By Jason Newell:
The lasting legacy of George Orwell’s genius work 1984 is still to be determined, but it’s currently cited in countless studies and pieces regarding oppressive governmental structures. Orwell’s novel provides incredibly insightful sub-themes that relate to how a government grows and subsequently sustains power: one such mechanism being the control of information. In the book itself, Orwell creates a “Party” government that controls all sources of information. Information being defined as newspapers and historical facts. The aforementioned information types are changed to favor the all-powerful regime. Moreover, personal items, such as photos and personal documents are confiscated, and those who have them in possession are harshly penalized. Essentially, a channel for the free flow of education, whether through physical items or the internet, doesn’t exist.
Information obstructionism, however, isn’t solely confined to philosophical concepts present in his masterpiece as it’s playing out now with nations prioritizing data collection in order to combat global terrorism. But remember the old maxim, “the road to hell is built on good intentions.” Explaining further, the core premise of this maxim can be paralleled with the state’s ostensibly well-intentioned objective of fighting terrorism, but in this effort, the state may slip down a slippery-slope when it exceeds reasonable oversight mechanisms. A prime contemporary example of state overreach can be seen with America’s War on Terror.
America’s War on Terror contains a few similar characteristics between itself and the “Party” from 1984. First of all, mostly all data is being stored in giant facilities across the country. For the most part, this data is stored in the event that an individual is responsible for a major crime – if this occurs, then the data can be used to track the individual’s whereabouts and purchases. Secondly, as Snowden mentioned, the government can access user webcams on computers and cellphones in order to monitor or spy on an individual, all without a warrant. Big brother’s ability to tap a user’s webcam has an eery crossover with 1984, where the government would broadcast media directly into a person’s room.
Furthermore, the federal government controls the free flow of media by releasing covert actions decades later, e.g., withholding the JFK file’s until 2017. I presume that the government would retort with something along these lines: “the files had to be kept secret for matters of national security.” Regardless, an American’s right to sensitive information is limited and if it is in-fact released, it’s released on so long of a delay so the information becomes somewhat irrelevant.
And don’t forget warrantless phone tapping. From 2001-2007, the NSA conducted millions of warrantless wiretaps. Some government employees went so far as to listen to intimate, phone sex conversations. Even with the passage of the FISA Amendment in 2008, intended to limit government surveillance, the NSA continued to find technical loopholes inder to bypass the legislative intent of the measure. The Orwellian crossover in the aforementioned wiretapping example is an ultra-powerful, centralized government, that refuses to abide by it’s own laws. This consolidation of power seeks to limit freedoms and control society.
Here’s what’s clear: the US is emulating some of the behavior present in the novel 1984. Whether it be warrantless wiretapping, webcam spying, or data collection, the US government is using a supposed “compelling interest” to prevent terrorist attacks at home and abroad, but the question is, when does government surveillance pass the threshold of reasonability relative to the perceived threat? This is for the American people to decide, but on face value, government actions evading legal constraints can be said to tip the scales toward security over freedom. What’s key, from a balancing test point of view, is to balance out the need for security with the demand for freedom. Once a balanced point is discovered, then maybe the government will work within the parameters set forth by the American people.