Surveillance: our internet-connected world getting similar to Orwell’s dystopia

Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), George Orwell’s dystopian post Second World War novel introduces the reader to a society without privacy and freedom, driven by anxiety, suppression, equal in the book with a surveillance society. The antagonist, Big Brother, “is watching you”, “sees all and knows all”, being at the centre of a civilization which firmly controls mass media. Scary, right? Although it might still seem impossible, lately it feels as if Orwell’s science-fiction world might actually come to life into our daily existence.

On one hand, it would be hypocritical of us not to admit that to some extinct we are taking part in our own surveillance. This “participatory surveillance”, as described by Albrechtslund, can be identified with all the sharing we are doing, actively participating in the production and circulation of media content (Jenkins, 2007). Tastes, opinions, locations made known within a network constitute a “powerful apparatus for surveillance” (Albert Albrechtslund). Julian Assangeonce, founder of WikiLeaks, contours Facebook as “the world’s most comprehensive database about people”. In this case, it would rather be a matter of transparency, not privacy, two key words essential for the understanding of surveillance.

Edward Snowden — Ex-worker for the Government; made people aware of the US government’s sweeping surveillance systems

On the other hand, the scary part is that although mass media enable and form public understanding and debates of political, cultural and social matters, they also create an easier path towards our daily lives. Intelligence agencies, third party companies and governments manage to get access to our personal information with or without our consent. What is even worse? Up until now it was supposedly done without our knowledge and for our safety, but recently collecting data on the citizens appears to be more important to the ones holding the power than actually securing it. Such a case was spotted earlier this year when the Brazilian government managed to block WhatsApp for 72 hours as they despised the idea of not being able to access the private communications of their citizens. France and Germany are taking into consideration blocking encryption all together and banning VPNs, making sure in this way that they have entree to everything they wish to read. At the same time, a more commonly known issue would be the Investigatory Power Bill, a document which should introduce UK to a new era of transparency, honesty and rigorous oversight. Internet Connections Records (ICRs) are a new form of communications data created by the previously mentioned document. The major problem with ICRs is their unlawful interference with privacy and the fact that they have the ability to provide a bulk of highly detailed information about the activities of individuals, sketching their internet behaviours. Moreover, the IPB concentrates on the way in which it can be used by law enforcement, but it is not explicit when it comes to intelligence agencies and third party companies.

Theresa May — Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

To sum it up, there are many more examples that can contour the path our world is taking towards Orwell’s dystopia such as the Prism program issue and not least, MonsterMind. Although it sounds scary, there is still time and hope as people worldwide are becoming more and more aware.