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I have a memory of a short story in which a plucky group of scientists and researchers (and maybe students?) invent a machine that allows you to view any place and period in history. It will revolutionize historical studies, but almost immediately the evil G-men of the oppressive government are after them, trying to seize and destroy their machine, muzzle the scientists, etc. etc.

Finally one of the G-Men catches the scrappy group of heroes. And in a trope-breaking moment, we realize the evil government isn't really evil at all, but has realized what the scientists didn't - that being able to view any point of history anywhere on the planet will include "history" that happened just a second ago. All privacy will be lost forever.

The scientists realize the implications of their discovery and agree to get rid of the device, but one ashen-faced scientist (or student) reveals that he had just mailed the plans for the device in the mail to a journalist, so they would be distributed to the world even if the scientists were caught. The story ends with the G-man grimly welcoming the scientists to a new world of no privacy.

UPDATED: The story is "The Dead Past" (thank you, user14111!)

I can't think of any other stories that have explored this idea - the scrappy heroic underdogs fighting a faceless, repressive government... who turns out to have a very good reason for trying to suppress what the heroes are trying to do. Are there any other stories that have explored this interesting twist on a common trope?

  • One question per question please. – amflare Feb 19 '18 at 21:44
  • Thanks, user14111 for the link. Set it up as an answer and I'll accept it. Not sure about the question being "too broad", though. It's an unusual plot twist such that I can't think of any other stories like it - a government that looks like every other dystopian evil government... except that it's not. – David White Feb 19 '18 at 22:28
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    Since the querent has indicated this is indeed "The Dead Past", I have marked it as a Duplicate. Amazingly enough, we seem to have only had this one answered and accepted once before... – FuzzyBoots Feb 19 '18 at 22:54
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    @DavidWhite, Mack Reynolds, if I remember rightly, wrote a whole bunch of B-grade novels back in the 60s or so ending with the same twist. There are probably other authors too. – Harry Johnston Feb 20 '18 at 0:19
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    Go to tvtropes, read Reasonable Authority Figure trope. Or Hero Antagonist and Villain Protagonist tropes. – jo1storm Jun 16 at 5:49