Big brother is watching you! When I read George Orwell’s Nineteen eighty four in 1984 as a high school student in Geneva as part of an English assignment and then as part of a personal project in my sciences humaines class, I was not expecting that one of the main themes of this novel, namely the advent of an ubiquitous, all-intrusive and all-powerful police state, would have taken hold so firmly already in my own lifetime.
After the numerous terrorist attacks seen in the West since the mid-1990s, I suppose it would have been a little naive to expect that our governments would not make use of the technology available to monitor suspects deemed to be a threat with a view to foiling terrorist attacks. This seems to have worked well as we have not seen anything in the scale of the 11 September, Madrid or London attacks take place since the mid-2000s, most probably because would-be perpetrators were arrested before they got the opportunity to carry out their murderous intent (for instance, according to the BBC, in the UK alone ‘145 people [were] convicted of terrorism offences […] between 2001 and 2012’).
However, the information that has been leaked out by the press since Wednesday (about the US government having obtained telephone metadata from one of the country’s main telco carriers and of internet tapping) certainly lends credence to the claim of the ex-NSA’s whistleblower William Binney that the US government is collecting huge amounts of data on everybody (and he claims nearly everything) for backward monitoring/analysis as well as real-time surveillance purposes. In other words, big brother is already watching you!
Here are a few links to documentaries, conferences, etc that might be of interest in the context of this week’s revelations in The Guardian and the Washington Post (now relayed by the rest of the media):
If you have the time to only view one of these clips, this is the one [i.e. just above] you ought to view, Naked Citizens – even though it primarily deals with the UK, it will show you how CCTV, drones, your mobile/cellular phones, your email, your Internet searches and even your own PC are all being used to monitor people and what the consequences are for individuals when the state gets it wrong. More information on FinSpy, which is the software claimed to be used by the police to access anybody’s PC when connected to the Internet, can be found here in a report by Citizen Lab.
Fast forward to 26 min into this conversation between Julian Assange and activists from the Cypherpunk movement – Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jeremie Zimmermann and Jacob Appelbaum – to listen to the most interesting revelations concerning the ‘big brother is watching you’ theme.
Big Brother Is Watching You – Next Generation Surveillance
Argus is a surveillance camera with a resolution of 1.8 billion pixels … that can zoom in on people from an altitude of 17,500 feet and it can store up to 1 million terabytes a day
In the 1990s, there was a scandal in Switzerland when it was revealed that the secret state police had built a database of 900,000 files on suspects out of a population of close to 7,000,000. In those days, the technology was not there for the database to be more comprehensive. The problem is that the technology is already available now … and we can only have nightmares of what it might be in a few years’ time if no checks are put in place now …
Links to ‘big brother’ type of analyses of the USA’s NSA (National Security Agency)
- ‘The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)’, James Bamford, Wired, 15 March 2012
- ‘NSA Utah ‘Data Center’: Biggest-ever domestic spying lab?’, RT, 17 March 2012
- No calls, emails ‘secure’ from Obama snooping, WND, 14 May 2013
- ‘The program’, Laura Poitras, New York Times, 22 August 2012
- The Government is Profiling You: William Binney (former NSA), Sasha Costanza-Chock, MIT Center for Civic Media, 26 November 2012
- Photos/Google street view of the Utah data centre are available here.
- ‘What we don’t know about spying on citizens: scarier than what we know’, Bruce Schneir, The Atlantic, 6 June 2013
Obama’s ‘response’ to the revelations:
- Barack Obama defends US surveillance tactics, BBC, 7 June 2013 Last updated at 22:06 GMT
- Obama: No one listening to your calls, CNN, 7 June, 2013 — Updated 2034 GMT (0434 HKT)
Other posts on the same topic on this blog:
- So the US, UK and France operate Big Brother programmes … who else does so in the West, one wonders
- Nothing new, Mr Snowden
- A new email account