BY ROSS. A LINCOLN
Mr. Robot showrunner Sam Esmail insisted at SXSW today that he’s no “fortune teller,” even though the show’s first season went into production just as a massive post-Snowden national debate about surveillance and the collusion between government and big business flared up. In any case, his luck continues, with the USA Network show’s second season heading into production with a storyline about privacy and encryption just as the FBI and Apple are having a very public fight about access to private iPhone user data.
“What’s weird is that we were really going into [Season 2] talking about encryption and privacy,” Esmail said during a SXSW show panel titled “Coding on Camera: Mr. Robot and Authenticity on TV.” “And then this whole thing with Apple and [CEO] Tim Cook happened.”
Esmail said he thinks the difficult-to-grasp real-life issue will play out over the next decade, with public discourse over the idea of a right to privacy. “Do we have that, do we not?,” he asked.
Is Mr. Robot meant to be a straight-up polemic? “I don’t know if it’s to make commentary, but it’s to bring it up and have a conversation,” Esmail explained later, offering as an example “the Apple/FBI thing. … We talked to our FBI consultants about this, and their view is that encryption should allow for this sort of third-party side-door thing.”
Esmail says he’s “totally opposed” to that. “I’m on Tim Cook’s side,” he said, a line that unsurprisingly got huge cheers from the SXSW room. Ultimately, he says, “if you keep breaking [the issue] down in a credible way and if you show both sides so that the audience can understand the debate, hopefully it gets people interested and invested in wanting to learn more about it. If our show contributes to that conversation, brings that conversation up again,” then he’s happy with the reception.
Mr. Robot stars Rami Malek and Christian Slater also were there for the panel, which largely addressed the process of credibly presenting technology on TV. Neither of the actors boasted of being particularly tech-savvy, though Slater admitted he’s definitely better about password protection since joining the show.
Mr. Robot‘s second season is in production for premiere later this year on USA.