1984, a novel by George Orwell, takes you down a trip through a dystopian version of Oceania where two protagonists try to keep their illegal love affairs secret from different ways the party members try to spy on them. The two lovers seem to never be safe with undisclosed microphones and cameras embedded within the streets they walk, the places they work, and even their homes. In today’s world, the people of America are always skeptical whether or not our government is invading our personal privacy or even spying on us through means of our technology, and why shouldn’t they be? With today’s technology, the government could monitor an unsuspected individual through their personal devices with ease. And not only that, we are helping them by taking pictures of our everyday lives and literally posting them on the internet for everybody to see.
George Orwell’s blood curdling prophecies of where we’re going as a society corresponds with the controversial topics of the unknown if we’re being watched through our personal devices, surveillance in the street, and the use of NOC spies. Currently, the government’s methods of surveilling their people in present day America are certainly not as extreme as the methods used by the party members in 1984, but today’s society does give the impression that we our moving towards a more dystopian society.
To lead off, surveillance cameras within the streets of America are produced with the purpose to observe a specific area. Whether it’s in the streets of New York, a bank, or a jewelry store, they all serve the purpose of identifying crime before it happens and hopefully sending law enforcement officers to assess the situation in time.
More and more surveillance cameras are being produced every year and the data being collected by these devices have been increasing every year from 2000 petabytes in 2018 to an estimated 2500 petabytes in 2019. To put this in perspective, 567 petabytes of data is equivalent to all Netflix’s current users steaming 1.2 hours of ultra-high definition content simultaneously. Now, some might be wondering how this corresponds to the relentless amount of cameras and hidden microphones depicted in Orwell’s 1984, if the cameras are preventing crime then what’s the problem? Well, the problem occurs when the cameras are used to more so control the people than help them. In the novel, our two main characters aren’t even able to have a conversation without being spied on by the party members of Big Brother, unless they’re where microphones couldn’t be placed. “Yes. Look at the trees. There’s nothing big enough to hide a mike in. Besides, I’ve been here before”(Orwell 119). Our two characters weren’t doing anything legally wrong by today’s standard, but still needed to keep simple conversation secret because it does not correspond with the party’s process or plan to control their people in order to have absolute power over them. “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power”(Orwell 263). Posted atop the ministry of truth the slogan, “Freedom is Slavery,” is a simple reminder to all inhabitants of Oceania that an independent man is one who is doomed to fail. Get everyone to believe in that, then you got the next slogan, “Ignorance is Strength.” This could also be read as, “Your Ignorance is our Strength” as in, if the party has everyone ignorant to the fact that they are working like slaves to the government, then the efficientiency of creating this social structure that they are striving for increases. The third and final slogan, “War is Peace,” means that although Oceania is constantly going through war situations and everybody is acting like there is peace everywhere, the party could instantly change the state of emotion of the people according to their liking. To sum up, the party uses these three slogans to maintain constant and absolute power over their people and if America’s government started to use a similar tactic to keep everyone in check, then the surveillance cameras you see on the streets would be to control the people from acting out against the government and Orwell’s prophecies would be one step closer of becoming a reality.
Millions of Americans today are terrified that someone might be watching them through the cameras of their phones and computers. Whether it’s a hacker or the CIA nobody wants any unwanted eyes poking through their personal devices. When Former FBI director James Comey was asked whether or not he covers his computer’s webcam with tape he responded with, “Heck yeah, heck yeah. Also, I get mocked for a lot of things, and I am much mocked for that, but I hope people lock their cars … lock your doors at night. I have an alarm system, if you have an alarm system you should use it, I use mine.” If a former FBI director is fearful of people watching him through his camera then why shouldn’t we be as well? So, who exactly could be watching us through our personal devices? Well, government security agencies like the NSA could have access to your devices through in-built backdoors. What this means is that they can read your messages, tune into your phone calls, and snap a picture of you whenever they please. Hackers are also a big threat to your personal device through apps and multimedia messages. Therefore, it is not such an unimaginable thing to have someone watching you through your phone or laptop while being completely clueless of the situation. How this correlates with the novel is that nobody really knows whether their being heard or watched. This is realized when O’brien confronts Whinston about the diary. “Do you remember, writing in your diary, freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four?”(Orwell 249). Winston new the dangers of keeping a diary but if he knew that the party was watching he would not have had it in the first place. The uncertainty of absolute privacy is also shown when an iron voice repeated after Winston and Julia when they were talking in Charrington’s room. “You are the dead, said an iron voice behind them”(Orwell 221). This is when a painting was knocked off the wall in their room, revealing a telescreen with the face of Big Brother. They had no idea that there were microphones and cameras in the room the whole time. Unfortunately, the novel does not give an easy critique or loophole to this whole situation due to the fact that it ended in their capture. However, it does tell you that there would always be people not accepting the lack of privacy if the government did decide to start wiring up private places with microphones. All in all, the idea of our privacy being violated through our personal devices is not too far fetched. If the government wanted to, they could be watching you in your own home, just like 1984.
Spies, NOC spies, personal government espionages, these are the guys that go around looking like businessmen, waiters, construction workers, and even store clerks when in reality, they’re trying to collect classified information. These are also the guys that scare the hell out of people who think that the government is always watching. It’s a known fact that the government is using spies to gather information and data on other nations. Just in 2010, the Chinese government dismantled CIA spying operations and killed or imprisoned over a dozen sources in two years. If the government uses spies on foreign nations, then why not their own. We already attach microphones to undercover police officers to infiltrate drug deals and human trafficking operations. In the novel, there were these group of people called thought police who were basically secret cops who would spy on the people of Oceania. No one knew who was a member of the thought police and some didn’t even know they existed. This secret group of people appear when Winston and Julia are captured in Charrington’s room. “It occured to Winston that for the first time in his life he was looking, with knowledge, at a member of the thought police”(Orwell 224). This is when Winston figured out Charrington was a member of the thought police this whole time. This reinforces the fact that the thought police are well hidden within the crowd of everyday working men and women in 1984. This situation could be tied into the philosophy that “Ignorance is Strength,” because the people see nothing wrong with being surveilled 24/7 by the thought police, therefore adding on to the social structure the party wants. To wrap up, we don’t know for sure if the government is using secret agencies to spy on us and if they did, we would have less freedoms than we do now. However, the use of secret police to watch people has been used in past. For example, the Gestapo of Nazi Germany. Therefore, since it happened before, it is still a possibility.
In the end, the topics of CCTV surveillance and the NSA are filled with controversial topics like are we being watched through our phones, are there spies in America watching us, and surveillance cameras in the streets of America, should we have more or less? These topics also correspond with many of George Orwell’s prophecies and philosophies depicted in the novel 1984, and some of them have already came true. We are all living a less private lives due to advances in our technology like our laptops and social media apps. So we should all take in that in consideration before we start posting whatever we want on the internet or we would be contributing to a dystopian society as depicted in 1984.
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