In George Orwell’s 1984 surveillance and the collection of data is used to control the citizens of Oceania. In the novel individuals are monitored through telescreens (the equivalent of a 2-way TV) and their mail is routinely opened and read by the authorities.
Orwell’s warning of a Big Brother society has been referenced ever since 1984’s publication, however the advent and omnipresence of technology in our daily lives has made the idea of surveillance more pertinent than ever.
So let’s talk about PRISM.
In what can only be described as a story that Orwell himself could have written, last week a former CIA worker leaked details about the biggest surveillance operation in history. Documents leaked to the Washington Post and The Guardian claimed the US National Security Agency (NSA) had direct access to the servers of 9 of the world’s biggest internet companies including Apple, Google, Yahoo & Verizon.
Allegedly government agents had direct access to servers and could collect emails and other communications at will. They also allowed the UK’s GCHQ data gathering centre access to PRISM (and who else I hear you cry).
Whilst both the US & UK have made supposedly re-assuring statements about not breaking the law or encroaching on personal privacy, they have also been somewhat sparse in detailing what they have been up to.
EU members have been especially damning about the PRISM scandal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel set to discuss PRISM with President Obama next week. German Consumer Protection Minister IIse Aigner called for ‘clear answers’ whilst EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said he wanted a “clear commitment” from the US to respect data-protection rights.
President Obama described the surveillance as a ‘modest encroachment’ on individual’s privacy, a necessary measure in times where the terror level never dips below ‘very real’. As citizens of a technology driven world, we’ve become accustomed to laying bare our personal details anyway with e-shopping and social media. So should we really care if our governments are collecting data about us as well?
And the question I ask is this: are you really that surprised?
If George Orwell was still around today, and glib enough to use the phrase, he might just say ‘I told you so’.