Mr. Robot is one of my new favorite TV shows. So far, only one season has aired, but it has thus far been spectacular and thought-provoking. It presents highly-engaging depictions of hacking and social engineering. The show focuses on Elliot Alderson, a tech who works at a cybersecurity firm. The show is narrated by Elliot, who is a fascinating character. When it comes to technology, the show depicts hacking much more realistically than most TV shows and movies, without the typical cliche of watching a hacker type for 3 seconds and break into the CIA. Mr. Robot demonstrates how even the details of cybersecurity can be fascinating and accessible. If you’re interested, you might want to read my more detailed review of the show.
The Americans chronicles the lives of two Soviet KGB agents during the 1980s who are posing as a married couple in the United States. They have two children who are unaware that they lead double lives as spies. And recently, an FBI counterterrorism expert has moved in next door. The show is very well-written, with great characterization, a very engaging plot, and much spy intrigue. The spying, while embellished, is surprisingly realistic according to experts. There is plenty of bugging, wiretapping, and undercover work to excite those interested in privacy. And the show is also quite relevant for data security, as we see many clever ploys to gather information and elude security measures.
The Wire is one of the best crime shows — and one of the best TV shows ever. It focuses on both the criminals and the police — and everyone is humanized. There are more characters than in a Dickens novel, and they are multi-dimensional and deep. The show demonstrates the interplay of all dimensions of society, from the political realm to the schools to the media to government bureaucracy. The privacy angle is that electronic surveillance plays a big role in the series. According to the show’s creator, David Simon, the show’s depiction of electronic surveillance and end-runs around it were so realistic that he was asked by law enforcement “not to reveal certain vulnerabilities.”
The Sopranos chronicles the lives of mob boss Tony Soprano and his cohorts. Privacy isn’t a big theme in the show, but the show has some terrific examples of electronic surveillance, so I’m including it on the list. A significant portion of one episode is devoted to the FBI sneaking inside into Tony Soprano’s home (where he lives with his wife, daughter, and son) to install a bug on a lamp in the basement to listen to Tony discuss his business. The show depicts this quite realistically (for TV, that is). The entry into the home is with a warrant, and there are minimization procedures for listening in on the bug. The irony is that after what amounts to extensive work to get the bug placed into the Soprano home, a few episodes later, Tony’s daughter leaves for college and takes the bugged lamp with her.
No list could possibly omit The Prisoner, a classic but tragically too short series. The show, which originally aired during the 1960s, chronicles a recently retired spy who is knocked unconscious in his home, kidnapped, and taken to a place called the “Village” where everyone is known by just a number. There is extensive surveillance and monitoring of everyone, and lots of questions and intrigue. Nobody knows whom to trust. The show depicts one of the most memorable dystopias, an interesting variation on George Orwell’s 1984, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
UPDATE: I am revising this post to add another terrific TV show that is worthy of this list. Although I blogged about the show below before, I want to add it to this post.
With each episode having a different cast and topic, Black Mirror depicts the often frightening ways technology is affecting our lives. Several episodes involve privacy and security. In the “The Entire History of You,” people have a device implanted in them that records everything they see and hear. In “Be Right Back,” a widow orders an android of her deceased husband that mimics his personality based upon his social media postings. “White Christmas” stars Jon Hamm and involves a device people can use to block others from seeing and hearing them. “Nosedive” involves a dystopia where people’s lives revolve around ratings. “Shut Up and Dance” involves a hacker who captures people’s secrets and blackmails them by making them do a series of disturbing tasks. In “Hated in the Nation” (my favorite), a government agency has developed robotic bees to replace the dying bee population, but these bees are hacked by a hacker who uses them to kill people who are criticized online.
Other Posts of Interest
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. This post was originally posted on his blog at LinkedIn, where Solove is a “LinkedIn Influencer.” His blog has more than 1 million followers.
Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz of the Privacy + Security Forum (Oct. 4-6, 2017 in Washington, DC), an annual event that aims to bridge the silos between privacy and security.