The Proper Gander Column from the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Should you ever hurriedly need to abandon your home and go on the run from the state, how long would you last? You’d soon be recorded on CCTV, and any phone call, bank transaction, e-mail or social media post could be monitored, making it harder than ever before to remain undetected. This is the premise behind Hunted, Channel 4’s new game show, or ‘real-life thriller’ as they describe it. Its participants are all concerned about the surveillance state, and turn this mistrust into a challenge to evade capture for 28 days from professional investigators using real-life state powers.
Based in their high-tech lair, the hunters are a cold, steely bunch of ex-cops and military, led by Brett Lovegrove, former head of London’s police counter-terrorism unit. Armed with the latest software for snooping and hardware for hunting, the investigators track the fugitives and pass on any leads to their ground troops.
Starting off with each fugitive’s name, photo, date of birth and address, the investigators quickly trace any vehicles owned, bank accounts, job details and social media profiles. ‘You’re more truthful to your search engine than you are to your wife’ quips one of the investigators, just a few clicks away from accessing pretty much all someone’s online life. They even break into the participants’ houses to snatch dirty washing for sniffer dogs to find a scent.
When the game begins, fugitive Ricky zooms away on his motorbike, whose registration number is promptly discovered by the investigators. The bike is spotted on roadside cameras linked to Automatic Number Plate Recognition software, and his journey is tracked. He only escapes capture within hours of starting by turning onto smaller, camera-less roads. Prying into Ricky’s e-mails and profiling his behaviour patterns leads the investigators to correctly predict he’ll head to Scotland.
Sandra and Elizabeth give away their location when they use an ATM, allowing the investigators to hone in on nearby CCTV. A camera shows them getting on a coach, and the investigators catch them after they get off. Emily and Lauren hitch-hike to avoid their movements being traced, but Emily’s home phone is being monitored, and her calls back there pinpoint where she is.
Hunted’s producers have aimed for authenticity, ensuring ‘all of the information being requested and gathered by the hunters reflected the powers that would be available to them in real life, and within the appropriate time frame.’ Disappointingly, we only see edited highlights of the investigators’ investigations and each fugitive’s flight, giving brief snapshots of their plans, thoughts, and feelings, rather than exploring the scenario in much depth. Despite this lack of detail, Hunted is a sobering reminder of how much grip the state has on our lives. It’s worth tracking down.