As public opinion regarding issues of surveillance shifts from that of disdain to one of general acceptance, one must begin to to wonder where communal knowledge ends and privacy begins. In the class discussion led by Cory and Brandi in mid-October, we learned of mass surveillance by the military, tactics of targeted messaging, and citizen responses via sousveillance. This discussion, along with recent reports of spying by the NSA under the Patriot Act, alluded to themes found in George Orwell’s novel 1984. The book tells of a society in sociological ruins at the hands of the communist-esque party in charge. The Party’s leader, Big Brother, uses tactics of fear, spying, and torture to keep citizens from rising against him. The U.S., while not actively using torture against its citizens, is increasingly utilizing methods of fear mongering and surveillance against itself. The slogan proclaimed on billboards, television, and by people in1984 is “Big Brother is Watching You”, and while that phrase sounds exaggerated when applied to recent U.S. developments in surveillance, it is becoming increasingly more relevant to government policy towards the subject.
Technological advances in the United States allow for easier and more active surveillance by the government and by corporations. In a reading published by IEEE Spectrum in May of 2011, Siva Vaidhyanathan quoted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in saying “Privacy is no longer a ‘Social Norm’” (Vaidhyanathan). While the era privacy may be becoming something that one’s grandparents refer to as the “good old days”, the presence of social media allows potential employers, exes, and government organizations to have a front row seat in a person’s life. In a similar way, Orwell describes of “Telescreens” in 1984. These screens are placed everywhere, including in one’s own home. The main character, Winston Smith, is constantly being watched by the screens, Orwell telling of them as “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plate commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment” (Orwell). Although the government has not established a system of placing cameras in homes, constantly monitoring the actions of its citizens, the most important idea Orwell describes of the Telescreens is the fact that “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment” (Orwell). Social Media gives people interested in the happenings of any given person’s life the opportunity to do so without any notification or knowledge of that person. Those opposed to this argument might propose the idea that social media is a voluntary service, and if a person puts their personal information into the public sphere, it is their own fault if it falls into the wrong hands. Even though social media participation is voluntary and the users agree that their data may be saved and viewed by any one person, changing ideas of the concept of socialization make it nearly impossible for one to not be active on any form of trackable media, including the internet in and of itself. As a result, surveillance methods utilized in modern day America that utilize user’s personal information over the internet is closely related to the concept of Telescreens in 1984.
Telescreens can be directly related to the use of drones in the United States. In 2013, it was revealed by United States FBI director Robert Mueller that drone’s were used against citizens on a “very, very minimal basis” (Williams). While drones may have been used only minimally, he acknowledges that they have technology and the potential to be used very prevalently. 1984 illustrates a detailed look into a society in which a government takes these technologies and utilizes them more than just minimally. Even though the government does not currently utilize these drones for more than minimal efforts, the potential is there. Any corruption in public policy or threat to public safety carries with it the possibility of drones being used to their fullest, a very scary thought.
1984 described of a world crippled by an inability for privacy. As the United States government continues to pass legislation related to the surveillance of its people, regardless of the intent, it will continue to perpetuate the idea of regressive progression as described in Orwell’s novel. Whether change comes in the form of a lesser reliance on social media, change in social outlook towards drone usage, or modification of public policy, an adjustment must be made in regards to the use of surveillance in the U.S. as to not become the dystopian society described in George Orwell’s 1984.
Orwell, George. “The Orwell Reader – Nineteen Eighty-Four (Chapter One Excerpt).” The Orwell Reader. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.theorwellreader.com/excerpt.shtml>.
Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “Protecting Online Privacy.” IEEE Spectrum. IEEE Spectrum, 31 May 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/protecting-online-privacy>.
Williams, Pete. “FBI Director Tells Congress Agency Uses Drones for Surveillance on U.S. Soil.” NBC News. NBC, 19 June 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/19/19041488-fbi-director-tells-congress-agency-uses-drones-for-surveillance-on-us-soil?lite>.