6 Great Films About Privacy and Security

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

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By Daniel Solove

I previously shared 5 of my favorite novels about privacy and security, and I’d now like to share 6 of my favorite films about these topics — because I just couldn’t whittle the list down to 5.

I was thinking about my favorite films because I’ve been putting together a session at my Privacy+Security Forum event next month — the “Privacy and Security Film and TV Club” — where a group of experts will share their favorite films and TV series that have privacy and security themes.

Without further ado, here are my film choices:

Enemy of the State

enemy of state

Starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman, Enemy of the State is a thrilling adventure movie about government surveillance run amok.  As abusive NSA officials pursue a lawyer (Smith) who stumbled upon some evidence, the NSA officials use every surveillance tool in their arsenal to track down the lawyer and upend his life.  This movie was released in 1998, but it is still relevant today thanks to the NSA actually doing nearly everything in the movie and more!  The movie depicts surveillance technology in a very engaging way, and it shows how a combination of technologies creates immense power and potential for abuse.  This is a fun movie too, filled with constant action.  And of course, it has a paranoid privacy guy (Gene Hackman) . . . but he turns out to be right to be paranoid.

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The Truman Show

truman show

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey stars as a man who grows up in a fictional world built to chronicle his life on a TV show.  The movie cleverly shows scenes as they are caught on the various hidden cameras throughout the little town Truman inhabits.  The movie shows how the producers manipulate so-called “real life,” and it demonstrates the consequences of reality TV run amok.  As with Enemy of the State, the lessons from The Truman Show appear not to have been learned. The only flaw is that Truman’s life is built to be rather dull.  These days, his show would be lesser-rated fare on the Bravo channel.

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Minority Report

minority report

Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report, directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, chronicles the life of an officer in year 2054 who works in a special law enforcement unit that uses psychics — called “precogs” — to predict future crimes.  People are arrested before the crime occurs.  The movie is clever and fast-paced, but my favorite parts of the movie involve some of the less central parts or smaller diversions.  The movie depicts a future surveillance society that is not cold and drab like Orwell’s world of Big Brother.  This world is filled with flashing screens and and endless barrage of stimulation.  The surveillance isn’t just by the government but also by businesses.  Iris scanners are everywhere, and when the protagonist walks by a TV monitor, he is addressed by his name and a targeted ad is delivered to him.  The movie depicts the dangers of biometric identification.  If our biometric data fell into the wrong hands, would we need to resort to rather extreme means of replacing our biometric identifiers?

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Gattaca

gattaca privacy

In Gattaca, the protagonist (Ethan Hawke) is a natural-born person in a world where most people are genetically-engineered.  He wants to be an astronaut, but genetic markers for a potential heart condition preclude him from pursuing this dream.  So he takes on the identity of another person with “superior” DNA.  The movie demonstrates the importance of genetic privacy.  People would be profoundly unfree if their future possibilities were severely restricted based on their genetics.

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The Conversation

the conversation

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation is one of the classic movies about surveillance.  Starring Gene Hackman, the movie begins when a surveillance expert on a job of recording a couple in part begins to explore a mystery that arises out of this job.  The movie depicts a long-range audio recording device as well as other bugging and wiretapping technology which seem quaint by today’s standards.  The movie captures the creepiness of it all exceedingly well.  There is one scene that by today’s standards wouldn’t be very violent or shocking, but that in this movie really achieves a remarkable intensity.  This scene demonstrates that special effects and over-the-top gore are not necessary to create a thrilling and frightening scene.  Great direction and storytelling are all that’s needed.

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The Lives of Others

lives of others

The Lives of Others  is a German film that won the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2006.  It is a remarkable film, and my favorite film of the ones listed here.  The film depicts a Stasi surveillance officer (played by Ulrich Mühe) who is assigned to monitor a famous playwright in East Germany in the year 1984.  The playwright’s home is bugged, and the Stasi officer listens in on the playwright and his girlfriend’s intimate conversations.  But as he listens, he starts to question his role in the Stasi and starts to feel for the people he is monitoring.  The movie is riveting and moving, and it is truly a masterpiece.

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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 900,000 followers.

Privacy Security Forum Ad 22Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz of the Privacy + Security Forum (Oct. 21-23 in Washington, DC), an event that aims to bridge the silos between privacy and security.

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