Following the events of September 11, 2001, legal barriers against surveillance were immediately cast aside; legal justifications for the government to get sensitive information from any American grew. Like many, the influence of surveillance technology on modern-day America has provided a gateway of opportunities as well as added safety. Yet, the debate continues whether or not this is an invasion of an individual’s right to privacy or a governmental right. The United States’ growing use of invasive and controlling surveillance technologies is turning it into a dystopian nightmare.
The Lasting Effects of 9/11
The most significant shift in US surveillance occurred in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment” (Orwell 5). In the novel 1984, Orwell creates a dystopian society controlled by an overpowering entity known as “The Party ‘’ and symbol representing that dictatorship, referred to as Big Brother. “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU,”one of the most popular as well as most frightening political slogans used during that time, stems from this recurring idea of power and propaganda. The notorious telescreen, a two-way screen that can see an individual as they see it, is one of the most renowned examples of technology used by the Party. The screen remains on at all times not so that the citizens can be informed of what is being projected to them, but rather so that Party members are able to monitor them. Though, it may seem unlikely that the elites are able to track as well as observe every single human at any given moment, the possibility still remains. Meaning, that the mere existence of the telescreen ensures that no one will dare to rebel against the party. Every citizen must act according to the party’s rules, otherwise a simple nod, a keen look, or just a simple tap of the foot can get them into an incredibly hostile situation. Everything that the citizens experience is limited. The Party has full authority as well as dominance over the humans when they are incapable of viewing the truth of reality. “After 9/11, Congress rushed to pass the Patriot Act, ushering in a new era of mass surveillance. Over the next decade, the surveillance state expanded dramatically, often in secret. The Bush administration conducted warrantless mass surveillance programs in violation of the Constitution and our laws, and the Obama administration allowed many of these spying programs to continue and grow”(Toomey 3). Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies moved their focus from investigating criminal suspects to preventing terrorist strikes. They were keen to increase their technological utilization and started off with passing the USA PATRIOT Act. This dramatically increased the government’s authority to pry into people’s private lives with little to no authorization. This meant that phone conversations, emails, chats, and online browsing could all be monitored. It became legal for the government to get sensitive information from an American, regardless of whether or not the individual was actually suspected of wrongdoing. This is much like the telescreen in Orwell’s 1984. The Party is able to pry and monitor their civilians’ life through what is called a telescreen, a two-way television screen that allows the government to see into what the people are doing at any given time, no matter their rank in society. Even though Orwell’s 1984 dystopia is put to the extreme of totalitarian regime, it doesn’t eliminate how both of these, almost identical, contribute to the growing dystopia America is today.
The Revelations of Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden, a former computer systems contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), leaked highly classified information as well as thousands of secret NSA documents to the public. “People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word”(Orwell 14). Still happening today, “…the U.S. government was tapping into the servers of nine Internet companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, to spy on people’s audio and video chats… as part of a surveillance program called Prism. In the same month, Snowden was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence. Facing up to 30 years in prison, Snowden left the country, originally traveling to Hong Kong and then to Russia, to avoid being extradited to the U.S.”(Onion 3). In Orwell’s 1984, the Party dominates practically every aspect of society. What is being seen, heard, and talked about is all consistently tracked to make sure no one rebels and falls out of line. Now, if one were to revolt and choose to present an opposing idea to the government, the act of vaporization would take place. Meaning, the governmental figure has full authorization to execute those who provoke it. Now, in the real world the cost of rebelling is not as extreme, but the cautionary line is still present. Edward Snowden, a former computer systems contractor for the NSA, revealed thousands of secret documents about the NSA’s PRISM program. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Congressed passed PRISM, a program that gave the government full authority to every piece of sensitive information surrounding an American. Snowden going public with the reports of the NSA’s undercover operations allowed for a widespread of people to get a small glimpse of what was going on in their very devices. The U.S. The Justice Department charged Snowden with theft of government property and two violations of the Espionage Act which landed him a 30 year prison sentence. Snowden fled the nation, first to Hong Kong, then to Russia, to avoid being extradited to the United States. This is very similar to “vaporization” in Orwell’s 1984. Though it is not taken to the very extreme, Snowden published documents that exposed the government’s surveillance tactics and mass data collection that is happening in one’s very device. In a fear of it becoming mainstream, the government deemed this to be an opposing idea, causing them to sentence Snowden to a thirty year sentence and run him out of the nation. For the Party to maintain power, the citizens of the society of 1984 must be manipulated into submission, meaning the use of vaporization and the telescreen are just two among a plethora of control mechanisms. With America’s developing surveillance programs that contribute to data tracking and collection, Snowden was able to give a glimpse into what is happening behind one’s screen. Though Orwell’s 1984 is taken to the extreme, it doesn’t eliminate how both of these cases, vastly similar, could be the future of America as one may know it.
Surveillance in America’s Modernized Dystopian Society
Given the tremendous rise and impact of technology, in particular, it is easy to see how American civilization is reaching a modern-day dystopia.“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right”(Orwell 103). This introduces how accustomed the civilization of 1984 has become since the ruling of the party. The Party’s efforts to have regulation over every aspect of the citizens’ lives comes from a desire to keep them oblivious to the truth of their surroundings. They need to live in oblivion because it supports the Party’s ability to lie to the citizens. The Party is then able to then have full dominance over society and its decisions. The goals set afoot reflect a craving for an unrestrained command over their people, by lying to them and controlling every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the Party prohibits any means of expression or communication that will take apart their immense authority over the citizens.
The expanding use of intrusive and controlling monitoring technology in the United States is turning the country into a growing dystopia. Orwell’s novel, 1984, represents how the Party grows stronger when citizens are deceived into ignorance, which is also relevant to actions taken by the U.S government following the events of 9/11. The Party manipulates its citizens into being unaware of the truth of their environment. This is done to ensure that the Party holds unlimited control over them. These tactics are also employed by the United States government by fulfilling mass surveillance on all of their citizens. Edward Snowen came forth about these lies, misconceptions, and hypocrisy that the NSA conducted when they enacted the Patriot Act and PRISM program on their citizens. Meaning that it became legal for the government to get sensitive information from any American, regardless of whether or not the individual was actually suspected of wrongdoing. Comparably, the Party’s use of advanced technology, like the telescreen and vaporization techniques, are just a few extreme examples contributing to America’s dystopian future. Oppressive governing parties will silence as well as deceive their citizens by using advanced technology inorder to gain full dominance over their lives, actions, and opinions.