State-sanctioned surveillance in the UK, thanks to the new Snooper’s Charter, suggests that the only thing George Orwell got wrong about ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ was the year.
George Orwell was an insightful journalist whose experiences in Europe post-World War I, and especially during the Spanish Civil War, gave him a keen instinct about the rise of fascism and communism in the early to mid-20th century.
Crucially, he was aware that these political ideals were human constructs and that ultimately, human malice, avarice and other frailties meant that in the end, the strong and cunning prospered while the weak suffered in a charade of high-minded ideals.
‘The bulk hacking powers in the bill risk making the internet less safe for everyone’
– SIR TIM BERNERS-LEE
There are certain parallels; for example, in the destruction of the middle classes in America, the 1pc got richer and richer and the cynical rise of a billionaire called Trump to the presidency echoes Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm: “All of us are equal, but some of us are more equal than others.”
Sadly, we’ll have to let Trump’s charade play itself out over the next four years as his cronies occupy seats of power, from education to defence.
We are the Thought Police, every single one of us
But Nineteen Eighty-Four warned of a hellish, dystopian future where our every thought and utterance was monitored by the Thought Police for any trace of dissent – and thoroughly punished.
It is strange to think that in 2016, the future could be worse than anything Orwell could ever have imagined. And in our own way, we are the Thought Police – censuring and monitoring everyone and everything, apparently of our own free will.
The human hive mind does its own surveillance on platforms like Facebook, offering up privacy in return for self-affirmation, celebrity and a dose of advertising to make investors in the US richer and richer.
The human hive mind was evidently manipulated by fake news to deliver an election outcome in America that shocked many across the globe.
Until Edward Snowden decided to become a fugitive, most of us were ignorant of the scale of US surveillance on ordinary Europeans, with the collusion of UK intelligence services.
And now, in the UK, the Investigatory Powers Bill has been given royal assent.
Derisively labelled the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ by the press, privacy campaigners warn that it would provide a gateway for authoritarian regimes around the world to extend their surveillance powers.
So far, 130,000 signatures have been gathered in the UK calling for it to be repealed.
The new surveillance law will require web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing history for 12 months.
It gives the police and security services unprecedented access to this data.
Crucially, it provides security services with the power to hack into computers and phones to collect communications data in bulk.
A provision that allows judges discretion to grant police requests to view journalist call and web records has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism in the UK”, according to The Guardian.
Most striking of all is how little opposition the charter received, as it made its way through the UK parliament.
We live in Orwellian times
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, described the arrival of the charter as a “nightmare” in a BBC interview, and warned of dark days ahead.
“This snooper’s charter has no place in a modern democracy – it undermines our fundamental rights online,” Berners-Lee said.
“The bulk collection of everyone’s internet browsing data is disproportionate, creates a security nightmare for the ISPs who must store the data, and rides roughshod over our right to privacy.
“Meanwhile, the bulk hacking powers in the bill risk making the internet less safe for everyone,” he warned.
These are dark and frightening times. And the unthinkable is happening. As refugees drown in the Mediterranean and ordinary families are being shelled in Aleppo, the UK is sleepwalking its way out of the EU and the far right is rising in Europe. And now the UK has created its second unthinkable act of 2016 – it has unlocked the door of privacy and other countries will follow.
The final words go to Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four), who must be surely turning in his grave:
- “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
- “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
- “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”