Over in the US, the Supreme Court has just approved a law change that will allow the US Government greater powers to hack and access computers and phones both in the US and abroad, something which could have huge implications for privacy. Simultaneously, new rules are being proposed which may give citizens greater control over what information is collected by service providers.

This is part of a wider discussion about privacy which has continued for decades, from the USSR’s use of informants to the UK’s “snoopers charter“. Where does a right to privacy end, and other concerns – such as security or stability – become more important?

We often think of mass surveillance in terms of faceless totalitarian states, like the USSR or North Korea. However, those of us living in “free” societies have become used to companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft following our every move, collecting information about our locations, our internet browsing and shopping habits. Some equipment even listens in on and records private conversations for advertising purposes. Such intensive mass-surveillance would make even the most hardened Stasi officer squeal with glee. And yet, we consider this normal.

Example: Imelda wished she hadn’t said that. How stupid could she be, criticising CEO Jarvan in front of the service robots? She just hadn’t realised the thing was there, silently cleaning the coffee rings from the desk. What had she said? The phrase “fake-tanned buffoon” had been in there, but that surely wasn’t grounds for a report, was it? She had no idea what things made it to reports. What about the mockery of his solar mining strategy demands? Did that count as legitimate professional critique, or defamation? Bollocks.

Here we can see what appears to be a very strict corporate structure. Listening devices are planted in various places, and staff are aware that their conversations can be monitored at any time.

CEO Jarvan would appear to not be very good at his job, but the implication here is that staff simply don’t dare say anything about it out of fear that they will be punished for it. Even anonymous complaints don’t seem like they would go very far given such extensive monitoring.

What effect might this have on morale? Or the quality of the company’s decisions and strategies if nobody feels free to criticise?

Of course, such monitoring needn’t apply to everyone equally;

Example: The Royal Guard were hammering on Kincade’s door. He’d thrown every barrier spell he could at it, but they were bound to get through eventually. The man in green, it had to be. He should have suspected. It was too convenient, a contact appearing like that with exactly the Powders he needed. How the hell hadn’t he realised it was a trap? He should have known better than to try using the Sightstone inside the city walls. Of course the Sorceress-Queen’s Eyes were spying on the Link, ready for any stupid mage or warlock conspirator to reveal his plans. Now, they’d have him drained and killed.

Here, rather than listening to everyone (a presumably hugely costly business), the surveillance appears to be concentrated around specific things which only certain types of people can use. Here, the “Sightstone Link” (presumably a communication method) can only be used by those with magical ability.

This may be due to the “conspiracy” being among magic-users only, or simply that they are the ones perceived to be the greater threat. Regardless, there seems little evidence that the non-magical population are being monitored at all in this society, while the magical population are subject to various networks of surveillance and informants.

What specific problems and solutions might this create? Might the magical population become more secretive and wary of strangers? Might they increasingly rely on non-magical allies for help? What might this do to the power relations between the two groups?