Citizenfour: How Modern Surveillance Compares to Orwell’s Big Brother

This article contains mild spoilers from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. If you haven’t read it, come on…

At the end of the month, Citizenfour will be released online. Through Ed Snowden’s revelations, the Oscar-winning documentary details the extent to which the American and British governments keep tabs on their citizens, through the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) respectively.

It’s all for the sake of protecting the public from terrorist attacks. A noble cause, but one that isn’t working. Snowden’s claim that these programs have “never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up” was recently validated by a US think tank. The New America Foundation found that out of 225 individuals or groups charged with terrorism acts since 9/11, only 17 of those charges came as a result of NSA surveillance of any kind.

Supporters of mass surveillance (who you never would’ve guessed are the politicians behind these activities) are quick to silence any detractors with the old adage that if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear. But the reach of the government’s prying eyes is far beyond merely digging up information on a person who they suspect is conspiring against the state. At any given time, these surveillance agents can access pretty much every digital record of your existence. They can see what purchases you’ve made, where you’ve been, who you were there with. Couple that with records of your phone calls and text messages, they are able to reconstruct your life like a coded jigsaw puzzle.  And there’s really only one motive… control.

It’s an almost identical scenario to the one played out in Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell’s dystopian novel is the furthest it’s ever been from a fable; it now edges closer to being a premonition every day.

[Tweet “”George Orwell’s dystopian novel is the furthest it’s ever been from a fable””]

The telescreens present in the homes of almost every citizen in Oceania watch every step you make and every break you take (Don’t worry, that’s the only time I’ll quote The Police). They scrutinise every facial expression and the most innocent of changes in body language. In the real world, almost every digital device in your house is capable of being turned into a bugged device. The NSA/GCHQ can tap your phone even when it’s on the receiver – just as in the novel; the telescreens are designed to continue monitoring activities even if turned off. They can, and do, monitor your Google searches, your Amazon purchases, and your Facebook status updates. Got a webcam? They can access that too if the mood strikes.

So just as the Party will probe for any link between your facial expression and insubordination, GCHQ and NSA will be franticly trying to connect the dots between your potential to kill thousands of innocent people and that mars bar you bought two weeks ago. Except, as we’ve already established, that isn’t the real reason behind all this spying.

Like I said, this applies to almost every citizen. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, surveillance covers the Inner Party and the Outer Party, the respective Orwellian equivalents of Upper Class and Middle Class. However, the surveillance does not extend to the Proles. They’re below suspicion because they have no power to question the system. They’re not important enough to be spied on. And who isn’t important enough to be spied on in this day and age? The lower-working class of course.

1984 excerpt
Image via

I think, therefore I am. But without the financial means to access to the wealth of knowledge that exists online, you’re left to rely on media outlets that push a strong and uncompromising conservative agenda. Fox News. We’re lucky enough to have less biased channels of information here in the UK – though with more freethinking comes more danger, right? Maybe that’s why GCHQ’s Tempora program has fewer restrictions on government surveillance than pretty much any other Western government.

Consider the Prime Minister’s reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. David Cameron claimed he would “not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other”. Then look at the novel’s Party’s three slogans – War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Ignorance Is Strength.

In both fact and fiction, the government is using mass surveillance to justify a constant war on an invisible enemy. Imagine Eastasia or Eurasia as placeholders for Al Qaeda & Islamic State, or any number of radical threats to Western civilization. One minute they tell us we should be scared of the threats posed by fundamentalists. The next minute they tell us we have nothing to fear because the information provided through mass surveillance is a foolproof way of preventing terror attacks. It’s a contradiction that perfectly mimics the first slogan War Is Peace.

Freedom Is Slavery reflects the White House’s decision to charge Edward Snowden under the Espionage Act. If you even consider decrying the acts of the Government, you’re neither a whistleblower nor a concerned citizen…you’re a traitor. If you want to be free, you sit down & shut up. The same goes for Ignorance Is Strength – despite the uncontestable evidence that NSA’s PRISM has had no major impact on foiling terror plots, it works because the US Government says it works.

The problem is that these agencies have too much information to go off. It’s resulted in pure paranoia reminiscent of the Party’s from the novel. By watching Citizenfour and reading the Guardian’s leaks, I’ve committed a Thoughtcrime (holding socially unacceptable opinions) by siding with a governmental traitor, and right now I may even be under suspicion myself.

By the time you read this I probably will have been caught by the Thought Police, then tortured and brainwashed into being a loyal servant. So look forward to my next article… Why Mass Surveillance is the best thing ever. And remember…Big Brother is watching you.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.