These chilling words from George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ are fast becoming reality.
With the recent events in the US coming to light, namely the discovery of the PRISM surveillance program some years ago and now the scandal with Analytica, it is interesting to see what kind of data has been collected about individuals and from which sources. All of the ‘big’ companies appear to have been involved, foremost Facebook. Emails have been read, personal chats observed; even things that we ‘like’ on Facebook are being stored and analysed. Not to mention our personal data.
The whistle blower, Edward Snowden, revealed what the US Government were doing because he didn’t think it was right, ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.’
This is a scary thought. Very Orwellian. How long before it becomes more than a matter of just keeping an eye on potential terrorists? President Obama defended the surveillance program during his mandates, saying ‘You can’t have 100% security and also 100% privacy and zero inconvenience’ and other people have also come to its defense saying that such surveillance has already thwarted a number of terrorist plots.
Of course it is nice to know that such plots are being stopped because of surveillance activity, but the fact stands that it’s not just happening to people who are terror suspects and rather to ‘normal’ people. I certainly don’t like the idea of anyone being able to read my emails (not that there’s anything to hide!!) but, and I think most people feel the same, that there’s something not quite right about it.
And of course, we are only told that such activity is foiling plots but how much do we really know about what’s going on? Are we being told this just to appease us? After all, the US Government has never made its activities transparent, we only know as much as we do because a couple of men decided to let us in on the secret!
But what can we actually do? Boycott the companies to which we have been so willing to give up all our personal details? I remember people saying they would do this to companies such as Amazon and Starbucks after they found out that they had been paying next to nothing in taxes.
They urged the rest to do the same, but they still find themselves logging on to Amazon to buy things, because it’s just so much cheaper than the alternatives.
I think about the companies involved in all of the spying scandals that have been uncovered so far… Will we really stop logging on to Facebook? Will we stop downloading apps for our iPads? Probably not.
People, myself included, have become used to the ease that comes with using such products and services to make their lives easier. The alternatives would be perhaps to use alternative services, search engines etc which are not run by American companies that misuse our personal details. But Snowden also claims that most internet traffic inevitably runs through America at some point anyway.
It would also be a hard task to find domestic internet services which match up to these big name companies. So therefore, even if we complain about our privacy being breached, do we care enough to stop using the services that violate us?
It has also come to light that some countries, including the UK, have been allowed to share the intelligence that the US have acquired, which begs the question: is anywhere safe? If the US have been spying on their own people without their knowledge, who can be sure that other governments aren’t also doing it? A worrying thought indeed.