Back to the Future, October 21st 2015

Did Snowden watch “Back to the Future”? Mass surveillance and spying predicted!

Great Scott! October 21st, 2015 is the day Marty McFly arrives in the future. The long awaited day has been dubbed “Back to the Future Day” and is celebrated with various events, re-runs and articles looking at the predictions to see what has come to pass and what’s still science fiction. While virtually all the attention focuses on the technology, watching “Back to the Future 2” (1989) in a post-Snowden era, shows a subtle prediction of mammoth proportion that has been rarely covered, until now.

In BTTF2, Marty, Jennifer and Dr. Emmett Brown arrive in the future (today) to help save Marty and Jennifer’s son from ruining his life. In one eye-opening scene, Marty speaks with his co-worker, Needles, on a projector screen that resembles an incredible combination of Skype and Facebook.

Thank you for using AT&T

As Needles persuades the reluctant Marty to scan his card for fraudulent purposes, a running list of personal profile data appears on the bottom of the screen. This information eerily resembles a personal profile on Facebook, which includes occupation, age, date of birth, address and hobbies. Before the call ends and the screen read, Thank you for using AT&T, Marty wonders out loud if their boss is monitoring the call. In a twist that might surprise Ed Snowden, Marty’s boss immediately calls him and admits that he was listening to the conversation the entire time.

While many recent articles and discussions revolve around hoverboards, flying cars, self-drying clothes, self-lacing Nike runners, early versions of what now looks like Google glass, a two-hour justice system (wishful thinking), the abolishment of solicitors and time travel itself, there are sinister BTTF predictions that unfortunately are very much true to life.

Modern day drones

In the movie, drones are seen doing mundane tasks such as walking dogs and operating a video camera for USA Today. While drones can positively impact our lives, unfortunately, the reality is that there are many examples where drones are used as weapons which destroy people’s lives.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, leaked NSA records prove the prediction of communication spying and show that “AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale”, which means anybody sharing information today, through video conferencing, SMS, phone calls and email should be aware that the content of each communication is stored somewhere within reach of the NSA or GCHQ.

The movie also predicts a prolific use of fax machines as a mainstream form of communication, which is interesting because e-mail, while not prolific in 1989, was used by Government agencies and large companies. It was so prevalent that by 1991, Phil Zimmerman developed the first data communication encryption/decryption solution, but due to the fact that it was so difficult to use, it never really became a mainstream security solution. Today, in 2015, new innovative solutions are making email encryption simpler to use in a way that adds value to businesses.

It’s interesting to think that the film was set one-year after George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel. “1984” depicts a privileged Inner Party elite, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as a “thoughtcrime”. I wonder if the film’s writers Robert Zemeckis or Bob Gale drew any inspiration from Orwell’s masterpiece?

After all the analysis, in my humble opinion, the BTTF trilogy is arguably one of the best ever produced! The timeless movie captured the imagination of a generation, I wonder if it also captured Snowden’s? I’m happy to admit that I bought a video tape of each film, which meant I could watch them over and over again on my analogue TV, something like a 90’s version of on-demand viewing. In particular, part 1 of the trilogy has become our family film and even in recent years, we have all watched it on Christmas Day. My kids enjoy the film, but it’s clear I get more excited than they do, which makes me ask, in this era of instant viewing, what films will my kids hold in such high regard when they are watching them with their kids and more importantly, who will be watching them?

(I’m a co-founder of Jumble, an email encryption product, which helps businesses easily and quickly secure email data with one-click. Jumble is secure, easy to install and simple to use. I’m happy to chat or answer any questions you may have.)