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Throughout all Star Trek series, it has been common practice for a Starfleet ship to hail vessels they encounter in their travels, offering to establish visual communication. Most of the time, this offer is accepted.

Out of universe, this makes the interaction more visually interesting. However, in-universe, potentially useful tactical information is often displayed on screens behind the captain's chair; even without this, visual communication could help to establish weaknesses that can be exploited by an enemy, even if this is simply an indication of the overall condition of a vessel.

However, I can't recall off the top of my head any instances of this happening. My question is: Have there been any occasions in which either side of an encounter has successfully exploited tactical information gained from the background of their viewscreen conversation with the opposing captain? If so, when?

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    This is an interesting question, however, the title doesn't match your question in the text. – Jeremy French Sep 27 '17 at 9:46
  • @JeremyFrench I'm happy to edit the title. It was chosen to reflect my intent in asking this question, while the body narrows this down to something answerable rather than speculative and opinion-based. – georgewatson Sep 27 '17 at 9:48
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    Ralph Offenbach (in TNG: Neutral Zone) identifies that the Romulans are bluffing. Does that count? – Valorum Sep 27 '17 at 10:39
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    The Klingons in TNG: The Emissary are dissuaded from making a terminally stupid decision because of what they see on the viewscreen. – Valorum Sep 27 '17 at 11:10
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    @Valorum IIRC what the Klingons saw in that episode was misinformation the Enterprise wanted them to believe, which the Klingons did. A better example would be one where someone obtained an information from a background detail during a video chat which they could then actually use against the other party. – Philipp Sep 27 '17 at 11:16
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1. The screens only show information that they could have already found out.

Notice how often a Starfleet crew member is able to tell us what the other ship is doing (raising shields, powering weapons, ...). It stands to reason that all other ships (of equal technological quality) have scanners on board to scan other ships.

I don't think there's that much to be hidden about the state of the ship itself, the scanners would already answer most questions.

However, the intentions of the crew are tactically important knowledge, but this is not shown on any screen.


2. Starfleet is peaceful.

The point of opening a communication line is to communicate with the other ship's commander. If we're focusing on ships that have been assumed to be hostile (at the very least up until the communication line is opened), then talking to them is tactically relevant:

  • You can assess their behavior. Are they enraged, or are they simply apprehensive of you? Did you offend them in some unexpected way? Are they able to be talked down? Do they look willing to follow through on their threats?
  • You can try to defuse the situation. Maybe it's a misunderstanding. Maybe the other ship is at war with an enemy whose ships resemble those of Starfleet. Maybe you did something that offends them, but you're culturally oblivious to. Maybe they are always this guarded about any race, and they're not behaving particularly hostile towards you (it just seems that way). Maybe you've stumbled on an important ship where any passerby would be treated as a potential danger.
  • You can humanize yourself. If the other ship is already acting hostile towards you, and you wish for a peaceful resolution, it doesn't hurt to remind them that you are not military, a peaceful civilian crew.

Part of coming across as peaceful means lowering your defenses. Not to a point of recklessness, but at least to a point of not making the other party feel threatened by you.
Open communication, without hiding anything (e.g. the monitors), quickly conveys the message that you are not hiding anything and that you are not intent on combat.

If you hide tactical information, then the other party can possibly infer that you're scheming against them. Because if you truly had peaceful intentions, why are you hiding information that would be vital for combat? It sends the wrong message.

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YES! In "Wrath of Kahn", Kirk tricks Kahn by stalling and allowing Kahn to gloat a bit via the viewscreen. Kirk pretends to give in to Kahn, then sends the Reliant shield disable codes. You can see this here at around 6:00 on. Kirk whispers to his crew, the crew surrepticiously moves their hands to activate the controls in order to fire. So Kirk deceives Kahn using the viewscreen information to lull Kahn into complacency. Had he only been on audio, I'm not sure Kahn would have been tricked so easily and may have continued attacking the Enterprise. Kirk was able to sell the ruse much more convincingly over video.

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