The recent Wikileaks dump of classified U.S. Central Intelligence Agency documents has once again raised the debate over how the government should balance national security and Americans’ right to privacy. According to the leaks, the CIA has developed technology that can be used to hack into SAMSUNG SSNLF TVs, Apple Inc. AAPL iPhones and iPads, and PCs and other devices running Microsoft Corporation MSFT’s Windows operating system.
Of course, the government says it would never use any of its capabilities to spy on American citizens. However, privacy advocates often compare the ever-increasing government surveillance capabilities to the rise of “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s book “1984.”
If the Wikileaks hack is, in fact, evidence that 2017 may be the real-life “1984,” perhaps the book can shed some light on what kinds of things Americans should be watching out for next. Here are a few plot points from the book that some argue may have already begun to come true.
- In "1984," the Brotherhood Party watches citizens wherever they go. This part of the plot is seemingly the closest to reality, according to the Wikileaks documents. While the government says it doesn't monitor citizens’ personal activities in their homes or on their phones, it certainly seems to have the capability to do so.
- In "1984," the government re-writes history and even manipulates the language in an attempt to stave off potential rebellion. While U.S. citizens still have full freedom of speech, the current administration’s use of “alternative facts” may be a red flag that the integrity of the media should be closely monitored.
- In "1984," the government prohibits sex and discourages individuality. Like all other elements of the story, how closely it applies to today’s situation in the United States is open to interpretation. The groundbreaking 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage was certainly a step toward freedom of sexual expression and individuality. However, the recent bans on travelers from seven and then six Muslim-majority countries could be interpreted as a step in the opposite direction.
- The dramatic conclusion of “1984” involves government brainwashing citizens to get them to conform. In the book, the government turns the protagonist’s biggest fears against him in an attempt to get him to abandon his personal ideals. Once again, applying this element to today’s America is a matter of personal opinion. There’s no question that politicians in both parties have used fear tactics regarding terrorism, immigration, gun violence, employment, healthcare and even socioeconomic class warfare to scare voters into choosing sides. While politicians throughout the ages have always recognized that fear is a strong motivator, Americans concerned about governmental power may have taken note of just how much of the 2016 campaign season was devoted to stirring up fears.
Is “1984” coming true in real life? Obviously there’s no way to answer that question definitively. But following the latest Wikileaks document dump, it seems reasonable for Americans to be concerned.
Image Credit: By Jordan L'Hôte - Own work, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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