'Ghost In The Shell's Consent Storyline Reveals A Scary Truth About Internet Privacy
Be honest: nobody actually reads through the Terms & Conditions when asked to consent to an update on an App or program. You say a quick prayer that the contract doesn't mention anything about your firstborn, and then you click "Agree." The act of giving consent — meaning, here, that you're agreeing to a user contract online — to third parties to access private information is a transaction that everyone living in a technologically advanced society is used to. But its ethics are always being debated, and in the new film Ghost in the Shell, the issue of consent is a major plot point — and its discussions on the subject eerily reflects current real-life debates on Internet security.
Through Major, the film's heroine who has a completely mechanical body, Ghost reveals a disturbing truth that once you enter into a contract with technology, you can never really break free of it. As the only fully functioning robot with a human brain, Major has an incredible amount of skills, including the ability to plug into any technology source. So, when a rogue geisha bot gets hacked in the beginning of the film, she can literally plug into the geisha's mind. It's called a "deep dive," and by entering into the geisha's framework, Major leaves her own technological self vulnerable to hacking. But the scene isn't a commentary on the value of technology or the fragility of it — it's actually about online privacy.
Before every data dump, glitch fix, or procedure, like the "deep dive," Major gives verbal consent, in which she must state her name and say what procedure she is consenting to — "I am Major and I give my consent." It's like when your computer asks you if you want to open a program downloaded from the Internet, only instead of just infecting your computer with a virus, you're risking infecting your entire mind. Her consent is critical to how she operates and how her doctors help her process data or fix her up when her mechanical body is injured.
Giving online consent to programs and apps is such a common occurrence, it's easy to forget that whatever you are agreeing to could have real consequences. In Ghost in a Shell, those consequences are put in the forefront. In a world where almost every citizen has a technological implant of some kind in their bodies, anyone can be hacked. And, as is seen in Ghost in the Shell, an extremely talented hacker can do more than just access personal information, they can highjack your entire being and force you to do things you wouldn't ordinarily do. If this sounds an awful lot like identity theft, that's because it's basically the same thing. The stakes in Ghost in the Shell might be absurd to us, but the crux of the issue is very relevant to our reality.
Later in the film — spoiler alert — it's revealed that those in charge don't need her consent at all. It was all just a ruse to give Major a false sense of independence. The idea that Major's consent is obsolete is a scary one, and it reflects very current debates on Internet privacy. Just days before Ghost in the Shell hit theaters, the House Representatives voted to repeal protections that make it illegal for Internet service providers to share your personal information, including browsing history and location. In other words: no consent needed.
As technology advances towards making Ghost in the Shell a reality, issues of online privacy and consent will become more and more important. And, just as the power of online consent was taken from Major, it's being taken from us as well. Ghost in the Shell doesn't propose any kind of remedy for this problem. Sacrificing personal security for technology is shown as an inevitability. If the only thing keeping that reality from sinking in is a charade of consent, then I gladly give my consent to being fooled like Major.