Big Brother Is Watching
Orwell's 1984 has Arrived
George Orwell in his novel, 1984, posited a time when civil liberties were a thing of the past and the government—with the help of informants and electronic surveillance—controlled every aspect of its citizens’ lives. In 1949, when the story was published, it was pure science fiction, and its title was an inversion of 1948, the year Orwell was composing it. The advanced technology that enabled his imaginary dictator, known as Big Brother, to monitor individuals closely had not yet been developed.
Skip ahead to today. On our increasingly wired planet, with video cameras not just on every corner, but in people’s smart phones, computers and wireless devices, such a scenario is entirely plausible. All it would take for us to slip into that nightmarish world is a totalitarian-leaning government or government-business alliance. If you are wondering how to prevent such an eventuality, you may be a bit behind the curve. Many believe this Orwellian future has already taken hold and, although still in its infancy, is growing up fast.
In the summer of 2002, less than a year after the attacks of September 11, President George W. Bush proposed a new corps of civilian informants to help bolster his War on Terror. Dubbed “Operation TIPS” (Terrorism Information and Prevention Systems), it would recruit Americans to spy on their fellow citizens. TIPS was to use truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees and other workers who frequently came into contact with the general public and who could poke their noses into places law enforcement could not, especially private homes. In the operation's own words, it would be “a national reporting system that allows these workers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity.” Operation TIPS's initial goal was to have one million civilian informants, more than even the notorious East German Secret Police, the Stasi.
Possible abuses under this new informant program were immediately evident. Even TIPS proponent, Attorney General John Ashcroft, admitted that there would be no way for average people to know if they had been reported on—or for them to correct or explain any erroneous information. A neighbor harboring a grudge could report people in his neighborhood with no accountability. A wife desperate to get back at an ex-husband could spin lies to the government with no adverse repercussions. Citizens spying on citizens was the ultimate goal, and in the TIPS logo, the all-seeing eye was an all-too-obvious symbol of this out-of-control spying. Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and the blatant divisiveness engendered by this program might very well threaten the very fabric of the country that it was ostensibly trying to defend.
Fortunately, a brave journalist, Ritt Goldstein at the Sydney Morning Herald, reported on this nefarious program, and its dark plans withered under the harsh light of public scrutiny. In the Homeland Security Act, the formation of the TIPS program was expressively prohibited. The right to privacy had seemingly won the day. But if the government can try it once, what is to stop it from trying again, under a new name, under a different set of objectives? What will happen the next time the government tries to infringe on our privacy rights? How can average citizens protect themselves from the ever-present threat of Big Brother?
Using existing technology, one or more chilling acts of collusion between big business and big government could allow Big Brother to watch your every step, know exactly what you watch, exactly what you say, exactly what's in your home and exactly what you think. Even if you didn’t broadcast all of your personal information to the public through use of social media, your neighbor could be recruited to be Big Brother's accomplice, your license plate a hidden tracking tool, your telephone a secret microphone into your life. If you carefully parse corporate-government doublespeak, you will discover that not only is the technology in place, but so are the actual programs. A prime example is InfraGard.
[ Jesse Ventura's Take ]
Big Brother sounds like a paranoid fantasy, but I found out it's not. I know they were watching me when I was governor, but back then, they looked like you or me. But now they're everywhere: surveillance cameras on street corners... every time you swipe your credit card... and you wonder why I don't use a cell phone? And as for Infra-Gard, it's a nice patriotic idea, keeping an eye out for terrorists. But "Junior G-Man" ID cards? What a crock! It's all an invitation for disgruntled people to snoop and snitch and get revenge. Watch out. Big Brother is everywhere.