Elite's lead designer, Sandro Sammarco, has discussed possible changes to bounties and exposed an interesting issue with video game punishments: what if they're too effective?
In a post discussing an interdiction issue (this is the ability for a ship to pull another out of supercruise to rob or kill them, or claim a bounty) he touches on some interesting problems with virtual punishment.
There's a point in the list of proposed features called "Murder is not serious enough." The team are looking into changing how bounties work in a future update. The current idea is that these aren't just a fine to be paid, they're also "a green light for you to be attacked." If you kill another player, then you're fair game to others to pursue until you pay off the bounty or die trying. You're a virtual murderer after all.
The issue at the moment is that certain things in the game can remove the bounty when you're killed, something Sandro says is not what the team wants. The problem is, what's the alternative? He thinks that "it would be too punishing to have bounties that kept on being active after respawning," because "having a more or less permanent target on your back would likely just stop people committing crimes." I find that last part interesting, because in the real world that's exactly what you want. In a game though, it could potentially make certain avenues of gameplay impossible, or at least unpleasantly difficult for some if you can't afford to pay off a bounty, or replace things claimed by the cold vacuum of space. Here's Sandro's take on that:
"I just think it would be too punishing to have bounties that kept on being active after respawning. Sure this would not be an issue for the tiny minority of super wealthy Commanders, but our data suggests that losing a ship is a non-trivial event for the majority of pilots - and having a more or less permanent target on your back would likely just stop people committing crimes."
The team are currently thinking about varying bounties depending on rank or ship strength so that players could deal with bounties according to their level or status.