Nationalism is sweeping across the globe, leaving no country unaffected. A reality TV star” is the leader of the free world, almost making it seem as if his decisions are based upon a would-be television rating system. But perhaps the most chilling series of events has been the rapid advancement of technology, and how governments harness that power against citizens. Daily, governments encroach on civilian privacy in the name of security. Alas, what will be the apex of this technologically driven society? An Orwellian mass surveillance state dedicated to controlling all its citizens.
In George Orwell’s 1949 classic, “1984,” readers are presented with a future dystopian which the omniscient government, often called “Big Brother,” controls its citizens through fear, pain and punishment. A rather grim outlook for the world, “1984” comes to us in contrast to Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, “A Brave New World,” in which citizens are controlled not through fear, yet with a mind-altering substance called “soma,” which makes the user happy to never question their role within society, but complacent. Both “1984” and “Brave New World” were far ahead of their time. When first published, they were considered science fiction. However, as time progressed, more of the technology and techniques for keeping citizens at bay have been employed by governments around the world.
In 2017, the BBC published an article about Chinese facial recognition software, and how it’s been employed across China. As of December 2017, over 170 million closed-circuit television cameras were employed country-wide, with over 400 million more expected within the next three years. China isn’t alone; the United States, along with the rest of the world, has agencies dedicated to keeping tabs on civilians in the name of national security. In “1984,” the government, known as the “Party” employs the use of a device called “telescreens,” with the basic concept being a television-like device used by the “Thought Police” to broadcast propaganda promoting national pride, mixed with military victories, while also recording all civilians. The Thought Police are a private police force, whose sole purpose is to maintain the security of the Party by controlling the thought and, therefore, actions of the proletariat masses.
The United States doesn’t have a Thought Police by definition, however, the National Security Agency (NSA) is eerily similar in practice. According to the NSA’s website, the “NSA leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both signals intelligence and information assurance (now referred to as cybersecurity) products and services and enables computer network operations in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.” And while we don’t have state-mandated “telescreens” in every room, we do have smartphones and the NSA armed with the USA Freedom Act. According to the Washington Post, “the bill authorizes the government to collect from phone companies up to “two hops” of call records related to a suspect if the government can prove it has “reasonable” suspicion that the suspect is linked to a terrorist organization.”
Winston Smith is the main character of “1984.” Despite being a Prole, the working class in the novel, Winston works for the Party, within the Ministry of Truth, rewriting historical documents to favor the Party. In this instance, we look to the Trumpian concept of “fake news.” On a much smaller scale, fake news is used to dispute fact, typically with little to no truthfulness. Trump uses fake news to perpetuate his lies and paint his administration in the best light possible.
With the world so enthralled by modern technology, it can be difficult to remove oneself to evaluate the current situation. We must dare ask ourselves if the sacrifices of personal privacy and data security are worth the long-term risks. Almost daily, we creep further and further from privacy and more into an authoritarian, omniscient regime. One in which perhaps “1984” becomes less a book of science fiction and increasingly a glimpse into the not-so-distant future.