What EFF learned at Comic-Con

Dave Maass from the Electronic Frontier Foundation attended San Diego Comic-Con and wrote this report called "What We Learned at San Diego Comic-Con," with a roundup of the ways that comics geeks and civil liberties geeks are coming together. As he says, it covers "A hacker video game, Person of Interest's strong language for the NSA and the Jayne Hat controversy."

Watch_Dogs: One of the most impressive debuts at Comic-Con was the gameplay preview for Watch_Dogs, a new video game from Ubisoft. Sequestered in a booth in the far corner of the exhibition hall and decorated with surveillance cameras—ironic, given the prohibition on recording devices inside—the exclusive trailer and walk-through presented a wander-through-an-open-world game with an enticing, embellished new mechanic: “hacking is your weapon.” (If you're unfamiliar with open-world gaming, Watch_Dogs is reminiscent of other urban-crime games such as Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row.)

The game takes place in a speculative extrapolation of the present: Chicago is a city managed by a central and highly vulnerable electronic infrastructure. The player controls a hacker with the ability to tap into the network and access controls for streetlights, WiFi networks, and cameras with facial recognition and crime-prediction technology. As the player explores the environment, icons flash above the city’s residents indicating whether they’re carrying hack-able mobile phones. For each one, he's able to pull up their personal information instantly, such as occupation, salary and medical conditions. The interconnectivity of the environment is illustrated by tiny lines linking your character to other devices in the city. In one example, the hacker is able to access a webcam in an apartment, spot a cell phone on the kitchen table, access the bank details contained on the device, then withdraw money from the victim’s account.

In the voice-over, the lead game designer explains that the game challenges the player’s morality. Do you hack an unwitting victim? Do you intercede when the prediction technology indicates a crime is about to occur? Act maliciously, and you’re vilified on the TV stations within the game; act as a vigilante and you’ll be hailed as hero.

What We Learned at San Diego Comic-Con