In the future everyone has a government implant placed in their visual cortex at a young age (let's say 8 years). There is no choice about this - except of course for the Big Leader's immediate family.

The brain forms synapses with those in the bionic implant. To remove it soon becomes virtually impossible without huge expense and great risk to life.

The purpose of this is to spy on people by seeing what they see. Thus if someone commits a murder, an operator will be able to see what the killer sees - either live or as a recording. They will also be able to see what the victim saw before dying because all data is preserved for every citizen.

The question is what measures can a criminal take to escape detection in this despotic world?


It won't presumably stop crimes of passion that are done without thought of consequences. Also it won't stop people who are heavily under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But it will bring them to justice.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, dot_Sp0T, bilbo_pingouin, Frostfyre, JohnWDailey Dec 6 at 20:50

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    This is a rather important plot point in Robert J. Sawyers's Neanderthal Parallax. (The technology is different, the worldview is different, but the effect is the same -- everything a person does is recorded for law enforcement purposes.) It's a great trilogy, so I won't spoil it. Hint: apes are very ingenious animals, and humans are very ingenious apes. – AlexP Dec 6 at 17:22
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    Any technology a person can create can potentially be manipulated by others , if a brain implant could be hacked to show some one as guilty of a crime when they were innocent, also creating the crime of memory editing. The Big Leader of course can use and abuse the system as he wants (if he's sensible) look at Stalin and his abuse of young women and girls, edit their implants of course nothing even happened there is no recording of it, it could not have happened. And simply even a normal criminal knows a brain implant can only record what a person senses, hit the victim from behind. – Sarriesfan Dec 6 at 17:50
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    @Sarriesfan "hit the victim from behind". Yes but you can also see through the criminal's eyes and how they got to where the victim was. – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 17:53
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    That means you need to monitor your whole population all the time, everyone could potentially commit a crime at any time, how many operators do you have... And as some one once said "Who watches the Watchmen?" – Sarriesfan Dec 6 at 17:55
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    Imagine a person watching a screen of a persons eyesight watching a screen of a persons eyesight watching a screen... that’s what I meant by paradox. Should’ve said recursion. – Robus Dec 6 at 22:04

11 Answers 11

This won't stop the crimes like those performed by people who don't care about getting caught or believe they can evade or cheat the system. Also it won't deter the crimes of Big Leader et al or anyone who is in a sufficiently powerful enough position to exploit the system.

Such a system would force crimes to be conducted more covertly. Crimes could be obscured by superfluous related activities. For instance if I wanted to steal ProductX I would walk the isles of stores that carried ProductX over the course of a couple of days. While no one was looking (including myself) I'd swipe ProductX but continue to walk the isles of the same store as well as a few additional stores. I wouldn't look at ProductX until several days after the crime. The crime is never recorded, and can only be inferred from the lack of evidence of legal transference, which is itself buried in hundreds of hours of video.

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    Given that detectors are everywhere and stores are bound to have intelligent CCTV (that's possible in 2018), the criminal would have to actually buy stuff there regularly otherwise going in and out several times without a purchase would immediately raise an alert. – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 18:30
  • Not to mention that tracing when the object disappeared would be easy simply by tapping into the recordings from any member of staff or customer. Then you have the issue of receipts/proof of purchase. – Giu Piete Dec 6 at 18:54
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    @chaslyfromUK I work about 2 minutes from a Target and theres nothing else around so just about everyday at lunch I go there and just walk around, but I rarely buy anything. It just gives me something to do as opposed to sitting in my car. Now prehaps the store is on high alert when I walk in and I'm being monitored, I don't know, but my point is it's not necessarily a suspicious thing. Even less so if it were a mall where products and deals change regularly, people love window shopping! – DasBeasto Dec 6 at 19:16

No. It will help, certainly, but it's not foolproof. I see two major failure modes here: inside and outside of the justice system.

We'll start with outside. Brain implants like this would need to be electronic. There's simply no two ways around it: any other mechanism (like a film record) would be much too big. This opens them up to a wide variety of means of electronic interference, like hacking, or being jammed or wiped by some kind of electrical means. (None of which sounds like a totally safe idea when you're talking about something in your head, but I digress.)

The tricky part about securing against this interference is that the perpetrator has, for obvious reasons, total physical access to the implant. The general consensus in cybersecurity is that if someone has total physical access to a system, any security measure can only slow them down, it cannot stop them entirely. Even something as basic as switching someone's memory module for someone else's on the way to the crime lab could be sufficient to obscure the evidence or, more maliciously, plant evidence.

There are also physical limitations of the sensors involved. If I look away during the actual act, does that ruin the evidence? Conversely, if I happen to flinch while somebody else commits a crime in front of me, does it make me look guilty?

Then there's inside the system. Let's assume that the implant works and the crime lab receives a nice little video showing exactly what happens. Does that make it in front of a judge or jury? It doesn't have to, if it doesn't show what the police want (or does show what they don't want). Does it affect the judge's ruling? Maybe not, if the judge is corrupt or under the thumb of officials who are.

Also, a final legal point: some crimes, or the distinction between crimes, depend on the mens rea, a particular mental state or motivation that is required as part of the crime. Murder is a common example: in many jurisdictions, the same fact pattern can be murder or mere homicide depending on (the judge/jury's perception of) the state of mind of the accused. Your recording implant can't tell what the wearer's intent is, although it could offer evidence one way or the other.

There's a fair number of approaches one could take.

The first is to go watch Minority Report. Without giving spoilers, this movie was basically written around showing the limits of being able to solve crimes simply by being able to see things.

The second is what defines "what they see?" People often "see" things that aren't there. People with borderline insanity could easily confuse this system. It would be easy to make contract killers whose insanity is controlled by someone else, causing them to act without being aware of it. Hypnosis might even be enough.

If you have a camera on their face, then it could easily be covered up. Thus the only option is to tap in somewhere along the lines of the optic nerve, where you have raw signals from the retina.

The solution to this is simple... blind fighting. If your victim is unaware, so they arne't looking, and the attacker is intentionally looking, no leads are to be found.

A blind man trained to kill by hearing would be a fascinating loophole. You might be able to extend this idea to hearing, but if he was quiet, you'd have to extend it to touch in order to pick up any information. It is currently not known if this is even possible, due to how complex the human nervous system is.

Beyond that, consider the storage requirements. Google currently has to store 400 hours of new video every minute thanks to YouTube. This comes out to roughly a petabyte of new storage every day that they have to buy and put online and maintain.

If I do a quick conversion, that's 24,000 minutes of footage per minute. Google currently stores the footage for a 24,000 citizen town under your leader's rules. Think about the practicality challenges for ruling a larger area with this means. (Also, if I go back to the idea of having to record touch, the bandwidth of the spinal column is something like 100 times more than the bandwidth of the optic nerve... that's a lot of data!)

And let's not even get into the security issues of having footage available of the generals in their classified meetings, or the ethics issues of having the leader and his family not filmed.

  • Well the leader is a nasty piece of work! – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 18:41

The technology to dupe such a system would be much simpler and cheaper than the system itself, contact lenses/visors with sufficient fidelity could simply playback recorded (or with further advances, simulated )scenes to a perps eyes.

Of course this would require performing the crime without the use of one's eyes, or distributing actions required to perform the crime across multiple individuals.

Alternatively the system could be flooded with false positives using legal visualisation systems, that is to say that imagine I want to kill person x, I can create a scene in a vr game/movie that depicts the death of that person in the manner in which they died and release it to the general public. Every person who experiences that game would effectively be guilty so far as this evidence is concerned.

To make that process easier, the actual death scene and any forensically differenced information doesn't have to be included in the operation. If you 'hack' a lift, there's no saying as to what the blood splatter might look like for example.

Crimes which clearly occurred at a specific time might make this particular example of spoofing improbable, but the process could be used when appropriate.

The Thomas Crown affair springs to mind, though there may be better examples in reality and fiction, of criminal enterprises with multiple cutouts that are organised in either a confusing fashion (in relatively plain sight) or alternatively in a fashion which leaves investigators with no obvious line of enquiry as to the identity of operators. An example of this might include people writing collaborative code, where each contribution is harmless whilst the composite is not. Visual evidence could be plentiful, but if the individuals in question were careful to not limit other forms, then...

[Idk if characterisation as despotic is fair though, arguably the only way humans will ever become what some apparently desire, is to have freedom of information to such a depth and degree that subjectivity is an option, rather than enforced by biology.]

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    I suppose wearing virtual reality goggles would be a good ruse while you actually committed the crime but how will an effectively blind person accomplish this. In any case, to record from your implant means that it must be in contact with a signal mast at all times.... Hmmm... That gives me an idea! – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 18:34
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    irepairable(sic?) blindness in a society that can engineer nondisruptive, signal itercepts into cortex implants seems far-fetched, but whatevs =) But you're definitely right that external signal interception/spoofing is still an issue, much as with propositions for automated traffic control for ground cars... I suppose I was assuming in the answer that we can't just break the system entirely... There are ~millions of industrial processes etc that are not registered for patent because that would allow spoofing and reverse/parallel engineering by competitors, everyone of influence would oppose. – Giu Piete Dec 6 at 18:39
  • I see I misinterpreted the 'effectively blind' part of your comment. It really depends on the crime being committed whether it's plausible or not, I'd imagine a paradigm shift from 'not being seen' to 'not seen' and 'not comprehended' if the technology was viable. Touchtyping is a thing, audio description, braille, muscle memory, people learn all sorts of skills for all sorts of reasons, taking other peoples stuff and inconveniencing people you don't like foremost among them – Giu Piete Dec 6 at 20:35

It's a little hard to think about this with little details about the world. You mention an operator. How does this operator "know" that a crime is going on? Are you talking about seeing it in real-time? Or the person needs to be reported first, and thus the operator will look through the records of the person?

The first one is tough, especially with a high amount of population. If the operator is a human, then monitoring the lives of millions or billions of people would be impossible. Is it an super advanced AI capable of recognizing a crime based on the action of the individual? Very possible, good luck trusting an AI though.

If it's the other one, lots of things can be done to prevent your crime from showing up. First, simply don't get caught doing it. Since you need to be reported in order for your records to be checked, knocking out a victim for example somewhere isolated, then no one will know what happened, until the operator checks the last known location of the victim.

A possibility of just ordering someone to do the crime for you is also another way to circumvent the system. Sure, the one you ordered must be willing to do this, (or brainwash), but at the end of the day, checking the records will only show vague messages or transcripts that needs to be decoded to track the real head of the crime.

There's also the technological issue of having the data being transmitted in the first place. How does a small implant transmit a huge amount of data? How will your system handle this massive amount of data coming in from every single person? Not only that, interferences can be made to stop the transmission from going on.

At the end of the day, such a device is a very great deterrent for crime. However, people are smart, and one way or another, will do something that can circumvent the system they have now.

  • Regarding the massive amount of data, I can remember some years back telling someone that it would never be possible to simultaneously download and watch live TV online because the bandwidth requirements would be impossible. Just shows how wrong I was! – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 18:38
  • Like your 4th paragraph. Don't think the others are very big issues tho, the question doesn't imply that this is the only tool in the contemporary police's toolbox, normal investigative measures can narrow the number of suspects, etc. – Giu Piete Dec 6 at 18:59
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    @chaslyfromUK One useful thing to remember there is that if a society has the bandwidth, it will have changed in ways that utilize it. When determining what crimes need to be stopped, we have to consider those changes as well. We may not have thought online TV watching would be possible, but we also didn't think cyber bullying would be a threat. – Cort Ammon Dec 6 at 19:09
  • @ Cort Ammon - I agree. The thing about unforeseen side-effects is that they are unforeseen. In fact the main purpose of this is to bully the population and keep them under the control of Big Leader. Of course the Big Leader and his advisers won't have thought of everything. – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 19:58

As others have mentioned this would likely help with some crimes of petty nature, however I'm of the opinion that hard crimes would not be entirely prevented with this.

I imagine that to keep the implant size down it must be transmitting its data under an encryption as it receives it rather than storing it. This means that its data can be intercepted and once the encryption is hacked, manipulated. This makes the implant fallible and reduces its uses in a court of law.

To further its fallibility, with only receiving visual input you may lose context of the situation. Imagine a standoff between a police officer and another person, both are armed and in the end the officer shoots the other man dead, who is in the right in this situation? Without sound we cannot tell if the officer was asking the man to stand down or if he was threatening the man if he were a corrupt officer.

Next, let's say there is a conspiracy to commit murder, notes can be typed on encrypted messaging apps by anyone with proficient computer or phone typing skills without ever looking at the screen. This would allow them to conspire without tampering with their implants and still eluding the system. And of course who needs to type, meeting blindfolded and just talking would also avoid detection.

Lastly, let's consider the potential consequences of this implant. If everyone knows that their is an implant in the brain recording everything a person sees and justice to be swift anyone who suspects they may have been caught doing an illegal activity would want to try and destroy the evidence. This could mean truly grisly murders where the brain has been smashed along with the implant. There could even be a black market for trading and swapping implants taken from victims.

Get off the grid

Since the chip is only implanted in 8 year olds, it should come as no surprise that people would try to avoid this. This story is probably set in a dystopia which, in most stories, is threatened by some form of resistance - a group of people who live outside the grid.

Suppose a member of this resistance has a kid. He will surely take the necessary precautions to ensure his kid will never grow up with one of those things in his brain by hiding him from the government.


The Electromagnetic Pulse is widely know to screw electronics in fiction. Maybe the black market has some kind of magnet powerful enough to fry this chip without causing any harm to the subject. Unless the chip is wired in a way that a malfunction would cause the individual to lose his/hers sight (which is a brilliant idea, if you're a government scientist), this should be a quick solution to this issue.

Hack the feed

If the chip is a transmitter, it must be connected to a wireless network of some kind - and if it's connected, it can be remotely tampered with. Maybe a skilled enough hacker can crack the military grade protection of this chips and transmit old feeds to cheat the government.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

Unless the chip also broadcasts a person's location (GPS-like), blind people are immune to this.

If your dystopia is set in a transhumanist/cyberpunk kind of future, I can easily see people rigging themselves with electronic eyes to go around this.

Check out Molly from William Gibson's Neuromancer. That is one badass character with cameras for eyes.

Of course that there will be ways to cheat the system. And you, as the author will show how, in that utopic society, crime still manage to happen unp.

The most similar story I can think of right now is The Minority Report, while also having images of crimes… it is not infallible.

I would remove the Big Leader exception (although there may be rumors of certain rich guys not getting/removing those implants), it'd be more interesting to have it posed as a democracy.

Then there are a number of ways you could have the system not effectively determine the criminal.

For example, you might have a number of people in the tube. Light goes out, it stops, when light comes back, you discover that one of the passengers was killed. Surely it must have been someone that was traveling there, but there would be no recording of the murder. (Hint: the assassin is probably the guy who was previously wearing the jacket which is now covered in blood)

In fact, in this society, where people know that everything you see is recorded, I would expect that in your society most people would prefer having sex in the dark. Theoretically, the records would only be opened if mandated by a judicial order but you never know which young functionaries could access them

Then there are the requirements for bandwidth and storage. The vendor of the chip will sell the implants at an high price and, in exchange, must support it, not only in case of malfunctioning during the whole life but also provide the storage (in fact, there are a few big brands, which then subcontract the manufacturing of the implants, and separately the storing of the recordings).

The chips are continuously transmitting the footage, they can only store a few minutes of video, just enough if you walk through a zone with bad coverage. This makes some people to take measures in an attempt to block the signal, from literally wearing tinfoil hats, to more ‘advanced’ helmets.

However, sometimes the infrastructure is unable to provide support for all video that is getting uploaded. This happens eg. on some big concerts, where there is so much people attending that it would be impossible to reconstruct the show from their implants (most packets would be lost, you would need to reconstruct it from many different people viewpoints). As such, an event like that is ideal for things which should leave no trace (you probably don't want to kill someone there, but would perfect for passing an envelope with instructions/money).

In fact, in everyday life, it is normal that portions of people sightings gets lost. By some accounts, that goes up to 20%. There is little incentive for ensuring everything is received properly and, after all, nobody notices. If the packets sent by your implant get discarded, they are not stored.

A fact that few people know is the infrastructure used for that is shared with the ubiquitous internet all citizens enjoy. And if the net is collapsed, —albeit supposedly discarded packets are chosen at random— in practice implants have lower priority and are the first to be discarded. Customers would quickly complain if their NetFlix experience didn't reach the full Mega-ultra-high definition they are paying for, but there are no such complaints for implants data.

As such, if you got a number of people heavily using the (perhaps not-too-good) network in the zone where you will be committing your crime, you would be more likely to get away with it.

Plus, you need to take into account that these devices are susceptible to failures. Some fail because people did things intending to brick it, while others are spontaneous failures that appear with the aging of the chip. Modern chips are much better and don't present these issues (or so are we told), but there are thousands of (old) people with those (old) chips. And the same reasons that makes extremely hard to remove the implant makes equally hard to replace a defective implant.

There are stories of people that, unknown to them, their implant stopped working 20 years ago.

Another thing to take into account is that, for privacy reasons, implant recordings are only kept for 90 days (unless there is an open proceeding for which it is needed). Nobody really likes their past being there, and it is really a storage problem. 90 days should be enough for everyone, right? And then you find that someone, months ago, put into the water tank of certain house a biodegradable case containing a poison.

Or that certain instructions were given long beforehand so that the patron cannot be linked. The instructions may even consist on the lack of certain action. Get to prove that!

Another interesting point is that there are rules concerning when and what can the viewed from your sightings. This may range from requiring a court order to having a reason to suspect you may have seen something at a certain time. In other words, there is a given process by which those records can be accessed. On the most common case, when you saw something interesting as a witness, you would be asked permission for accessing what you saw from 2018-12-06 12:03 to 12:15, you would agree and they could proceed quite easily. You would have right to be assisted by a lawyer, there could often be disagreements when police request records more broad than justified by what they state, etc. Quite similar to current laws regarding warrants for searching/inspecting homes or devices.

This also means that it would be possible to get off with a crime (concerning this system) if you managed not to be identified as someone to inquiry for the time needed for the records to elapse.

Interestingly, those that did most for protecting access to the sight records were not the mafias, not the small privacy-aware citizen groups, but the big corporations, that were very wary of third-parties viewing the activities of their employees.

Slanders say that these records aren't a big issue for mafia gangs, since they have insiders that can redact for them what some people recorded.

Finally, it should be taken into account that even with faithful records, there may be all kinds of differences between what can be seen and determining what happened. From someone making the other part angry (orally, not in the footage) in order to later claim it was self-defense, to innocent actions that could be interpreted in a malicious way post-facto. Surely, there would be a new profession of those that are experts in interpreting what does it mean that someone looked in a certain way (a mixture of psychology and graphoanalysis).

  • Hmm ... Some very interesting observations there. That's definitely worth reading through again. – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 23:22
  • @chaslyfromUK: thanks! ☺ – Ángel Dec 6 at 23:28

Any technology a person can create can potentially be manipulated by others , if a brain implant could be hacked to show some one as guilty of a crime when they were innocent, also creating the crime of memory editing.

The Big Leader and his family of course can use and abuse the system as he wants (if he's sensible) look at Stalin and his abuse of young women and girls, edit their implants of course nothing even happened there is no recording of it, it could not have happened.

And simply even a normal criminal knows a brain implant can only record what a person senses, hit the victim from behind, wear a mask, don't speak and use other methods to make identification difficult.

I made this an answer I realised my comment was too long.

  • Problem is that wearing a mask won't help. Everyone is tracked by the ID of their implant (otherwise there would be no point). If you wear a mask, they will still see you approaching the victim's location and then striking the victim through your own eyes. – chasly from UK Dec 6 at 17:58

No and Neither If the government can't read your mind, then it can not know what people are plotting, even if they can see what people did or are doing. In times of war, nations used codes and encryption to communicate with its spies, this gives only a basic form of hiding in plain sight, If someone truly wanted to commit a crime and is a bit smart, it will find a way. Just imagine a blind person contacting a blind assassin to kill someone.

As others have said, no. There are ways to cheat the system. For example, a blind accountant sitting in a basement could very easily launder money.

You should also consider that people could conceivably come up with a way to interfere with the signal, thus preventing everything recorded from being transmitted. This can range from signal noise to a faraday cage.

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