I was watching "Enemy of the State" last night and at one stage I was convinced some of the stuff (such as the satellite tracking) was a bit far fetched. But given the age of that movie and the fact that terrorist attacks are often foiled it's probably not unrealistic to an extent.

How realistic is that stuff and given that the movie is so old, are techniques even further advanced than they are portrayed?

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    I don't think the surveillance satellite was that unrealistic. However, the free rotation and 3D reconstruction of a shopping bag just from a simple surveillance camera in a lingerie shop surely was.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 8, 2012 at 11:58

2 Answers 2


Technology will have moved on in even the 15 years since Enemy of the State was being put together, and much of that movement has been in precisely the areas you mention.

For example, this paper includes a chart showing how satellite camera resolution continues to improve, and this article confirms the increased military use of "drone" (unmanned) planes, which are more often configured for surveillance than attack.

Police forces in the UK are or soon will be using small drone helicopters that will be too high up and quiet for you to hear, but easily capable of seeing when you illegally drop a cigarette butt on the pavement.

According to statistics, the average [UK] citizen is caught on CCTV cameras 300 times a day, and according to that BBC link, analysts expected a tenfold increase in the next five years after 2002 when that article was written.

I can't find a source, but I recall reading a few weeks ago of plans install dozens of sensitive directional microphones in Wembley Stadium, that with a bit of trivial processing power will enable operators to focus on a whispered conversation while 90,000 other people are shouting "Goal!"

You might also consider Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 movie The Conversation, where Gene Hackman brilliantly portrays a paranoid and personally-secretive surveillance expert. I'm not convinced the technology at the time was actually as good as what was portrayed, but it's much better today.

You don't have to be particularly paranoid to see the direction things are headed. Many "possible" technologies are never really taken up, but surveillance equipment is definitely on a roll.


As a machine learning and Image Processing specialist, I would argue that this is the least of your worries. I personally can automate any task, and lower resolution can actually be helpful in accurate identification. This could mean that camera picking you up littering could eventually result in you being mailed a ticket every time. Worse is the prospect of cheap fmri, if that ever happened we could potentially identify when someone was about to commit a crime and call an alert or police.

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