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When I thought about consequences of mass surveillance, one question came through my mind:

There are many dystopias where mass surveillance is one cause for the dark future. But can there be scenarios where mankind evolved to a peaceful high-tech species like in Star Trek although there is mass surveillance, and is mass surveillance existent in the Star Trek universe?

The situation in Star Trek is an inspiring scenario on how society could become. And mass surveillance is a current topic in our world which could decide on which path we will go.

I would like to know:

  1. Is mass surveillance mentioned or found in Star Trek movies or series? (If yes: where?)

  2. Is this topic and the effect on how mankind evolved addressed somehow? (if yes: how?)

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    You're asking three different questions here, only one of which seems to be on topic. – Mithrandir Feb 23 '17 at 11:50
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    I can't remember which episode it was referenced in, but the Starship Voyager actually records everyone's brainwaves at all times... – Muzer Feb 23 '17 at 15:48
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    @Muzer: “the Starship Voyager actually records everyone's brainwaves at all times”. That’s a change from the Enterprise, where with surprisingly frequency crew would ask the computer about the whereabouts of someone, only to be told they were no longer on the ship at all, and had in some cases left several hours ago, apparently without triggering an alarm or anything. – Paul D. Waite Feb 23 '17 at 21:19
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    It could be things are skewed too, since the Enterprise / Star Fleet is effectively a military organization, so in that situation monitoring might be more accepted just like it would be on an aircraft carrier today. – Andy Feb 23 '17 at 23:25
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    @PaulD.Waite While the computer does have to record this information in order to answer the question, "Where is so-and-so?" the monitoring is very slack. Nothing makes that more clear than the dialog between Picard and the computer in some TNG episode in season 6 where crew-members were mysteriously disappearing for 2-3 days before anyone noticed. Picard asked the computer, "Where is ensign so-and-so?" "Ensign so-and-so is not aboard the Enterprise." "How did she leave?" "Unknown." So, the event of a crew member leaving via an unknown method was recorded without triggering any alarms. – jpaugh Feb 24 '17 at 21:54

10 Answers 10

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Well, it's not exactly an example of "mass" surveillance but consider that essentially every single moment of the lives of every person aboard any starship or space station is recorded and stored in perpetuity. Nobody seems surprised about this or objects to it.

So either they have been duly warned and this has been a thing for a long time, or that's more or less the state that life has become.

There does seem to be a culture of only minimally intruding on the privacy of others. Thus when captain Picard, for example, is blinked off of the ship and into a shuttle craft by Q. You would think that the captain blinking off of the ship would set off alarms, but it doesn't. It requires someone to actually ask for the location of the captain.

I suppose it's sort of the best of possibilities- complete protection by complete surveillance but tempered by a culture that respects privacy enough to not abuse that.

Mind you, while anybody seems to be able to ask for anybody's location, I would suspect that attempting to access more intimate details would likely require a higher level of authority from the asker. We do see that Star Trek has alphanumeric codes to access certain subsystems, which would suggest a similar level of security for people's privacy.

That said, it could be argued that the culture has advanced to the point where people almost never do anything that they are ashamed of. Look at the TNG episode where Wesley and his group at the academy attempt to cover up the death of one of their colleagues. The investigators seem partially incredulous because people just don't do that sort of thing anymore.

Edit: thinking about this a little more, I would point out that our cultures typically fear those with power either for fear of them abusing that power, or simply for misusing it. There appears to be very little of that in the Star Trek universe...usually. Remember that we see the federation from the perspective of the federation, which will typically mean that they will view themselves in the best possible light. We get glimpses at times of how many people are decidedly less than happy with their treatment from the Federation. I don't recall an instance of anyone objecting to the surveillance though.

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    Also, keep in mind that most of what we see of people checking logs for what other people have done has been almost entirely on a starship that is a part of a military organization: Starfleet. I think both Picard and Janeway at times have pointed out to the crew that "this is not a democracy". But the Federation as it pertains to civilians IS. And we have indication from DS9 that that kind of intrusive surveillance is not commonplace for civilians as evidenced by an episode where blood screenings are introduced but Sisko's dad heavily protests. – Shufflepants Feb 23 '17 at 14:58
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    Most of the tracking is done by combadge, hence it being left behind plenty of times when a crewmember doesn't want to be found immediately. So it's kind of voluntary anyway, and wouldn't apply to civilians. – Izkata Feb 23 '17 at 15:02
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    -1 What happens aboard a military vessel has almost zero bearing on civilian life. You don't climb into an Army APC in a combat zone then declare that every human on earth walks around all day with weapons. – Shane Feb 23 '17 at 16:57
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    I think the paradigm is more like complete transparency, rather than a one-way surveillance by the government, of the people. In "The Neutral Zone" (TNG), the computer told Ralph Offenhouse (a visitor who should have no special security clearance) where the captain was. Barclay and Geordi were also able to simulate acquaintances and strangers on the holodeck, implying that anyone can access your 3D image and voice pattern if they want to. The holographic Doctor was able to open a vidlink to Belanna's bathroom. I can't guess what people do about stalking in the 24th century. – AshleyZ Feb 24 '17 at 0:29
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    "Nobody seems surprised about this or objects to it." That reminds me of Janeway's comment in one episode where Voyager encounters telepaths (the crime thought people; I forgot which exact episode that was, but it was one of the early ones) and reacts pretty strongly to the idea that the investigator would both read her mind and record her thoughts during a questioning in relation to a murder investigation. If pervasive surveillance and monitoring was a thing aboard Voyager, why would Janeway react so strongly to an alien species doing something very similar in criminal investigations? – a CVn Feb 24 '17 at 10:56
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Yes, systems of what we would consider "mass surveillance" still exist in the Star Trek universe:

  • Within the Federation, particularly StarFleet, people can be tracked via communication badges, although this form of monitoring is generally benign in nature and somewhat voluntary
  • With the Romulan Empire, it is widely known that the Tal Shiar - the Romulan secret service - closely monitors its populace and descends swiftly on anything it considers dissent or treason.
  • Prior to the Dominion annexation, The Obsidian Order of Cardassia performed intense scrutiny of its own populace, often with brutal consequences

On a smaller scale, an example would be the Deep Space Nine space station. Odo, the chief of security there, had cameras located heavily throughout the station and noted on several occasions that there were only a few areas he could not monitor.

  • And how is that relevant? Communicators are a starship crew item and it is very easy to argue that a space station is a dangerous territory to start with. What about people on the ground? Living in Cities? – TomTom Feb 25 '17 at 14:50
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    @TomTom - the question was "Is mass surveillance mentioned or found in the Star Trek universe". The answer is Yes, and these are three examples. – Omegacron Feb 25 '17 at 17:21
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In the TOS episode "Court Martial" Captain Kirk is tried, including a playback of the visual and audio recordings in the computer log:

[Bridge]

(On the courtroom viewscreen) UHURA: Meteorology reports ion storm upcoming, Captain. KIRK: We'll need somebody in the pod for readings. SPOCK: Mister Finney is top of duty roster, Captain. KIRK: Post him. SPOCK: Attention, Commander Finney, report to pod for reading on ion plates. FINNEY [OC]: Message Received. SPOCK: Officer posted, Captain. (The ship suddenly judders) KIRK: Stand by on alert status, Mister Spock. SPOCK: Acknowledged. HANSON: Approaching ion storm, sir. KIRK: Warp factor one, Mister Hanson. HANSON: Warp one, sir. (There's another sharp jerk, and Kirk presses a button on his chair panel.)

[Courtroom]

SHAW: Reverse. Stop. Go forward with magnification on the panel. Freeze that. Captain Kirk is now signalling a Yellow Alert. Go forward, normal view.

[Bridge]

(On courtroom viewscreen.) UHURA: Call from the pod, sir. KIRK: Tie in. FINNEY [OC]: Finney here, Captain. Ion readings in progress. KIRK: Make it fast, Ben. I may have to go to Red Alert. FINNEY [OC]: Affirmative. KIRK: Hold our course, Mister Hanson. HANSON: Aye, aye, sir. Natural vibrations, force two, Captain. Force three. KIRK: Engineering, then ion pod. UHURA: Aye, aye, sir. CREWMAN [OC]: Engineering. KIRK: One third more thrust. CREWMAN [OC]: Working. FINNEY [OC]: Ion pod. KIRK: Stand by to get out of there, Ben. FINNEY [OC]: Aye, aye, sir. HANSON: Force five, sir. KIRK: Steady as she goes, Mister Hanson. (And the close up on the Captain's panel shows...)

[Courtroom]

SHAW: Freeze that! If the court will notice, the log plainly shows the defendant's finger pressing the jettison button. The condition signal reads Yellow Alert. Not red alert, but simply Yellow Alert. When the pod containing Lieutenant Commander Finney was jettisoned, the emergency did not as yet exist. KIRK: But that's not the way it happened.

Thus we see that all the time, or under some conditions, the computer logs include sound and images of events happening all over the ship, or at least on the bridge (and other important spaces?). Note that those playing the computer log can have it display images from at least two different angles on the bridge and at different magnification levels.

In Spock's court martial in "The Menagerie, Part 1":

MENDEZ: Why? What does it accomplish to go there or to take Captain Pike there? I want to know why.

SPOCK: Are your comments a part of the record, sir?

MENDEZ: Yes, it's on the record.

SPOCK: Thank you. Request monitor screen be engaged.

MENDEZ: For what purpose?

SPOCK: To comply with the request you just made, sir, that I explain the importance of going to Talos Four.

KIRK: By asking why, you've opened the door to any evidence he may wish to present. Apparently what he had in mind.

MENDEZ: Present your evidence. Screen on.

SPOCK: This is thirteen years ago. The Enterprise and its commander, Captain Christopher Pike.

SPOCK [on screen]: Definitely something out there, Captain, headed this way.

KIRK: Screen off. Chris, was that really you on the screen? (flash) That's impossible. Mister Spock, no vessel makes record tapes in that detail, that perfect. What were we watching?

SPOCK: I cannot tell you at this time, sir.

MENDEZ: Captain Pike, were any record tapes of this nature made during your voyage? (flash, flash) The court is not obliged to view evidence without knowing its source.

SPOCK: Unless the court asks a prisoner why, Commodore. You did ask that question.

Unless "Court Martial" and "The Menagerie Part 1" happen in alternate universes where Starfleet starship record tapes and/or computer logs have great differences in their degree of detail, there must be a difference that Kirk could spot within seconds between computer log visual recordings and the images from Talos IV in "The Menagerie Part 1".

In "Court Martial" the images come from an overhead position and do not switch angles until a reverse angle and magnification are asked for. In "The Menagerie Part 1" the images from Talos IV play like a television episode (like the one they were filmed for and edited into in real life).

I believe the images in "The Menagerie Part 1" are filmed with the cameras at about eye level and cut back and forth between camera angles to show whoever is speaking at the moment. I think that they also start with a tracking shot showing the exterior of the Enterprise zooming in on the bridge and showing the interior of the bridge.

Later on the images from Talos IV show a private discussion between Pike and Dr. Boyce in Pike's cabin. If nobody had questioned the origin of the images until that moment it would indicate that events in starship private quarters were not recorded. but since it was already established that the images shown were not from official recording there is no evidence whether or not official recordings show events in crew cabins.

The Federation Starfleet is not the only organization that makes recordings. In "Errand of Mercy" Kirk and Spock enter the office of Klingon Commander Kor on the planet Organia:

[Kor's office]

KIRK: Just stay where you are, Commander.

KOR: You have done well to get this far through my guards.

SPOCK: (taking his weapon) I believe you'll find that several of them are no longer in perfect operating condition.

KOR: So, you are here. You will be interested in knowing that a Federation fleet is on its way here at the moment. Our fleet is preparing to meet them.

KIRK: Checkmate, Commander.

KOR: Shall we wait and see the results before you kill me?

KIRK: I don't intend to kill you unless I have to.

KOR: Sentimentality, mercy. The emotions of peace. Your weakness, Captain Kirk. The Klingon Empire shall win. Think of it, as we sit here, in space above us the destiny of the galaxy will be decided for the next ten thousand years. Can I offer you a drink? We can toast the victory of the Klingon fleet.>

SPOCK: You may be premature. There are many possibilities. >

KOR: Today we conquer. If some day we are defeated, well, war has its fortunes good and bad. Do you know why we are so strong? Because we are a unit. Each of us is part of the greater whole, always under surveillance. Even a commander like myself, always under surveillance, Captain. If you will note.

KIRK: Cover, Spock! Back!

(The Klingons burst it, then suddenly everyone drops their weapons. Everyone.)

The difference is that at least some of the Klingon recordings are watched in real time as they are made instead of merely being available for later study.

John M. Ford's novel The Final Reflection told the story of Klingon space navy officer Krenn and showed that naval security was always watching aboard a Klingon ship, and that the Klingon naval officers and crew feared and hated the rival Imperial Intelligence service even more than they did the naval Security service.

  • Man, I remembered the scene from Court Martial, how did I forget that this was also the entire narrative mechanism The Menagerie used to integrate The Cage? – Stuart P. Bentley Feb 26 '17 at 1:37
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1. Is mass surveillance mentioned or found in Star Trek movies or series? (If yes: where?)

There is an entire episode in the original series that revolves around the crew being monitored - the monitor logs were altered to make it appear as if Kirk panicked during an ion storm resulting in the death of crew member. "Court Martial", season 1, episode 20.

  • This is a good answer however is lacking canonical evidence. Are there any sources you can find for your answer to provide evidence for you thoughts to strengthen your answer? Also take a look at our tour and get on the way to earning your first badge! – Edlothiad Feb 23 '17 at 15:44
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    That episode would be TOS episode 20, Court Martial, which was the first thing I thought of as well: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Stuart P. Bentley Feb 23 '17 at 17:02
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    In it, we see video footage of Kirk's hand ejecting the pod at yellow alert, which suggests that all crew of the Enterprise are recorded at extreme levels of detail. (However, this evidence is revealed to have been tampered with, in some way that also alters a chess-playing program written by Spock, so it's possible that it's not truly direct surveillance so much as it is a reproduction based on more abstract data.) – Stuart P. Bentley Feb 23 '17 at 17:06
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    Is that really an example of mass surveillance, or just some kind of recording for a blackbox? We currently record and monitor what is going on in commercial flights. Delivery vehicles often have monitoring or recording. – Zoredache Feb 23 '17 at 21:51
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    Exactly. Yeah, the captain of a starship (or generally the bridge actions) are recorded in detail - during an alert situation. How surprising. And irrelevant to the question, which is about broad surveillance in general. – TomTom Feb 25 '17 at 14:49
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at the very least mass surveillance is normal and extensive in the kelvin timeline. In into darkness we see kirk playing with video of the bombing scene during the meeting where admiral pike is eventually killed. Kirk browsing surveillance footage

  • This is a great point, but you might want to expand on it a little. They tend to discourage short, image-only answers on the site. – Omegacron Feb 24 '17 at 14:43
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Section 31 is the only real canon example of mass surveillance within the Federation. They are portrayed as a shadowy organisation responsible for garnering intelligence on planets and stations outside the jurisdiction of the Federation, but little information is given within the TV series or films other than that they are somewhat similar to the NSA or GCHQ. The "partial canon" books go into much more detail, demonstrating deniable acts within the Typhon Pact and the Romulan homeworld (Trip Tucker, after faking his death aboard NX-01, and Julian Bashir/Sarina Douglas a few years after the events of DS9) wherein Section 31 is demonstrated actively trying to dupe Bashir into joining them.

It might also be argued that early renditions of Section 31 are present during the events of Enterprise, although this is entirely speculative.

In short, yes. There is surveillance, and it is an internal organisation conducting it.

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The 23rd Century Klingon Empire has mass surveillance.

In the TOS Episode "Errand of Mercy" Kor tells Kirk that even leaders are under surveillance.

description from Memory Alpha:

Darkness falls, and Kirk and Spock begin their assault, resolving to stun and not kill, as "we're after the top dog." They disable the Kor's lieutenant and gain entry to Kor's office. Kirk doesn't plan to kill Kor; Kor wants to discuss the prospects for war, on the surface and in space. For example, even Kor's office is under surveillance.

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Answer: Certainly not everywhere

There's an entire TNG episode about establishing what happened on an orbitting station leading up to the accidental death/murder/suicide of one character. They re-create simulations of multiple different versions of the the events based on the (conflicting) testimony of the various individuals involved.

Evidently there was no surveillance at all, otherwise the episode would have lasted ~ 5 minutes.

Cited Episode: Season 3 Episode 14: "A Matter of Perspective"

  • Thanks you for one evidence against mass surveillance. Most of the other answers argue pro-existence of mass surveillance. This is a good Episode with an argument against it. Or at least, where mass surveillance didn't work. – muri Feb 26 '17 at 15:45
  • @muri: I suspect the reason it did not work in this case is because the events took place on a civilian space station, rather than the Starfleet vessels most other answers are discussing. – Kevin Apr 14 '17 at 22:08
  • There's also the very real possibility that the station did have a mass surveillance system in place and the data it contained was destroyed with the station. The only concrete thing that "A Matter of Perspective" offers us is that the station doesn't transmit any surveillance data it may or may not have in the timeframe between the Enterprise-D arriving and the station's destruction. Unfortunately, this doesn't help us to prove/disprove the question here. So, -1. – Ellesedil Apr 15 '17 at 0:05
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Yes.

You're looking for Section 31, which first appeared in the later seasons of DS9. Section 31 is Federation counterpart to the Cardassian Obsidian Order or the Romulan Tal Shiar.

There are other examples throughout each series, but Section 31 is the only fully fleshed-out setting element I am aware of, and appears to have been written specifically to explore those themes.

-1

You know, there's a meta-question here.

As all the other answers show: yes. But not only that, it's not really addressed as a problem, because the basic premise of the entire universe is that, as technology progresses, and humans mature as a species, life will get better. So much better that abuse of power is not a possibility? I find that unbelieveable. The whole vision has become dated.

Surveillance, replicator abuse, bioterrorism, the absence of the internet-- these are more than just plot holes. They are imaginative failures of the people in charge of the canon.

Fiction is finite; Rick Berman is only human. What does the community call these issues? "Universe holes"?

  • There's not really an absence of the internet, as ships and stations are in communication with each other. Larger ships also have most of the Federation's relevant knowledge in data storage, presumably, so there isn't really a need for that kind of inter-connectivity. Besides, in TNG when Data discovers the cryogenically frozen humans, Deanna is shown using communications to find living relations for them. That sort of specialised information would hardly be relevant, so it is assumed that this information is stored back home on Earth. – Wolfish Feb 24 '17 at 15:11
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    If you have a new question, please ask it by clicking the Ask Question button. Include a link to this question if it helps provide context. – Radhil Feb 24 '17 at 15:26
  • This isn't really an answer at all, just you complaining that you don't like the show. – DeadMG Feb 24 '17 at 19:49
  • You should read more carefully. The short answer is "yes." The full answer is not really, because the stories didn't follow through on all the implications of certain in-universe given facts, mainly because the implications are still being discovered today, 50 years later. – Neal Feb 27 '17 at 16:09

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