Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Information, privacy and the law in Icar

Tuesday, 12 November 2013
In this post, I look at how I deal with information, privacy and the law in Icar. When far future technology allows you to record everything with amazing levels of detail, how could criminals operate? What are the ramifications for privacy?

The tricky problem

In Science Fiction roleplaying you're posed with a tricky problem. One one hand you can extrapolate where you are today, assume everything gets better and make up your universe around that concept. On the other hand, you want it to be fun to play. If law and order kept getting better then sooner or later there would be no crime. Even for good characters, a bit of crime is fun. Science Fiction roleplaying also allows you to enjoy the biggest game of "What If...". If you set your game far enough into the future (as I have), you can write out racial and religious differences, which leaves you with a very different society to play with. For the players to be able to suspend their disbelief society and technology must remain plausible. There is a balance to be struck and for each game, that balance will be different.

Extrapolating technology

Sensors in Icar are amazing. Scanners can detect the finest detail of a life form's health from a distance. You can see the entire electromagnetic spectrum with the cheapest, tiniest sensors and storage space is infinite. Artificial Intelligence can be used to survey huge amounts of sensor information and is intelligent enough to recognise suspicious or downright illegal actions.

Evidence and the Law

Law is dispatched by The Nexus, which is the Imperial Artificial Intelligence. The Nexus takes in evidence submitted by the Star Enforcers, matches it up with the body of Imperial Law and then passes judgement. Where there is not enough evidence, or it is conflicting, the Nexus questions the Enforcers, who must fill the logical holes or the accused goes free. The Nexus is impartial and operates only on the evidence, avoiding cultural biases. More hard evidence is required to convict someone in Icar, a few eye witness accounts are not enough.

Where is the fun in that?

Sensor data can pick up every crime and The Nexus can pass judgement at huge speed and accuracy. That pretty much means the end of criminals, doesn't it? If you don't want crime, then just install sensors everywhere (which is very cheap to do) and when there is a crime spotted, the criminal is immediately judged and dispatched. That, in itself, isn't very much fun. It limits the things that the players can do and if they want to do some criminal actions then the campaign will be very short.


The Imperium holds personal privacy high in the list of freedoms it protects. If you're being recorded by all sorts of sensors all the time then this is clearly an invasion of privacy. So, you're not allowed to. It is illegal to collect sensor data in public or commercial spaces. Sensor data may be collated in private, personal areas or where the sensors are "Point of View for the sake of safety" (such as with bionics or a space craft navigating). That makes sensor creation exceptionally difficult to do.

Privacy, the Nexus and Common Sense

If the Nexus is provided with evidence from a source that breaks the privacy laws then the evidence itself is immiscible and the owner of the sensors will be charged. Where the Nexus is very intelligent is in the application of common sense. Breach of privacy charges brought on a space craft that needs sensors to navigate would be dropped but if the space craft was using its sensors to track or monitor a private individual then The Nexus will bring about the full force of the law.


Sensor information can be faked, so the Nexus usually needs lots of corroborating evidence to convict someone of a crime. Getting this corroborating evidence is usually the difficult task for The Enforcers.

In play

Here are some examples of what you might do in play.

Are you being watched lawfully? As a player, it is best to assume that your character is not being recorded all the time. If you are entering an area with sensors that are recording you and you have the capacity to detect them (or it's obvious) then the GM will ask you for a Wit Attribute Check.

If you need to incriminate someone or falsify sensor data, requires a Forgery Skill check.

If you want to remove traces of your presence in a building, you need to use the Hacking rules to get into the sensor logs and delete them. This would be 1 Hacking check to get into the system, and 1 Hacking check to delete the data.

If you want to rig a sensor system to not record you entering an area, you will need the Hacking rules. This is approximately 4 Hacking rolls (1 to get in, 1 to break into the cameras, 1 to kill the Security Entity and 1 to install a Hacking looper).

Crime is possible

Even though Icar has a huge amount of advanced technology, it is the rights of the individual that stop it from being used. Of course, if you are being hunted by criminals, they will have no problem with recording you, following you and blowing you up. That's what they do. They're criminals.
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