by Daniel Robson
In 1949 George Orwell painted a bleak view of a tyrannical, dystopian society with his masterpiece, ‘1984’. Thanks to his warning against totalitarian authority we have moved away from a future of all encompassing government surveillance and newspeak. But maybe we have let ourselves in for something worse …
When ‘1984’ was first published the Soviet Union had just tested their first atomic bomb. America and indeed the entire world were gearing up against the red devil; the cold war was begun. Orwell portrayed the future as it could be if Communism won the day; a dark world of total scrutiny, every individual’s actions under the spotlight, every waking moment. A society devoid of creativity or individualism, and kept that way by the ruthless thought police. As it was the ‘free world’ won the war, and all were joyful and rejoiced. Now we have to deal with the consequences of that victory, and the flip side of the coin that Orwell did not foresee.
America is the land of the free. Free from persecution, violence and war. Or not as the spiralling crime figures and the recent Iraq crisis show. But this is not what I wish to talk about. Today we live in a democracy, or so we are told. The government cannot retain any information on you without consent, or at least has to offer free access its records if you so desire. But Big Brother is no longer the thing we need fear, rather it is the little brothers and sisters who walk among us.
It is almost impossible these days to purchase a mobile phone without a built in camera. Surveillance equipment once the realm of the most expensive secret service is now freely available on the open market. Phishing, keyloggers, Trojans, identity theft. Words once unknown that are now part of common parlance. Individuals can build ‘bots’ to harvest e-mail addresses from websites, while the mis-termed ‘hackers’ can break into databases on web servers to take any information they find. There are surveillance cameras sprouting everywhere from schools to companies to government offices. Almost every movement or action a person makes can be tracked these days, be it by credit card trails or ‘web cams’.
To protect themselves several major companies have recently had to implement new rules. Where once only dedicated industrial espionage could have stolen the plans for a new computer chip or products from out under the noses of a security division, now disgruntled employees simply have to take snaps with their camera phone. So phones have to be banned. Where once it would have been impossible to check up on a suspect spouse, now wives and husbands can simply install software onto their marital partners computers to monitor their e-mail and other online activities. The age of personal scrutiny is here at last, but not as Orwell foresaw it.
We are surrounded by modern conveniences that our civilisation has bought us. Many people could not imagine living without a mobile phone, Internet access or their PDA. Unfortunately these leave us open to data theft. A dropped mobile phone can result in business contacts being freely available to anyone who finds it. A lost PDA can results in confidential documents being disseminated, possibly with disastrous consequences. Personal details can be hijacked by Phishing emails, where by a spammer sends and apparently official e-mail asking for confirmation of personal details. These can come from banks, ebay, paypal, hundreds of various organisations. And in all cases they are designed with one intention in mind, to steal your log in details for use in their own nefarious schemes, whether that be clearing out your bank account or using them as a front.
Espionage equipment is now easily available from online stores like espionage-store.com. These type of shops offer phone taps, key loggers and remote microphones to anybody, all at the typical low, low price we expect from a capitalist society. Anyone could now purchase and use the ‘computer keystroke recorder’ for example. This small device simply plugs into the back of your computer between the keyboard and the P/S2 socket, and can record any and all keystrokes made. There are similar software programs that load when the computer starts which can perform a similar purpose. All conspiracy theorists would like you to believe that anyone can be monitoring what you do. And they could be.
Today your actions can be viewed and recorded by anyone. Encryption can be broken, documents can be stolen. Google and other online presences can easily track you by your IP, or by depositing cookies onto your computer. In a sense we are living in WWII Germany, every neighbour could be a spy. But there are more impacts that our modern culture can have on our way of life, many of them just as pervasive as the possibility of being watched. For a continuation of this discussion please look out for my next article - ‘Little Brother – Newspeak cometh’. Until then just think, anyone could be watching, are you taking the necessary precautions?
About the Author
All of Daniel Robson’s musings can be seen on his site www.shock-therapy.org, along with a collection of freeware games and applications for Windows PCs and Symbian UIQ smartphones.
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