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 programme, 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, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, YouTube and Skype, to name just a few. Emails have been read, personal chats observed; even things that we ‘like’ on Facebook are being stored and analysed.
The whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has said that he 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 programme, saying ‘You can’t have 100% security and also 100% privacy and zero inconvenience’ and other people have also come to its defence 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 such activity, but the fact 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 have not made their activities transparent, we only know as much as we do because one man decided to let us in on the secret!
But what can we actually do? Boycott the companies who have been so willing to give up all our personal details? I remember my dad saying he would do this to companies such as Amazon and Starbucks after he found out that they had been paying next to nothing in taxes. He urged the rest of the family to do the same, but I still find myself logging on to Amazon to buy things, because it’s just so much cheaper than the alternatives. I think about the companies involved in this spying scandal…will I really stop logging on to Facebook? Will I stop downloading apps for my iPad? 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 alterative services, search engines etc which are not run by American companies. 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.