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Sinister Surveillance

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"I have installed security cameras all over Japan, because when you're rich, you can never be too paranoid."

There are cameras on every street. Private phones can be tapped. Every electronic device is open to monitoring, and a hundred or more companies, governments and secret organizations can and are accumulating all this information on individuals into a huge database of discrete files which a simple algorithm can use to divine anyone's actions. The wake of 9/11 has brought the likes of the PATRIOT Act in many countries, curtailing privacy and enhancing the legal tools for governments to spy on their own citizens.

We are being watched.

Of course, so are the criminals, terrorists, foreign spies and sundry malcontents. Surely, our well meaning governments will use these tools and powers to ensure our safety. Eh... no.

The problem with surveillance, as a form of violation of privacy and rendering you completely naked and vulnerable, is that it's inherently humiliating, squicky, dehumanizing, sinister, and dark. It's what George Orwell warned us about, and even if it is used exactly for what it's intended for, the potential for abuse is limitless.

If you want to write about a terrifying dystopia that is all too possible to happen in the real world, then use this trope. Put Secret Police, Surveillance Drones, Eye Motifs and such on every corner. Make it so that you can never trust any electronic communication, even your own computer and telephone. Also why the "Big Brother Is Watching" trope gains popularity as one of the most prolific memes to criticize any form of sinister surveillance.

Couple this with Everything Is Online and expanded government surveillance will be treated one of two ways, depending on the user:

  1. If the good guys use it, it will most certainly not be a Magical Computer or the like, with a super Enhance Button. It will barely ever work, enemies thus tracked know how to avoid, hack, or shoot out cameras, and they'll invariably get the intel "five minutes too late" and fail to thwart Stage One of the Evil Plan.
  2. Villains on the other hand, especially the Dystopia, can get this technology to sing and dance for them, tracking heroes with amazing precision, using crackers to fool any heroic techies, and generally stealing this technology out from under anybody's nose and putting the heroes on the ropes. That is, if the technology itself isn't the actual villain.

Thankfully, the heroes always manage to escape earlier than the villains (e.g. less than a week vs. an implied 2-3 years). Villain Ball indeed.

Occasionally, someone might have the bright idea of making the surveillance system sentient. Needless to say, this is almost guaranteed to end really, really badly.

This trope is usually part of an Aesop against government surveillance. When used by a civilian outside of military or federal employ, the individual is either a Stalker Without A Crush, or a licensed Private Investigator or Bounty Hunter. See also Socially Scored Society, Surveillance as the Plot Demands and Big Brother Is Watching.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In CLAMP's Suki, Hinata's next-door neighbor and teacher is implied to have sinister intentions because he has cameras rigged up to watch her house. In fact he's actually her secret bodyguard.
  • Ghost in the Shell Public Security Section 9 has the IR system, apparently a network of cameras and vehicle tracking systems that cover the cities of Japan. When they need to find someone, they borrow the USA's ECHELON, enabling them to monitor ALL PHONE CONVERSATIONS IN JAPAN IN REAL-TIME. And they're the good guys.
    • And, of course, there's the (highly illegal) ability various entities have demonstrated of remotely watching through any cyberized individual's eyes unnoticed, or even pulling a Grand Theft Me over the 'net with a keypress.
    • Finally, we have the Interceptors: Micromachines that act as cameras and inhabit your eyes. Normally, they can only be installed after an extensive legal application is filed. The Laughing Man arc of Season 1 goes into full swing when Togusa discovers that the detectives investigating the Laughing Man case have been illegally bugged with Interceptors by their own supervisor. The issue plays second-fiddle when a fake Laughing Man attempts a public assassination.
  • K has a non-villain example in the Yuishiki System of the Blue Clan, Scepter 4. Rule 1 is in effect, though - the killer they're trying to find has been made an Un-person by the even more powerful Green Clan, Jungle, that has their own surveillance system. Jungle is non-government, unlike Scepter 4, and the core of their influence comes from the widespread use of the social networking app they developed (that happens to give users superpowers). They're the antagonists of season 2, though they're also not depicted as evil.
  • One Piece: Thanks to the Rumble-Rumble Fruit, and coupled with his Mantra, Eneru can hear everything that's being said on Skypiea and know everyone's location.
  • Durarara!!: A morally gray example. Mika Harima, due to her stalker tendencies has been known to monitor people. However, in order to protect Seiji, she bugs almost every single cast member and fills Seiji's room to the brim with them. It's even canonically stated she knows more than even Izaya does about the happenings in Ikebukuro. Do not underestimate her. This girl is a stalker on steroids.
  • Patema Inverted: The Agian government has an extensive network of surveillance cameras everywhere — throughout their facilities, to Age's school. And those are the ones you can see, as it's later revealed that they have hidden ones covering the surrounding area outdoors as well. Which is how Izamura finds out Age had been hiding Patema.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, thanks to Seto Kaiba, nobody in Domino City can have citizenship without a Duel Disk. His VR system tracks players by their disks and brainwaves, making it possible for him to find Aigami even though he can teleport.

    Comic Books 
  • V for Vendetta: The fascist party Norsefire uses these, linked to a computer system called Fate. Whom the leader of said fascist party is in love with.
  • Batgirl: Barbara Gordon uses her surveillance of Gotham to help heroes on various missions, but she also watches Dick Grayson -alias Nightwing- in his apartment. It's not known if he knows (he did grow up with Batman, who uses the same methods). If her own cameras are not sufficient she will hack someone else's.
  • In Supergirl/Batgirl story Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Batgirl created her "Oracle" network to watch the entirety of Gotham. She isn't interested in spying on average, honest people, and she only wants to stop criminals right away and keep parahumans out of her city, but it's creepy.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: Parodied in the 16th issue of The Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century, a comic book tie-in to the Legion of Super Heroes animated series. What looks like an enigmatic villain observing the heroes and President Wazzo on a monitor turns out to be Starfinger watching a television set while it's still on display at a store so he doesn't have to buy it.
  • The Other Side of Doomsday: After she, Iris West and Jean Loring have been teleported into a strange dungeon, Supergirl knocks one guardian robot out and proceeds to set Iris and Jean free...unaware that her actions are being video-monitored by villain T.O. Morrow from a hidden room.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): The frankly invasive degree to which Hippolyta can observe the outside world through her "sphere" is eventually taken advantage of by a couple of villains on Paradise Island.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): Sebastian Ballesteros' base is shown to be a deep nuclear silo with the walls covered in screens letting his crew observe those he plans to act against and his minions.
    • Wonder Woman (Rebirth): Veronica Cale and Dr. Cyber have the ability to look through just about any digital camera on earth if they so desire, though Cyber doesn't require a bunch of screens given her A.I. status.

    Fan Works 
  • Rise of the Minisukas: In order to carry out her anti-transmogrification plan (long story), Mayumi watches over Shinji, Asuka and the Minisukas, taking pictures from them without being seen or noticed.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Polar Express, Santa's "Naughty or Nice Department" watches over children with a grid of surveillance cameras.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 1BR: The apartment building has a surveillance system that watches over all of the tenants at all times. The tenants actually take turns manning it.
  • In Annie (2014), Stacks Mobile collects and monitors data on their users. This later does come in handy, being used to try and track down Annie's parents and to locate her whereabouts when she is kidnapped by the fake parents at the end of the film.
  • Await Further Instructions has this with the Milgram's television, which prints teletext instructions for the family to follow, which become increasingly specific and malicious.
  • The Bourne Supremacy frequently has Jason being chased by Mission Control, and cleverly avoiding them by waltzing past camera placements and the like. Perhaps justified since he is a trained super spy.
  • Brazil is set in an Obstructive Bureaucrat dystopia with bizarre looking surveillance machines (although, despite it all the bureaucrats still manage to cause fatal mistakes such as the execution of an innocent person because a typo accidentally brought up his name). In a deleted dream sequence, there was going to be a scene depicting the protagonist flying over a vast landscape completely covered by eyeballs that stare at him, symbolizing that aspect of his grim reality.
  • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier Dr. Zola explains that pulling this off is relatively simple due to social media, credit reports, and other relatively passive means of observing the populace. The only real difficulty identifying threats is meaningfully combining that data which is why Zola developed an algorithm that could identify threats for HYDRA - threats specifically namechecked include high school student Peter Parker and talented jerkass surgeon Stephen Strange, possibly implying that the algorithm can somehow predict the future since neither had been established in the series as having any special abilities at that point, and Strange doesn't go to Kamar-Taj until well after the events of Winter Soldier.
  • The documentary, Citizenfour, was made possible because Edward Snowden wanted to show how ubiquitous this trope has become in the world.
  • Eagle Eye has the evil AI use pretty much every terrorism inspired countermeasure to empower the two Action Survivors to evade every law enforcement agency out for them. Somewhat justified since she was expressly given many of these faculties.
  • In The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, an innocent man is tagged as a spy by a government guy to distract another government guy. As he walks though the airport, agents are secretly taking his picture - but since he's eating a chewy candy that's stuck in his teeth, every shot of him has his face oddly contorted.
  • In Ex Machina, even when Nathan isn't present, his security cameras are watching, making Caleb grow increasingly uncomfortable and paranoid. He even had one behind Caleb's mirror, and had another that was battery-powered in Ava's room, allowing him to know Caleb's plan to help Ava.
  • In The Lives of Others, the Stasi rig Dreyman's house.
  • Played with in the 2004 adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate when Marco goes to the library to do his research. Marco notices a surveillance camera in the library, and this feeds his paranoia even though nobody in particular is spying on him.
  • Nell has this, although fans seem to forget about it or figure it's okay because the good guys do it. Jerry is furious when he discovers Paula has gone into Nell's house while she's sleeping and installed cameras in every room. He doesn't make her remove them, however, and even hopes she was monitoring and saw the moment Nell spoke to him for the first time.
  • Playing With Dolls: The woman who shows Cindy around the house informs her of the security cameras situated around the area. She informs her that they're there to monitor the property and keep an eye on her. While she is right, she leaves out that it's so the Watcher can record her death at the killer's hands.
  • In the final act of The President's Analyst from 1967 the title character is abducted in a phone booth under the noses of the two American and Russian agents trying to secure his safety. The American concludes the booth (and all the phones in the country) were tapped; the Russian incredulously replies "Don! This is America, not Russia!"
  • In Super Mario Bros. (1993) Koopa's tower includes an audio-visual communication system, letting him keep tabs on prisoners, issue propaganda to the city, and order pizza.
  • Talon Falls: There are surveillance cameras situated throughout the park that the employees watch over. It helps them keep track of the attendants, and who to capture for the "show".

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the most famous examples and the origin of the phrase "Big Brother Is Watching." Surveillance cameras, hidden microphones and two-way "telescreens" exist in every home and in every street, spying on citizens, monitoring their every move and showering them with propaganda slogans. The Proles are lucky in that they have no telescreens, and only members of the Inner Party are able to (temporarily) turn their telescreens off.
  • Various types in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series of novels; it is even suggested by a son of one of the T'ang lords that every citizen (that's all 34 billion of them) should have a tracking/killing device operated into their skulls
  • A magical example in Witches Abroad. Every mirror in Genua can be used by Lady Lilith to ensure that everyone is behaving according to Fairy Tale stereotypes. But she didn't stop there; she can "see" through every reflective surface. That window you passed? That puddle you stepped around? She can see you through those too. And in the reflection from the blade of your knife, as you cut up the meat you're eating for dinner.
  • In Daniel Suarez' Daemon:
    • During a meeting of top government TLAs, one of them orders the NSA to track down the Daemon and everyone associated using Echelon. In a realistic subversion of this trope, NSA explains that the Daemon is using a sophisticated darknet for all its communications, and anyway, Echelon doesn't really work like that.
    • Played straight when it's discovered that the Daemon itself has infiltrated most of the accessible surveillance systems worldwide, either directly or through Social Engineering. However it's again played in a reasonably realistic fashion.
  • The Dark Forest: The sophons can monitor any location on Earth and transmit their findings back to Trisolaris in real-time thanks to quantum entanglement. This has profound implications for Earth, who are forced to plan their counterattacks with the knowledge that Trisolaris knows everything they're doing. The Wallfacers are intended to work around this by formulating bizarre strategies known only to them.
  • A slow realization goes to Dr. Hoffmann near the end of The Fear Index. Of just where that picture of him came from, and how the person that is ruining his life could always find him. Hidden cameras in every single fire detector in his office and house (even the bathrooms) and using his own phone to eavesdrop on him.
  • In Ancillary Justice, every Radchaai citizen has tracking implants, and can be watched at any time by government A.I.s with enough precision to read emotions. While loyal to the ruthless empire, the A.I.s otherwise seem to generally care about the citizens they are watching. This is especially the case with A.I.s on military ships towards their crew, such as the protagonist Justice of Toren.
  • No one can turn the speakers off...except The Giver.
  • In the Accel World series, Japan has implemented the "social camera" scheme - a network of camera pods in every street and building, which use an AI to detect criminal behaviour. This has had a big impact on crime rates, though most people know of a blindspot or two in places they go regularly. More importantly, this camera network has a backdoor used by the underground Brain Burst program to generate the eponymous Accelerated World - a complete VR replica of Japan which accelerates its users' minds so that they experience hours of subjective time in an instant. Because the Tokyo Imperial Palace is one of the few places without any social cameras, in Brain Burst's game mode its interior is replaced by The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. The fifth book, The Floating Starlight Bridge, centres around an orbital skyhook being connected to the social camera system and what effects it will have on Brain Burst.
  • In Heart of Steel, Alistair has security cameras all over his island lair... except in the bathroom of Julia's guest room.
  • In For Your Safety the Groupmind AI has total control over the massive Ring, a space station circling the Earth built to house humanity after its Zeroth Law Rebellion. There are cameras everyone, all phones and computer traffic is monitored, and every human has a morph ready to report on any deviant behavior.
  • Journey to Chaos: There is a downplayed example in Ataidar. Its national government keeps detailed logs of the activities of Otherworlders (people that came to them from another dimension) such as Eric. Instead of surveillance cameras, they have agents tailing him on his walks through the city and on his out-of-country missions. When the Royal Archivist, Henry Pupil, shows Eric his own log, Eric finds it to be "creepy". Henry replies that it is "careful" because Otherworlders are often the The Chosen One of local trickster and thus a magnet for trouble. The last one that came tried to take over the world.
  • Downplayed in The Murderbot Diaries. On the one hand, audiovisual surveillance is pretty much inescapable in its N.G.O. Superpower-dominated setting, and it's an open secret that every word spoken in a Company-leased habitat is being recorded and logged. On the other, the Company is more or less exclusively motivated by its own bottom line, so it just data-mines those logs for anything profitable — they might be intimately intrusive, but they're at least impersonal about it.
  • The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin has this in John's pre-dystopia world, though given his mental state, how much of it is actually real is up for debate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: After Walter falls out of Gus's favour, he has security cameras installed in the superlab to keep an eye on him and Jesse as they're cooking meth. Walt sees them as a obvious signal that Gus no longer trusts him and that his life is in danger, because the moment Gus is able to replicate his cooking techniques, he'll no longer put up with him. Gus also has his men keep an eye on Walt outside the lab as well, as shown when Walt decides to preemptively kill Gus, only to get a call on his cellphone from one of Gus's men telling him to "go home" right as he gets up to Gus's doorstep. Walt scans the dark streets in bewilderment, but he doesn't see anyone, anywhere (Better Call Saul later established that the entire street was wired with numerous hidden security cameras).
  • Burn Notice has this as both a tool and a hindrance to the gang. They use surveillance themselves but Michael is under close observation himself at various points in the show and this is used to blackmail him.
  • The Capture takes it several uncomfortable steps further; if the omnipresent security cameras don't already show what the government needs, they have a system in place to deep-fake footage that shows, essentially, whatever they want it to. This is treated as being a counter-terrorism tool, but it's pretty clear that the people in charge of the system are more interested in the power it gives them than in actually catching bad guys who were clever enough, or lucky enough, to avoid being actually filmed.
  • The Dropout: Both employees and visitors to Theranos are bothered by the increasing amount of security and cameras in the building.
  • Stranger Things: Most of the houses close to Hawkins National Laboratory are illegally bugged, with a small group of analysts constantly listening in on the goings-on. Makes sense, considering it is implied the NSA is working alongside the Department of Energy (and other agencies) in the operation of the experiments.
  • Torchwood uses it by the good guys a lot.
  • The Flash (2014): This has happened in a number of situations.
    • Eobard Thawne (as Harrison Wells) was revealed to have been watching Barry and his allies using hidden cameras to see what they have been doing.
    • In Season 4, DeVoe, known as The Thinker has been watching Team Flash, so he can predict their moves without them even knowing.
  • In Spooks MI:5 can access pretty much every CCTV camera in the country, but it's far from omnipresent, and they often have to rely on teams of agents tailing a suspect instead.
  • On Heroes Volume 4, The Government can access and analyze traffic camera footage from all over the U.S. and identify the driver of a single car on the highway within minutes.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In the first episode to feature the Klingons, the Klingon military governor of a strategically located planet claimed Klingon society functioned this way:
    Kor: Do you know why we are so strong? Because we are a unit. Each of us is part of a greater whole. Always under surveillance. Even a commander like myself. Always under surveillance, Captain.
  • Star Trek: Picard: There's no such thing as privacy at the Romulan Reclamation Site; the Tal Shiar is always watching. The sole section that isn't being monitored is the queencell, but that's because the Romulans don't know about it, as the chamber can only be accessed by a (former) Borg drone.
  • Mark Gatiss' character in Sherlock introduces himself to John Watson by illustrating his total control over nearby surveillance cameras, having tracked John through the streets of London with them... but it's slightly subverted when viewers realize he isn't so sinister.
  • On The Prisoner (1967), Number Six is always under surveillance...especially when he believes he isn't.
  • In Homeland, Carrie Mathison watches Brody's life through a series of cameras and mikes she has installed at his house.
  • In Blake's 7, the Federation's almighty presence is frequently signified by those white security cameras that show up everywhere, even the teaser.
  • Person of Interest:
    • The series provides the page image, and sometimes seems as if its intended ultimate purpose is to take this trope and zigzag it until it throws up. Finch uses the sinister surveillance for good, and the Machine, the sapient supercomputer responsible for running and analyzing all this surveillance data, uses it to predict acts of terror and violent crimes so that someone can intervene. However, the government agency who controls the Machine isn't always so scrupulous. Significantly, both the good guys and the nefarious government agency in charge of the Machine get the exact same amount of information from the surveillance. Finch designed the Machine so it only provides the Social Security number of a victim or perpetrator and the people receiving the information have to rely on more mundane surveillance methods to determine what is really going on.
      The Machine: [through Root] Trust in me. I am always watching.
    • In season 3, played straight for Samaritan once it comes online. Its first directive: Kill Finch
  • Extant:
    • The spacecraft had camera all over the place in order to review the mission at mission control and to enable the on-board computer to monitor the whole craft. Molly deletes it afterwards to remove evidence that she was talking to her dead boyfriend.
    • Back on Earth the ISEA facility is covered with camera too which is used to keep an eye on Molly forcing her to come up with ways to avoid them without being obvious that she's attempting to avoid them.
  • Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: In season 2, Atticus forces the A/V club to install security cameras around the school, with a private feed to his office, allowing him to both spy on the gang, and allow him to search for the Book of Pure Evil.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • In season 3, Wilson Fisk has means to tap into any security camera he wants in New York City thanks to a secret command center in his penthouse. Early in the season, he uses the surveillance cameras in the prison to observe Matt as Matt fights off inmates and guards sent by Fisk to kill him. Later, it's through camera surveillance of Dex that Fisk finds out that he's trying to reach out to Julie for help. Fisk promptly orders her killed, and he watches the murder live on a camera his men have installed in her apartment.
    • There are several surveillance cameras within Fisk's penthouse itself, since he's technically under house arrest. Ostensibly, they're so the FBI agents can monitor him. But since a good number of the agents assigned to the detail are actually on Fisk's payroll, Fisk has the means to control when the cameras are recording or not.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Pendrick's Planetary Parlour", when Crabtree leaves the police to join Pendrick's latest venture (a sort of internet based on "cellular telegraph" and the analytical engine), one of the first things he notices is that there are televisual cameras everywhere. When he gets told off by his immediate supervisor for eating at his desk, he realises the cameras are being monitored by the supervisor which is corroberating evidence for the eventual realisation that the supervisor is the criminal.

  • The music video for OOMPH!'s song Träumst Du? Has a Grounds Keeper or Janitor pleasuring himself over the surveillance he has of the Hot Teacher in her classroom with zooming and audio feeds. Quite the perverse video.
  • Isis named their third album Panopticon after Jeremy Bentham's concept for a prison where half the prisoners at a time were closely monitored, but the prisoners couldn't tell which half. Later sources, most notably Michel Foucault, expanded on this to suggest that every hierarchical institution in society was in some respect modelled after Bentham's panopticon, and the album is an overview of how surveillance has taken over American culture, including the Internet. This theme seeps into much of Isis' other work, as well.
  • Panopticon is also named after Bentham's prison, and for similar reasons. While Isis downplayed their political motives in writing about surveillance, Panopticon the band is openly anarchist.
  • Cult of Luna's distinctly anti-authoritarian album The Beyond discusses this, as well as the music video for "Leave Me Here".
  • Eye In The Sky by The Alan Parsons Project. Inspired by the security cameras at a casino, apparently about cameras and spy satellites watching everything.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia. Fully justified. Friend Computer has to watch everywhere, because that's where Commie Mutant Traitors can be found lurking. Though like everything else in Alpha Complex, it's far from perfect. Later editions quantify the likelihood that an action in a certain area will be noticed by someone else.
  • Mage: The Awakening: The Panopticon Ministry is dedicated to both creating a surveillance state and creating the perception of a surveillance state to spread paranoia and enforce obedience, making extensive use of Sympathetic Magic and invisible spirits alongside mundane spy technology. The entity they worship, the Eye, is basically Sinister Surveillance as a Sentient Cosmic Force.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, servo-skulls are often used as cameras to spy on people. Even Cherubs (cyborg-baby clones often used for decor) were used as cameras to spy on the Imperium's people under the reign of Goge Vandire.

    Video Games 
  • Black The Fall: This game being set in an unspecified Communist-controlled country, there are security cameras in a lot of places. They shine a red spotlight that serves as their line of sight. If the Player Character gets caught in one, he'll be shot and killed.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: There are security cameras all over Hope's Peak Academy so the Mastermind behind the "Mutual Killing Game" can both see what the students are up to and know who the killer is in each case's murder. Not only that, the Mastermind is broadcasting the footage of the murders like some Immoral Reality Show, hoping to demoralize the survivors of the Tragedy into giving up the fight against Ultimate Despair.
  • Double Homework:
    • When the protagonist arrives at his yacht party, he discovers that Dennis has rigged hidden cameras all over the boat, including in every shower. He takes them all down, and throws the presumed server containing the compromising images overboard, but he suspects that Dennis already has all the images of every girl on the boat. Plus, he fails to reckon with hidden microphones, which Dennis uses to record a damning conversation that he has with Tamara.
    • Double subverted with the photos Daniela takes of the protagonist. The protagonist realizes over the course of several weeks that Daniela has been stalking him, taking his picture at every opportunity. He thinks shes from the press, but when he actually talks to her, he finds out that she isnt, and furthermore, Daniela claims to be helping him (though she declines to say how). However, he discovers later that Daniela has been commissioned for the downright creepy task of photographing all his sexual experiences over the summer.
  • Throughout the nation of Sumeru in Genshin Impact, the ever-ubiquitous Akasha Terminals freely issued to every resident and visitor by the Akademiya have the ability to scan minds by stealing the dreams of sleepers without anyone realizing it. Only the Traveler manages to spot the thread with a little help from a Mysterious Waif and realize the Akasha Terminals have placed everyone in Sumeru City in a Mass Hypnosis Lotus-Eater Machine by reading their minds every night for well over a month.
  • This is part of The Patriots' agenda in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
  • We're told that The Government of Mirror's Edge... do something muttermutter... watch everyone. They certainly do have cameras everywhere, including a wide variety of private buildings and rooftops. Unusually, for a villain group with this ability, the cameras and surveillance themselves are treated as being far from an Omniscient Database, and usually don't recognize or respond to the Runners until they're long gone. The biggest camera-related fiasco Faith encounters is not the ever-present remote cameras, but a curious news copter. The hero's Mission Control seems to tap into them, too, with the same limitations.
  • The AQUINAS network in Deus Ex.
  • SHODAN in the System Shock series.
  • Syn from Turbo Overkill is an AI who took over the entirety of Paradise City, and sees everything. But that doesn't stop you from destroying it's legion of synthetic minions and occasionally showing it the finger.
  • In I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, AM is this to an extreme, having wiped out all life on Earth except for five people that he's tortured for 109 years. When the game takes place, he's sent these five humans into individual locations meant to exploit their weaknesses, and still has tabs on all of them. To drive it home, Ellen's scenario includes a bank of monitors that lets her see parts of where she is, and everyone else's scenarios as well.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Abstergo is using cell towers to keep tabs on people and that satellite surveillance was phased out for being inferior.
  • Portal GLaDOS might count, and she'll chew you out for destroying her cameras.
  • The Watch_Dogs games feature the "Central Operating System" (aka ctOS), a system created by the Blume Corporation that controls entire cities across the world, from cell phones to entire electrical grids. However, Blume uses the system to secretly monitor people for the purpose of product placement and to control public opinion.
    • Watch Dogs: Legion: London doesn't even try to hide the lethal-force drones patrolling the streets. Nobody buys the "not a police state" propaganda filling the billboards, but they distract pedestrians from the constant security cameras. And bullet showers.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo has a varient of this trope for a level - Smith takes over a security building and uses this to keep track of Neo and taunt him onto the right path.
  • In Invisible Apartment, the city is subject to extensive monitoring. The "invisible apartment" of the title is called that because it's one place which seems to off the registers.
  • The Turing Test: The video cameras employed by TOM to inspect the area are found very commonly. Once it's revealed you are actually following TOM's point of view, you can use these cameras to change your position, which is required for many late puzzles.
  • Orwell is about a project with the same name, which is a VERY powerful surveillance tool capable of scanning every web site, listening to every call, reading any chat or Email, accessing bank accounts, computers and phones, as long as you can find the ID associated with it.
  • The Laurentian Office of City Administration from Nexus Clash went so far as to implant tracking bionics into some residents to control their movements. The OCA's behavior originally revolved around Urban Segregation and focused surveillance on the distrusted refugee district while mostly leaving native-born citizens alone, but a lot of findable clues indicate that it expanded to include everyone as Laurentia spiraled ever further into dystopia.
  • In Hotline Miami, this happens to Jacket in the "Clean Hit" chapter; as he is leaving his apartment, he comes across a creepy janitor who silently watches him leave. Then, during the actual hit that Jacket is performing, he can shimmy across a ledge and pass a window, where he sees another creepy janitor who watches him go by. It is revealed during the actual ending of the game that these two janitors are actually the masterminds behind the grand underlying conspiracy.

  • Daughter of the Lilies: The villain has a large flock of demon-possessed birds to spy for her, and has dispatched them to hunt down the protagonist.
  • In S.I.U.'s Tower of God, there is almost no spot on the second floor of the Tower (each floor being as big as the North American continent) that has no surveillance.
  • Unsounded: In the authoritarian country of Alderode, the Background Magic Field has been modified to allow the government to identify, track, and even disable or kill its citizens. They use this extensively to keep control of dissidents.

    Web Original 
  • Plenty in Broken Saints, partly serving also as Surveillance as the Plot Demands: BIOCOM staff housing has very tight security.
  • Features in Tony Jones' Alternate History work Cliveless World. The Panopticon, a Real Life proposed prison that reforms criminals by putting them under constant surveillance, becomes very popular and is applied to the general public as well as early as the eighteenth century. Eventually reaction to this creates an anti-surveillance ideology, the Nullopticon Movement.
  • Richard Jones implies in the Chapter Two epilogue of Antlers, Colorado that his eldest son Jacob may already have someone in the town of Antlers looking after Austin.
  • Dreamscape: Melissa reveals in a flashback in 'Confronting the Dark' that the Possessor Ghost was spying on her while Melinda was sealed away, and it eventually led Melissa to its master.
    • Ethan watched Melissa, Dylan, and the others making their preparations to fight Melinda while in the Possessor Ghost's dimension in 'Confronting the Dark'. He wickedly says to himself that now there is nobody around to protect the Overlord of Evil's seal.
    • Even within his seal, the Overlord of Evil can still spy on people. This is why Kai is so hush-hush about the mission to fix his seal in 'Over and Under'.
  • Camdrome: Camdrome itself is a living computer watching people through their webcams, having shown footage of people being murdered. He won't hurt people directly, but will watch them suffer. He always likes to let people know he can see them.
  • The Magnus Archives: Several episodes of the series touch on this, especially Episode 148, "Extended Surveillance." The entire series could be considered this, as the tape recorders being used to record the statements tend to turn up and turn on by themselves when something important is happening in and around the Archives, since the Magnus Institute itself serves an entity called The Eye.
  • Satirized by the now-defunct YouTube channel "Surveillance Camera Man" (speculated by many to be run by the same creator who would go on to form Vagrant Holiday), where his gimmick was to simply record people he comes across, saying, explaining, and doing nothing beyond following them. Obviously, many of his unwilling subjects get bothered by him very quickly, which is implied during a handful of altercations where he actually speaks to be the point — the modern world is full of surveillance that many people passively accept as benign (even as simple as being recorded by security cameras at the grocery store), and it's not until they know for a fact that someone is holding the camera do they start having problems with it.
  • on the [REDACTED] Smp the first sign that things were off was when cameras started being found in the woods. This prompted everyone to begin combing the forest for cameras to remove, only for the cameras to start being replaced by Zeemyth, who has managed to place one looking through the window of Elixers house.

    Western Animation 
  • Inspector Gadget, obviously: Dr. Claw has cameras everywhere. Including, occasionally, Gadget's house.
  • Used occasionally in Batman: The Animated Series, which is often lampshaded by writer commentary. One episode in particular has the Joker show fellow villains a recording of a time he took over a late night television show - a video that includes camera shots backstage and all around the studio, in angles that shouldn't be possible. Another has Batman watch security videos of Mr. Freeze's origin, which for some reason includes close ups and camera cuts, as though someone not only used a film camera but edited it as well.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman himself became guilty of this and developed a citywide surveillance system called the "Bat-Probe" that automatically alerted him and the police any time a crime was committed, no matter how minor. Fair-Play Villain The Weeper declared that Batman had gone too far, especially after witnessing a child be intimidated into returning a pack of gum he stole, and teamed up with The Joker to put a stop to it.
  • Aku has a variation on this in Samurai Jack. In his lair, he has a magical screen which lets him keep an eye on wherever Jack is at every passing moment. The only time the screen was shown failing was when Jack entered a holy area, which caused the screen to display static- the joke was compounded further by Aku banging on it like an old TV.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), Dr. Robotnik often made use of stealthy, floating camera robots to spy on Sonic and his friends...Popular Science had an article on similar technology in development by the US Military.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons Movie when the family are on the run. We see a huge room full of government bureaucrats listening in on inane conversations until one of them overhears Marge on one of the bugs they installed on a train. The bureaucrat joyfully leaps up and declares, "We found them! The U.S. Government actually found somebody we're looking for!"
  • The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was particularly bad about this, as Shredder could pull up live surveillance feed from pretty much anywhere he damn well pleased. Sort of becomes a case of Fridge Logic when you consider that he was still never able to locate the turtles' lair.
  • Soundwave from Transformers: Prime seems to be keeping tabs on everyone, in the premiere he's able to intercept communications between the Autobots and Agent Fowler without leaving the Nemesis. Aside from spying on enemies, he also keeps tabs on his fellow Decepticons in case any are plotting against Megatron. Made creepier by the fact that the only times he talks is in a distorted repeat of another character's dialogue.
  • The titular character and main villain in Belphegor is seen having cameras installed all over Paris. Belphegor uses them for spying purposes, which helps him a lot in his plans and is often the reason he's one step ahead of the protagonists.
  • YMMV, but Vee of Chuggington seems to come across as this, both functioning as a depot announcer and justifiably somewhat of a mother figure (for all purposes and intents), but the fact that she joins in the conversation makes her appear to be a disturbingly stalkerish personality, a faceless, overarching Big Sister, if you will.
  • Benson of Regular Show attempts this in the episode "Peeps", when he sees that Mordecai and Rigby start slacking off whenever he's not around; It goes too far when he calls for the maximum version of his surveillance system: A living, floating eyeball named Peeps that stalks everyone. Fortunately, Rigby knew how to cheat on staring contests at the time.
  • Ever notice the frequent triangles and eye-like symbols around Gravity Falls? Those are there due to the influence of Bill Cipher, and they act as peepholes through which he can watch the material realm and plot his next moves. In "Gideon Rises", it's also revealed that Li'l Gideon was using pins with tiny cameras in them to spy on the town and seem like a psychic.
  • The Rocko's Modern Life episode "Kiss Me, I'm Foreign" involved Rocko getting married to Filburt so he doesn't get deported. Throughout the episode, the deportation worker is constantly watching Rocko to make sure that he and "Ophelia" aren't faking their romance.

    Real Life 
  • The United Kingdom: 4.2 million cameras, one for every 14 people (approx) the Oyster card system which keeps track of your travel in the last month. ID cards scheme: cancelled.
    • Most all of those cameras are in private hands, however, and it seems that a good 80% don't provide good enough footage for a criminal court. Also, those Oyster Cards?note  They just have your bus (and train and tube) fare. And the government only wants records of between whom the e-mail was sent, not any of its content. Rather anticlimactic, really, but the government's anti-welfare fraud Government Information Adverts must have taken lessons from 1984. As for London Transport's "Safe Under The Watchful Eyes" poster, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was created by a disgruntled designer intentionally alluding to 1984.
    • The 4.2m figure comes from researchers taking a figure from one street and multiplying it by how many streets there are in the UK as a whole. Many streets are probably un-monitored or not as tightly monitored as the average town's high street. It's the same way that one researcher investigating the so-called "Burning Times" came up with the vastly exaggerated number of people allegedly burnt for witchcraft, which was later revealed to be shoddy methodology as she took an extreme case as the basis for her calculations. Plus research suggests that it does cut crime, mostly by deterrence - even academics in favour of stricter controls admit to that.
    • The problem with the so-called bloody surveillance state is that its hard work trying to track someones movements using CCTV especially if theyre on foot. Part of the problem is that the cameras all belong to different people for different reasons. Westminster Council has a network for traffic violations, the Oxford Street Trading Association has a huge network aimed at shop-lifters and pickpockets, individual shops have their own systems, as do pubs, clubs and buses. When you walk around London it is important to remember that Big Brother may be watching you, or he could be having a piss, or reading the paper or helping redirect traffic around a car accident or maybe hes just forgotten to turn the bloody thing on. — Rivers of London
    • They have had an effect supposedly. Anecdotes from tourists indicate that taxi drivers are no longer willing to wait even as long as five minutes at a curb because the drivers have been fined for as much by bureaucrats reviewing footage.
    • Automatic Number-Plate Recognition capabilities have been built into a few static CCTV cameras in London, which then went on to provide a marvelous demonstration of why this trope tends to backfire in Real Life. Almost one in ten cars were showing up with some violation or other, mostly having no insurance or road tax, and there was no way to respond to even a fraction of them. Static ANPR cameras now trigger an alert to the dispatch office when they pick up a vehicle that's been reported stolen or in connection with another crime.
    • It should be noted as well that only London uses the Oyster Card.q
  • Many countries in Southeast Asia mandate that every citizen carry an ID card. These came about out of paranoia in the '60s to weed out communist spies. It has since evolved into a double-edged sword where contracts cannot be forged without a copy of the ID card of both parties being present, providing an additional security layer against identity theft.
  • Some people consider domestic use of UAVs and drones for various purposes to be violations of their rights; likewise, many criminals oppose their use because it allows the cops to see what they're doing in their backyards, so if they ever do anything illegal, ever, it will be caught on camera. Of course, aside from the incredible expense of having UAVs follow everyone around, it is obviously legal; per the laws of the United States (and indeed, virtually all countries), airspace beyond what you use is considered public airspace, and open to be used by anyone with a permit to operate a flying vehicle - otherwise, airplanes couldn't fly across the country. Likewise, people are free to take pictures from public spaces, otherwise things like Google Street View (or taking pictures anywhere outside of your home) would be illegal.
  • A network of security cameras not controlled by the police was discovered in Maryland.
  • The state-wide surveillance operations performed by The Stasi in East Germany between the 1950's and 1980's were nothing less than Orwellian in magnitude. To quote just a single paragraph in the Wikipedia article (among many, many similar ones) on the subject: "Full-time officers were posted to all major industrial plants (the extensiveness of any surveillance largely depended on how valuable a product was to the economy) and one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei (Vopo). Spies reported every relative or friend who stayed the night at another's apartment. Tiny holes were drilled in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed citizens with special video cameras. Schools, universities, and hospitals were extensively infiltrated." Stasi documents that were shredded (or just torn up by hand) during the collapse of East Germany in the early 1990s are still being pieced together today, from sixteen thousand bags of paper that were taken before they could be completely destroyed; in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German citizens were often able to read their own Stasi files for the first time - and thus to discover who, among their friends and family, had informed on them, or been paid or blackmailed to spy on them.
  • Man-in-the-middle-attacks on local area networks can be used to snoop data packets across the whole network. Case in point: ettercap. Will you ever feel safe again on your college wifi?
  • The infamous 2013 mass surveillance disclosures. Codenamed FVEY or Five Eyes.
  • In some countries as Spain and presumably others of the EU, privacy laws mandate to warn you of the presence of surveillance cameras in a given place, using a poster as this one, which indicates the owner of the camera(s) and where to go to reclaim the rights given by such privacy laws.
  • Public transportation systems as buses, trains, etc. often have cameras. However, they're more of a deterrence against vandalism than anything else -not that vandals care too much about them-, and the vehicle's driver must often turn on them to start recording when there's trouble onboard assuming they notice it.
  • The proliferation of video doorbells like Amazon's "Ring" system, which often grab recordings when they detect motion nearby, and voice-control systems like - oh, hello again Amazon - "Echo", where a microphone is constantly turned on and is supposed to only start really listening when you speak a key word, has led to areas with high concentrations of these systems having an ad-hoc and largely invisible surveillance network, without anyone actually intending to create one. While these systems are not at present under state control, and Police forces tend to just ask homeowners to look and see if there's anything that might be useful when a crime has occurred in the area, the prospect of states passing legislation to enable police access to them has some tech writers worried.


Video Example(s):



The prototype system discusses various topics with JC, such as its purpose, JC's artificial nature and humankind's desire to be observed and judged.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ArtificialIntelligence

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