Wednesday, June 12, 2013

1984 Is Not An Instruction Manual

Memo to Senators Diane Feinstein & Lindsey Graham: 1984 is not an instruction manual.

These senators, and much of the co-opted US media, are touting the government line: If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from the government collecting and storing your emails, Facebook chats, Web browsing, and phone records. This is a disingenuous rationalization from individuals who should – and do – know better.

The concern is not that the government is reading every one of the billion emails a day it collects, or listening in on billions of phone calls. It doesn't have the manpower to do that. But what it is doing is building a database. A very, very large database. Perhaps the largest database on Earth. And everything about you will be in it. Forever. Now, pay attention, and I’ll tell you why that’s a lot worse than it sounds.

A computer can cross-reference information in a database, compiling a profile. Years, or decades, of your Facebook posts, IM chats, Instagram and Pinterest photos, emails, phone records, and Website visited will be accessible as a dossier on you with a click of a button. All that information is being collected and stored for possible future use. And there’s the rub.

With enough material collected, anyone can be made to look bad. Even someone innocent like you, with nothing to hide. Selective culling of the material collected and stored over the years in the government database: That drunken photo of you and your friends at a party; the email where you told your friend you cheated on your spouse; the IM chat where you bragged about cheating on your taxes; the Facebook chat with a friend discussing your sensitive medical or mental health issue; the angry tirade you posted about wanting to blow up all the politicians in Washington. It’s all there, along with tons of innocuous stuff like photos of your cat. But in the right light, selective disclosure can cast a dark shadow on you, no matter how innocent you may be.

Say you’re running for political office. Say you’re writing an expose for a newspaper. Say you’re critical of individuals in government, or of government policies or actions. Say you’re a writer, a thinker, a reformer, a teacher, an agent of change, a dreamer, or a philosopher. Someone who threatens the status quo. Someone who needs to be – and can be—discredited, with the push of a button.

Big Brother is watching you. Big Brother has his finger on the button. The Ministry of Truth has told us not to worry, to trust the government. Big Brother has our best interest at heart. We should trust and love Big Brother, like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984. Or we can reclaim control of our government (you remember, the one “of the people, by the people, and for the people”?), take away the button, and tell our voyeuristic Uncle Sam a peeping Tom makes for a creepy uncle.

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