By Jack Mattern
Quick! Get away from your TVs and computers! The government is watching you…
That’s a warning that would be relevant, if George Orwell had accurately predicted the future in 1984, which was published 65 years ago on June 8. But he didn’t exactly have the power of time travel at his disposal, otherwise he might have known that even 30 years after his masterpiece’s setting, the world is safe from “Big Brother.”
For now, at least.
Winston Smith and the citizens of Airstrip One in 1984 were constantly monitored through cameras and speakers in every location imaginable, including their homes, where two-way television monitors were used.
In recent years, there has been much concern over the government (specifically, the National Security Agency) monitoring phone calls, intercepting private emails, and even tracking citizens through cell phone GPS capabilities. This concern is highly justified.
While I doubt that there will ever be the level of surveillance that existed in Orwell’s novel, it is justifiable to say that the American public is not happy with the NSA’s collection of private data.
George W. Bush started this recent worry when he signed a presidential order in 2002, allowing for the monitoring of calls in the wake of the disaster that was 9/11 the previous year. The monitoring program’s intent was to track down citizens that might’ve had ties to Al Qaeda. While it did have some success, most people that were tracked were never charged with a crime, bringing the necessity of that tracking into serious question.
As if citizens weren’t already paranoid, it was alleged in 2006 and backed up with documents from a former AT&T employee that the company had been working with the NSA to spy on email traffic. Following this, it was reported last year in a Forbes article that many U.S. companies are being paid by the NSA to either tap into phone conversations or monitor emails.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so they obtained information on intercepts and wiretaps from the NSA. Then, they illegally used that information to launch criminal investigations, and told law enforcement officials to cover up how the investigations were started.
This is just like what Winston did at the Ministry of Truth in 1984. He spent his days “editing” news articles to make them agree with everything that “The Party” said. Covering up how investigations started to make national organizations look like they did nothing wrong could be considered close to the same thing
This interference with the private lives of American citizens is starting to become a major cause for concern, as individual rights such as who people marry and gun rights continue to be in the political spotlight. If the government keeps trying to interfere with our daily lives to this extent, they’re going to have a much larger fight on their hands.
Winston got caught having an affair after being spied on for months by members of the thought police in 1984. How long will it be before the NSA starts telling our parents or spouses every time we change lanes without using a signal? (Don’t do that, by the way.)
Now, because the future is unpredictable, just as it was when Orwell was writing, I can’t make any claims as to what the world will be like 40 years from now, unless time travel is invented before this article is published. So I guess I will conclude by saying this: while there is no need right now to cover your webcams (unless you are a criminal on the run, in which case, you should cover your webcam and throw your phone into the nearest river), there may very well be a time in your life that you will have to be wary of every single thing you do. Being aware of consequences is a good thing anyways, right?
I’m going to go watch re-runs of Big Brother now. What season are they on?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons