Going off-grid is now a near impossible task. Our surveillance society catches us on CCTV up to seventy times a day, but the ever-watching eye can see much further than that.
Now everything from cash withdrawals, bank card and online purchases to our telephone calls or social media posts can be monitored. Cameras, phones and oyster cards track our journeys. The places we visit are stored, and our most personal of details sit on scores of anonymous databases. Our every habit and behaviour leaves a data trail of who and where we are.
So is it ever possible to slip through the net and avoid detection in a surveillance nation? If you had to disappear tomorrow and become a fugitive, could you escape the tracks of your electronic footprint and head off grid? And just how would you go about it?
This summer a cross section of Brits were challenged to find out if it is possible to disappear. Alone or in pairs and with little notice, they had to give up their lives and try to evade capture from a team of expert hunters for up to 28 days. The thrilling series explores the reach of the state’s surveillance powers by challenging these ordinary people to see if they can outwit and outrun a team of expert professional hunters.
On The Run
Where the ‘fugitives’ went and what they did was entirely up to them: from the highlands of Scotland, campsites, and canal towpaths to taking refuge in temples, inner-city anonymity or relying on friends close to home. Each made their own plan and were told a few simple rules, including they must abide by the law and they could not leave mainland UK.
All gave permission to be tracked as the state might track a fugitive – emails, cash cards and phones were monitored, houses searched and friends and family questioned. But not every method required permission; today’s investigators are more than likely to use the huge amount of information openly available on the internet and across social media to research each fugitive and follow their tracks.
Each fugitive or team of fugitives was filmed by a dedicated cameraperson, accompanying them on the run, so that every moment of being hunted was captured on film: their panic and paranoia increasing with each day as they remained oblivious to how near, or far, they were to being caught. Their stories will be told across each episode, their attempt to go dark will be told alongside the efforts of the hunters to capture them.
On their heels were a team of 30 expert hunters - from the police force, military and professional intelligence backgrounds. Where legally possible the hunters utilised the same methods of surveillance employed by the state, including open source intelligence, cyber expertise and interrogating friends and family. When the Hunters did not legally have access to those powers, the powers have been closely and carefully replicated.
Keeping It Real
Months of detailed research went into making the series. Known monitoring methods used by the state, such as data mining and open source intelligence were painstakingly researched alongside other key sources of information such as phone cell tower locations and ANPR camera proliferation.
Over 800 Freedom of Information requests were submitted to establish the location of state owned CCTV cameras positioned throughout the UK mainland. When real footage couldn’t be obtained, our cameras captured footage which would have been available to the state and was stored on a central database (Gold Command) until requested by the hunters.
The hunters are led by Brett Lovegrove, former Head of Counter Terrorism for the City of London Police. From Hunter HQ he and his team researched and tracked those on the run, directing their teams on the ground to follow up leads in order to gain new information and attempt to capture the fugitives.
In charge of making sure the production process accurately matched real life was former Head of Covert Operations for the Met Police, Kevin O’Leary. Kevin’s role was in ‘Gold Command’. He ensured that 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. Even the day to day team working with the hunters were separate from the team working with the fugitives to prevent information passing between the groups.
Do you think it is possible to evade capture from the hunters? Could you go on the run?