restricted access 10. Big Brother Is Watching You
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C H A P T E R 1 0 o BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU Of all the so-called threats to privacy, none seem as ominous as Big Brother. It is hard to find a story on privacy these days without some mention of Big Brother lurking in the shadows, ready to seize someone’s civil liberties at a moment’s notice. Many of these references to Big Brother speculate about a future when the U.S. government is transformed into a repressive, totalitarian regime. Simson Garfinkel provides one vision of Big Brother: We can easily picture a society (our century has also done this for us), in which the police have the right to burst into any home, or any room, at any time; in other words, a society in which there was no place that is offlimits , no place where we are safe and where we could hide. Or a society that restricted personal choices, regulating whom you can marry, how you can raise your children, or what you can read in the privacy of your own home.1 Frequently, Big Brother is mentioned in the same breath as Hitler or Stalin to infer that one day our government might come to resemble those heinous dictatorships. One such view belongs to privacy advocate Phyllis Schafly, who claims, Two of the principal mechanisms by which the rulers of 20th century police states maintained their control over their people were the file and the internal passport. . . . These two methods of personal surveillance— PAGE 139 139 .......................... 10897$ CH10 08-31-04 10:09:46 PS 140 Chapter 10 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • efficient watchdogs that prevented any emergence of freedom—required an army of bureaucrats fortified by a Gestapo, a Stasi or a KGB, plus the ability to commandeer an unlimited supply of paper and file folders. Technology has now made the task of building personal files on every citizen, and tracking our actions and movements, just as easy as logging onto the Internet. Sometimes even politicians in the U.S. government get into the act. Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio once called a proposal for a computerized worker registry ‘‘1-800-BIG BROTHER.’’2 Orwell’s Big Brother Of course, we have George Orwell to thank for the Big Brother metaphor . Orwell’s book 1984 tells the story of a totalitarian government, ruled by The Party, which uses complete control of the population to stay in power. Big Brother symbolizes The Party, and his face with its piercing stare is plastered on posters everywhere with the slogan ‘‘Big Brother Is Watching You.’’ The Thought Police enforce the rules of Big Brother and monitor what people say and do through telescreens, large video devices that allow The Party to display propaganda while monitoring citizens. Although 1984 is a work of brilliant imagination and superb storytelling , the fact is that Orwell got many things wrong. Orwell was worried that technology paired with totalitarianism would make governments like the Soviet Union an unmatchable menace that would threaten liberty far into the future. By 1948, when the book was written, Orwell had witnessed how technology had enabled Hitler to spread Nazi propaganda and Stalin to take over numerous satellite countries in Eastern Europe. By the year 1984, many commentators writing about the book claimed that Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism was still on track. However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became clear that not even technology could prop up an economically bankrupt regime like the Soviet Union. In fact, technologies like the fax machine, copier, and short-wave radio allowed people inside the Soviet Union, and China more recently, to communicate with the outside world in order to undermine their leaders ’ control. One such example is described in a biography of George Soros, the billionaire who used his wealth in the 1980s to donate hundreds of copier machines to his native country of Hungary to help faciliPAGE 140 .......................... 10897$ CH10 08-31-04 10:09:46 PS Big Brother Is Watching You 141 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • tate the dissemination of information during the Soviet’s repressive rule.3 Soros is extending his mission for greater openness to other countries around the globe through the work of a variety of foundations , including the Open Society Institute.4 In the past, dictators and brutal regimes relied on propaganda and tightly controlled messages to keep their subjects in check. With the technology of the information age, leaders are finding...


Subject Headings

  • Privacy, Right of -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Social control -- United States.
  • War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.
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