From Wikipedia’s entry on Orwell’s book 1984:

In November 2011, the United States government argued before the US Supreme Court that it wants to continue utilizing GPS tracking of individuals without first seeking a warrant. In response, Justice Stephen Breyer questioned what this means for a democratic society by referencing Nineteen Eighty-Four. Justice Breyer asked, “If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States. So if you win, you suddenly produce what sounds like 1984….”

Black boxes in cars, traffic cameras, intelligent utility meters, grocery store customer-loyalty keyfobs, and a proliferation of high-def cameras in cell phones and laptops.  We’re increasingly living in what is becoming a land of total surveillance.  And I forgot to mention Google Earth and new domestic drones.

Like many others, I often say that I really don’t care about such things – I have nothing to hide from marketers or the government.  I’m not fond of such tracking of my life but it’s the way things are today and up to this point I’m not terribly concerned about it.  Not yet.

So far we here in America have had a fairly benign, even friendly, government; one which does such things to protect law-abiding citizens.  The problems arise when that government turns malignant and those who were once decent, law-abiding citizens become otherwise due to changes in what defines “law-abiding”.   The Los Angeles police recently incinerated a man without a trial.  A bunch of gung-ho cops became judge, jury, and executioner.
The victim was probably guilty of the crimes he was pursued for, but they were really upset that several of their fellow officers had been killed and… a trial?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  I mention this just to show that authorities can become authoritarian very quickly.  An accusation equals a guilty verdict.

With the advent of things like the Patriot Act, it doesn’t take too much imagination to foresee a time when, after an erosion or complete eradication of the First Amendment, people could find themselves in serious trouble with the authorities for contradicting – in word or deed – the dictates of the state.  Here are a couple of quotes from George Orwell’s classic, 1984, which was published back in 1949.  The book defines these terms – The Ministry of Peace deals with war, The Ministry of Plenty deals with rationing and starvation, The Ministry of Love deals with torture, and The Ministry of Truth deals with propaganda:

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…”

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?… Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?… The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

I was forced to read 1984 at gunpoint <grin> back in high school, back in the days when I hated to read.  It remains to this day one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read.

I’m not super-paranoid, nor do I consider my self a conspiracy theorist, but…one has to wonder about all the expense and trouble people are going to in order to develop a surveillance network that covers the earth about as thoroughly as the air we breathe.
I realize that much of this stuff is done, as everything is, to make money.  Marketers need data to reach target audiences.  Consumers are an audience which companies will pay money to reach with their products or services.  Government on the other hand, while
trying to “secure the homeland” for example, can quickly get out of hand with their efforts in these areas.  It’s as if we’re all presumed to be terrorists or threats to national security until proven innocent.  Just try to board an airplane these days.  It’s sad to say but no matter how much ordnance we drop on Afghanistan, no matter how many men, women, and children are killed over there, the victory has already been obtained by the bad guys.  According to Patrick Henry, death was a better situation than living under a system with no liberty.  I’m not sure about that, but I didn’t experience the Holocaust or any of the great atrocities of the twentieth century.

In our increasingly voyeuristic culture, people think it’s cute to share all the minute details of their lives, becoming celebrities for the whole world to see.  Nobody really cares how well your brownies turned out or how you’re feeling this morning, but simply thinking people care turns all of us into instant Kim Kardashians or Lindsay Lohans.  The Canadian band Rush put some thoughts of Shakespeare to music back in the 1970s, and this makes the point well:

All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage

Don Henley of Eagles fame had a song called Building The Perfect Beast.  We’re doing a really good job!

Sharper than a serpent’s tongue
Tighter than a bongo drum
Quicker than a one-night stand
Slicker than a mambo band
And now the day is come
Soon he will be released
Glory hallelujah!
We’re building the Perfect Beast

Imagine what a Hitler Youth movement could be built from a bunch (millions) of little twenty-something narcs with access to Facebook and multi-megapixel cameras.  Ubiquitous surveillance.  Nowhere to hide.

Some day we may all come to regret that we were willing co-architects of a system which, in the wrong hands, could become a real beast that none of us will be able to tolerate.


Arkansas Police Photograph License Plates, Store Data

A police car with a device that photographs license plates moves through the city and scans the traffic on the streets, relaying the data it collects to a computer for sifting. Police say the surveillance helps identify stolen cars and drivers with outstanding arrest warrants.

It also allows authorities to monitor where average citizens might be at any particular time. That bothers some residents, as well as groups that oppose public intrusions into individual privacy. The groups are becoming more alarmed about license plate tracking as a growing number of police departments acquire the technology.

Your Utility Meters Are Getting ‘Smart’ – And Chatty

Joining a national trend, OUC is installing “smart” meters this year and next that will “mesh” to form an interlocking, digital grapevine. Meters will chatter to one another, passing encrypted details of your hourly usage from one unit to the next until the data pour into OUC computers.

For the publicly owned utility, it’s a major equipment upgrade. For customers, it’s a revolution in how they can track their usage by the watt or gallon — and, perhaps, learn to conserve.


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