1984 Knockin’ on the Door

1984George Orwell’s famous novel Nineteen Eighty-four takes place in the nation of Oceania where the Inner Party, headed by Big Brother, controls the government, and everything else including the people’s daily lives. Two-way telescreens are installed in apartments and homes so that the inhabitants of Oceania can be monitored at all times. Telescreens with hidden microphones can also be found in work places and public places. Privacy in Oceania does not exist.

Nineteen Eighty-four was published in 1949, 64 years ago. 1984 the year came and went 29 years ago. But, friends, today in 2013, a real 1984, a 1984 of Big Brother, of ever-present surveillance, is knockin’ on the door.

Yesterday, both The Guardian and the Washington Post revealed that the National Security Agency and the FBI are engaged in what may be the single biggest infringement of American civil liberties ever by tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, monitoring phone calls, photos, email, video, audio, documents, and connection logs. Who are these Internet companies? They are companies that offer services most of us use every day. The US government is monitoring Gmail, FaceBook, MSN, Hotmail, Yahoo, Google, Skype, AOL, and YouTube. The government’s program is called PRISM.

Read this chilling exchange on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, between the host and Glen Greenwald, an American journalist with the Guardian:

Greenwald: “Yeah, what this program enables the National Security Agency to do is reach directly into the servers of the largest Internet companies in the world, things that virtually every human being in the Western world uses to communicate with one another, and take whatever it is they want without any checks of any kind, there’s no court looking over their shoulder to see what they’re taking, and they don’t even have the check that they have to go to the Internet companies and ask for it any longer, they have been given, or taken depending on who you talk to, direct access into the pipes where all the conversations take place and can suck up whatever they want at any given moment . . .

Morgan: What this means in a nutshell, is that the NSA on behalf of the Obama administration has been secretly looking at just about any kind of communication they see fit from any American.

Greenwald: I think this is really the important point, Piers, and that there is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity not just in the United States but in the world. That is not hyperbole. That is their objective, to make it so that every single form of human communication, human interaction, human behavior can never be beyond their reach, and they have developed extraordinary sophisticated technologies and enormously expensive mechanisms in order to make that happen. And it is well past time we had a debate about whether that is the kind of country or world in which we want to live, but we haven’t had that debate because it’s all done in secrecy and the Obama administration has been very aggressive about bullying and threatening anybody who thinks about exposing it or writing about it or even doing journalism about it, and it is well past time that come to an end.

I have never been in favor of the Patriot Act. As one who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, I had hopes that he would at least place some restrictions on this law, if not rescind it entirely. But evidently, President Obama thinks this is a good thing.

The problem is that there are no checks and no oversight. The law says nothing about what the government can do with this power, and it is all done in secrecy.

The aim is to go after terrorists. Yet, throughout our history, we have always said that the United States should never engage in activity that betrays our values. This is a sentiment that President Obama has echoed often. Of course, we have failed to live up to that guiding principle on many occasions, and this is one of them. The concern, given what we now know about what the IRS has been up to, as well as other incidents in history, is that this sort of power can be easily abused. And as Greenwald noted later on the CNN program, what we have seen with the “phone records scandal” is that the government wasn’t just going after terrorists, they were targeting all Americans indiscriminately.

It begs the question from Juvenal’s Satires: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchers?

And these from Spirit:

Knockin’ on your door
Will you let it come?
Will you let it run your life?

Someone will be waiting for you at your door
when you get home tonight
Ah yes he’s gonna tell you darkness gives you much more
than you get from the light.

Plexi-plastic eyeball, he’s your special friend
he sees you every night
Well he calls himself Big Brother
but you know it’s no game
You’re never out of his sight.

Knockin’ on your door
Will you let it come
Will you let it run your life?

It’s time you started thinking inside your head
that you should stand up and fight
Oh just where will you be when your freedom is dead
fourteen years from tonight?

Those plexi-plastic ‘copters, they’re your special friends
they see you every night
Well they call themselves protection
but you know it’s no game
You’re never out of their sight.

1984 Knockin’ on your door
Will you let it come
Will you let it run

Randy California for Spirit, 1970.


5 thoughts on “1984 Knockin’ on the Door

  1. The technology to protect yourself from email snooping at least has been around for years. However encryption technology islike pgp is still the habitat of geeks but I imagine it will now mature into more accessible forms for non techie users. PRISM has raised eyebrows over here tpp due to the close relationship between yours guys and gchq.

    1. In the post, Greenwald says, the government has “developed extraordinary sophisticated technologies and enormously expensive mechanisms,” which leads me to believe they can get through whatever protections ordinary folks and even geeks can put into place. I am somewhat pacified by the President’s remarks this morning, but it doesn’t change the fact that the scope for abuse is vast.

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