom to do what we want. We have lost the right to be alone, and with it the freedom to withdraw into ourselves. These are precious, and we should fight for them.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to try going on the show?
  2. Should we be worried about losing the ability to be alone?

Activities

  1. List some ways in which the contestants on Hunted could give themselves away to their pursuers.
  2. Create a presentation on a recent privacy scandal (you could choose one mentioned in this article, or a different one if you prefer). What happened, what debate did it create and what is your opinion on it?

Some People Say...

“Solitude is strength. To depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness.”

Paul Brunton

What do you think?

Q & A

What information could someone use to find me?
The most obvious answer is anything you’ve posted online. A lot of phones now reveal your location and social media accounts may do the same. But there are lots of other sources of information about us: phone calls can be monitored and your medical records, for example, can be accessed. And privacy campaigners estimate that there may now be up to 5.9 million CCTV cameras in Britain.
What could a challenge like this teach me about myself?
You might not want to be quite so extreme as the contestants here, but trying to survive in the wild or giving up something of value to you for a brief period of time can be a character-building experience. It might help you to gain some perspective or help to affirm the things that really matter in your life.

Word Watch

Wikileaks
This international organisation has published secret information from a range of governments and other institutions. Their most controversial acts have included publishing US military documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Edward Snowden
Snowden was a CIA computer analyst who leaked classified information from the US National Security Agency in 2013. His revelations showed the extent to which the US government — and others collaborating with it, including that in the UK — were monitoring people at home and abroad. Both Wikileaks and Snowden caused anger among intelligence agencies, who said that secrecy was vital to maintaining security.
Privacy campaigners
Groups such as Big Brother Watch have argued that we should fight to safeguard our privacy. The state’s pursuit of individuals through technology has been the subject of numerous films, such as The Fugitive and Enemy of the State, and books, including George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 4th century BC. He was suspicious of arguments for privacy.

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