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back to article Snowden's Big Brother isn't as Orwellian as you'd think

Few will forget learning the truth about Santa Claus. Many also felt deep shock on realising that a hitherto ultra-secret NSA/GCHQ programme, revealed in documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, was constantly rating everyone on a naughty-nice metric based on indiscriminate covert surveillance all their online activity …

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It's not today's government you need to worry about...

...it's tomorrow's

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Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

that's true in UK, where I do trust the current government and the very personable spooks from Gloucestershire, Bedfordshire etc. You know who you are, so do we, and we think you're working from a sense of responsibility under British sovereign state laws to protect the UK, as is your right.

"Today's government" has however manifestly been digitally attacking its citizens in the cases of Czech Republic, Hungary, Malawi, Syria, KSA, Bahrain, Iran, Cuba, Turkey, New Zealand etc leading to loss of privacy/discrimination in the mildest cases through 'soft assassinations,' to deprivation of liberty to fully endorsed digitally-enhanced state-murder; don't forget that they all claim to be working from a sense of responsibility under their own sovereign state laws to protect their state, as is their right?

Some of these states' attacks are inevitably proxy attacks on-behalf-of the military industrial complex, referred to by a senior politician here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y06NSBBRtY [US President Dwight D. Eisenhower's exit speech on Jan.17,1961] relevant text quotation " This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. "

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Stop

Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

Agreed. Give any government such a power without counter-balances, responsibility and accountability and wait for a few decades, and see what happens.

Now, I think that this process is similar to the one that sent the French nobility to the guillotine and put their Russian equivalents in front of firing squads -and many millions of innocents as well. At some point, the big fish always get so far removed from the consequences of their acts that forget what lots of small fish can do when they're really pissed off.

What worries me about the current developments is that, thanks to the technology currently available to governments, they may be able to escape the consequences of their acts for a long long time, bringing about the famous 'boot stomping on a human face for a thousand years'. Or a million.

And I think Mr. Mathieson is wrong/disingenious when he claims that the current situation is not 'Orwellian' because the general populace is not subject to a similar level of surveillance as in '1984'. What the NSA and pals are doing is the same thing any good sheepdog does instinctively, i.e. scrutinize 'normal sheep' very lightly, but subjecting the leader sheep to total surveillance.

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ql
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Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

Exactly so. Every single building block is in place to turn the fiction into a worse reality, and the tipping point is very difficult to see. I always think of Sophie Scholl and her brother in this light - as teenagers they were able to see an inevitable future of which few around them took heed, and what signs are we missing at the moment? GCHQ is a weapon of attack more than a defensive agency, and where it has gone wrong is to regard absolutely everyone, even its putative masters, as potential enemies needing attacks in readiness. The Yahoo webcam story should be analysed in terms of GCHQ's morals being so bent that it actually sees nothing wrong in so heavy handed an approach, possibly just to test some techno-gasm it had hoarded. There is a fundamental imbalance in its activities that it and, apparently, the whole of Westminster, seems incapable of seeing. The government's tinkering with "scrutiny" and constant, weak statements of GCHQ operating within the law completely fail to understand what the public concern is all about.

Recent shenanigans within the UK government of ministers trying to out-right-wing each other, and the announcement of likely secret trials are further signs. The Register's exposé of the Oman listening stations, as close to an act of war in that entire region as it is close to come, is another. Just what else do we need before we do, in fact, find out the hard way that these agencies are indeed as Orwellian as we fear.

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Devil

Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

It's not the government you need to worry about at all.

Control of the information about us, and more importantly, the information we are given is increasingly in the hands of big corporations - Google being the chief culprit - not the Government.

Of course, the government may have it's means of disseminating information - the press, the BBC and so forth. But against the power of the internet, this is just one voice against a roaring mass.

And the corporations control the internet - to the point where they can all but stick their finger up at international law.

The government is all but powerless. At pretty much any point, the corporations could switch off the tap supplying them with our information, and they know it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

What you need to watch out for is demagogues and those seeking power at all costs

I am a councillor and what I have seen small town politicians do to get power and influence is absolutely shocking. Ordinary people who get elected start off as some who is reasonable and decent, however power then really corrupts them and you then see the inner demons :(

Plus it is amazing how Journalists are often involve so that no bad news come out

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@RyokuMas Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

Heard of anyone being incarcerated or worse by Google lately? That's what I thought.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

Heard of anyone being incarcerated or worse by Google lately? That's what I thought.

Ah, so you don't think that misinterpreted chains of events handed over to the NSA will have any effect on people. Like people mistakenly barred by the TSA from flying. Where do you think they get that data?

Part of the problem is exactly the judge and jury process taking place outside (alleged) democratic controls. Another part of the problem is bending laws towards "sponsors", but those chickens have already started to come home to roost in a big way: US law is damaged beyond repair, at least in the short term.

Generically, there is however an additional problem I see showing up: those assaulting our rights are slowly starting to get their way. People are getting tired and are giving up, which was the whole purpose of building this global panopticon: creating the feeling of being constantly under observation without the power to do anything about it. But we're NOT prisoners, so we shouldn't be in one.

I, for one, will not give up. I suggest you don' do either - this is about basic human rights versus profit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

"I do trust the current government"

I might add - I trust them too, but ONLY because they're not competent enough to be more Orwellian. But, as meatware has failed to achieve perfection, whatever the people behind the spooks define as "perfect", hardware and software steps in, and chases the perfection" ever so more efficiently.

In a sense, what might save us in the short run is that the people (governments) in pursuit of this perfection also evolve, shift (goalposts) and develop their visions into fantasies, being often quite irrational in defining their own goals. This human unpredictability might slow down hardware and software in its race to catch up the above perfection. But then, the hardware and software might pursue parallel venue, by trying to imitate and eventually predict what the "perfection" is - and then it will catch up instantly. Which brings me to the obvious issue of the hardware overlords who will realize - and decide in no time - that humans are redundant (very true). This might be a very rude awakening to us, if any.

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Facepalm

Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

@Captain Hogwash

Heard of Google holding general elections in which everyone can vote for who is in charge and potentially anyone can stand as a candidate? That's what I thought.

... and I told you so really doesn't quite cut it here...

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Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

"It's not today's government you need to worry about...

...it's tomorrow's"

Though surely, if a government is voted into power which is far-right, despotic and evil we must have wanted them their and have only ourselves to blame.

That's trite and inflammatory, but we - the voters - have to take our share of responsibility for ticking boxes and letting things lie sometimes. When a terror attack occurs, the public wants heads, but does not consider the price on wider freedoms that the swift vengeance they (rightly) desire will cost. We need to consider human rights across the board, rather than point to the worst case scenario, demand that they have no rights, then flail and wail when those same rights are lost to themselves and more wholesome types as well.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

"Heard of anyone being incarcerated or worse by Google lately? That's what I thought."

Heard of anyone innocent being incarcerated as a result of GCHQ collecting their private data en masse?

That's what I thought, too.

The fact that it shits on people's privacy and rights without actually jailing them doesn't make mass data collection ok, whether it by by grubbiment or corporations.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

@Psyx and an AC or two earlier: You completely missed my point.

"The fact that it shits on people's privacy and rights without actually jailing them doesn't make mass data collection ok, whether it by by grubbiment or corporations."

That is my position also. The point I was making was that a corporation doing it is much less dangerous to an individual's personal liberty than a government doing it.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

"You completely missed my point."

It was rather hard to ascertain that from a sentence, though.

"The point I was making was that a corporation doing it is much less dangerous to an individual's personal liberty than a government doing it."

Fair point.

Although somewhat shaken by recent news that corporations are stumbling over themselves to hand over our data in exchange for millions of pounds in cold, hard NSA/GCHQ cash. Clearly they give even less of a toss about our freedoms than the State, it would seem.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

In the US, law requires the government to offset the cost of satisfying its orders for production of customer data. That is not quite the same as the companies "stumbling over themselves to hand over our data in exchange for millions of pounds in cold, hard NSA/GCHQ cash."

The case in the UK might be different, but I would guess not.

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Boffin

Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

@Captain Hogwwash:

"The point I was making was that a corporation doing it is much less dangerous to an individual's personal liberty than a government doing it."

... and I think you missed mine. From the lowest level interns to the CEO and the board, Google is entirely an unelected body. In my book, this is far more dangerous than any government could be. Sure, a government can lock you up and throw away the key - but with the amount of information Google has gathered, combined with the sway they have over the web and smartphone arenas, they could hold to ransom, or even ruin, pretty much anyone - from individuals all the way up to the government of small countries.

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WTF?

Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

"Sure, a government can lock you up and throw away the key..."

Corporations can do nothing as bad as this if they wish to remain within the law. Governments make the law and can do much worse than this. Furthermore, you are free to not use the services of, for example, Google. You are not free to withhold information from your government. This is basic stuff.

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Re: It's not today's government you need to worry about...

It's not just tomorrows government, but tomorrows governing system. A government that aims for all-encompassing knowledge but keeps as much as possible from its citizens is simply incompatible with democracy. Such a system will always create people that will try to make undemocratic decisions simply 'because they know better'.

Democracy only works among equals, there can't be a class of people that are better (informed), more powerful (information is power) ... else democracy will fail. There also can't be an open market in a secrecy-based society: a market requires trust and only openness creates trust.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...(@ RyokuMas)

"Google is entirely an unelected body"

I find your argument a little bit disingenuous. Google is a private company, and the public has just two ways of putting pressure on them, which are:

- Voting with their wallets: If Google sells your privacy to a government or to the highest bidder, don't use Google services*.

- Putting pressure on the government -with votes and if that fails, with protests and demonstrations- to change the laws in such a way that these acts -by Google or whoever- are made illegal.

Seriously, if one of the parts -the American government- can order Google -or any other private company- to hand over our private data without proper judiciary oversight and then cover their requests with gag orders, the biggest culprit -quite obviously- is not Google.

*: Disclaimer: I use Gmail for routine communications with my customers and friends, i.e. anything that doesn't seriously compromise their security/privacy or mine. For more sensitive communications, I have a 'safe' and well protected account, and the data and email text are encrypted using several open source tools. My customers usually keep in a safe one of those 'computers in an usb stick', with printed instructions and passwords.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...(@ RyokuMas)

"Voting with their wallets: If Google sells your privacy to a government or to the highest bidder, don't use Google services"

Fine. Until you stop and think about the near stranglehold that Google has over the average, non-technical public. Android powers somewhere between 70 and 80% of all smartphones. Google search has become so integral into the way modern life works, it actually has become synonymous with web search: "just Google [whatever]". Google analytics are present in the vast majority of high-traffic sites.

Getting the general public to vote with their wallets will take one of two things - a credible alternative of similar capability, or a massive failure on the part of Google. The first of these is unlikely - how does one gain enough capability to be a threat to Google when Google can control a large chunk of what people see on the web? So that leaves Google to have a Microsoft moment, and fall victim to their own hubris.

"Putting pressure on the government -with votes and if that fails, with protests and demonstrations- to change the laws in such a way that these acts -by Google or whoever- are made illegal."

For all the good that will do. Ultimately, money talks - and Google have a shedload of money. A government wants Google to pay the tax they owe? Google will just wriggle out of it, or make a counter threat - how easily could they lower the priority of search results and/or adverts for companies in the country making the demand?

Sure, the American government has the power to order Google to hand over data. But for how much longer? Already Google are trying it on with the European courts, and Indian government - how long until they're big enough to turn on the U.S. - home of consumerism which, via their control of search results and advertising revenue, Google have massive power over? How many laws have Google had passed or thrown out through lobbying?

At the end of the day, unless something changes very soon, we will all be at the mercy of an unelected, profit-motivated private enterprise that sees people as it's property to do with as it chooses, and with more than enough money and influence to ensure that world governments sing to their song.

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Re: @RyokuMas It's not today's government you need to worry about...

"In the US, law requires the government to offset the cost of satisfying its orders for production of customer data. That is not quite the same as the companies 'stumbling over themselves to hand over our data in exchange for millions of pounds in cold, hard NSA/GCHQ cash.'"

Yes, because private companies doing government work never plump up their invoices to make fat wads of cash.

Government work is a big pork barrel. *secret* government work is even better, as there is no real oversight and you can charge whatever you feel like in the knowledge that nobody will look too closely.

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In short...

We're not living in 1984 yet so we're ok? Nevermind constitutional rights being trampled on and rive abuse http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/05/sod_squad_found_feeding_nsa_surveillance_info_to_drug_enforcement/

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Re: In short...

"We're not living in 1984 yet so we're ok? Nevermind constitutional rights being trampled on and rive [sic] abuse "

We're better than most of the world.

Shame we don't get as upset about civilians being rounded up and tortured for speaking out on distant shores nearly as much as we care about our email getting read without knowing about it.

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FAIL

and 40 years after the year it is named after

Wow! How the last 10 years have flown by....

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Alien

> Wow! How the last 10 years have flown by....

In the space of half a sentence, no less :/

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Yeah, that made me feel suddenly very old!

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ElReg 12.6.14 miniplenty misquoted date rectify

"It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank The Register for raising the number of years since 1984 to forty. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that 1984 was thirty years ago. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it."

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What a load of apologetic nonsense. "You are reminded that under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence,” oh, how nice of them not to upload the nudey pics they look at to /r/gonewild. That makes it perfectly OK for them to gawp at random people's webcam images. And so on. I was going to pick the whole article apart, but it's just more of the same hand-waving dismissals of perfectly valid concerns.

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Vic
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What a load of apologetic nonsense.

Indeed.

I think it's very nice of El Reg to allow our shadowy watchers the opportunity to pen an article from time to time...

</sarc>

Vic.

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Big Brother

The article is a posterchild for the word ironic.

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Anonymous Coward

I think it's very nice of El Reg to allow our shadowy watchers the opportunity to pen an article from time to time...

Is this El Reg or this specific author? One thing I noticed of late is that different authors on El Reg can dissent considerably on the same topics. That does make for a better diversity of views (whatever your opinion of them :) ), but can at times be confusing.

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"What a load of apologetic nonsense."

Actually, I believe it to be a well written and balanced article. It's not apologist, and it's it's a quite centralist view, as opposed to the 'spying on people is good, think of the children' and 'We're living in 1984!' polar sides of the debate. It's fair and factual. We might not like those facts, but that does not change its essence.

Don't get annoyed because you're reading something that you're not just nodding along to for a change.

It's a GOOD thing to read stuff that you don't like, because it challenges and forces one to consider the other side of the debate. If The Reg only printed stuff I agreed with, it would be utterly shit; no better than a tabloid.

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Go

Re: Psyx

".....It's a GOOD thing to read stuff that you don't like, because it challenges and forces one to consider the other side of the debate....." Notice the lack of upvotes on that idea? Message for all the sheeple that raced to upvote the most ridiculous paranoid bleatings posted in this thread (and many others) yet hesitate to upvote a simple truth - conflicting points of view are not verboten, no matter what they tell you in the flock.

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Re: Psyx @ MAtt

Ummmm ... 5 upvotes at the time of posting. Your point is ..??

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Re: Psyx @ MAtt

"Notice the lack of upvotes on that idea?"

Nope.

"...sheeple..."

You might want to wait until the votes are in before grasping onto something as evidence that the everyone except you is stupid...

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Yeah but what about santa?

Yeah ok so you stated that he doesn't exist at the start of the article......

BUT If we assume that's just a cover story, things start to make sense.

1. He know when you are sleeping

2. He knows if you've been bad or good

3. He gonna find out who's naughty or nice

you watch, project "north pole" the next shocking Snowden revelation!

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Terminator

Re: Yeah but what about santa?

He knows if you've been bad or good, and he's got an axe!

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Re: Yeah but what about santa?

On every corner there's a giant metal Santa Claus who watches over us with glowing red eyes.

They carry weapons and they know if you've been bad or good.

Not everybody's good but everyone tries...

with thanks to JoCo

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The last time I played Pictionary, I had to draw GCHQ. I failed. Or at least my team failed to interpret my scribblings. I thought it was most unfair...

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Big Brother

Between a "Brave New World" rock and an "Orwellian" hard place

The article displays a rather convoluted and paradoxical approach on the subject. On the one hand the "abuse" factor in the Snowden files is downplayed in favour of praising some degree of self-restraint these same files appear to suggest. On the other hand it ends by admitting there's now the start visible of NSA reform and as well the potential of much needed GCHQ reforms. But all of this is hard to imagine without Snowden's decision to do exactly what he did, where he did and how he did it. Alternative but sane options open to him at the time I'd love to hear!

Or is perhaps the case being made these reforms could have happened without Snowden since "its theoretical extent has been obvious for many years". This is a giant leap, asserting with now almost (and assumed) perfect hindsight that large complex organizations could change somehow by spontaneous inner pressure or political oversight. This line of thinking has zero historical credibility.

And then a defence like: "in an Orwellian world, Edward Snowden would never have made it to Hong Kong" sounds pretty desperate, considering all the rather well documented hoops Snowden had to jump through to make sure he was not taken out even before he got his information out properly and particularly his flight out of Hong Kong, getting involuntary stuck on a Russian Airport, between a "Brave New World" rock and an "Orwellian" hard place.

Any implication that Snowden's own success somehow would prove that all those warnings about the largest security agencies might be overblown is an argument collapsing under its own weight. As are perhaps these overweight security agencies themselves are already doing under all the increasing pressure and scrutiny.

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Re: Between a "Brave New World" rock and an "Orwellian" hard place

"And then a defence like: "in an Orwellian world, Edward Snowden would never have made it to Hong Kong" sounds pretty desperate"

Mate, if you genuinely believe this country to be Orwellian, I suggest that you've been overly pampered with your human rights up until now. Try living somewhere like the KSA, DPRK or similar for a true taste of the medicine.

I am genuinely sick of people claiming that we live in 1984. It's like spoiled, fat kids wailing about only getting six bars of chocolate a day. Things aren't perfect, things need improving and our rights are being edged in on. But to call it Orwellian is shitting in the faces of everyone who lives under a genuinely unpleasant dictatorship.

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So porn images were filtered out?

So all the cyber terrorists had to do to maintain security was wear fake boobs. Sorted.

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FAIL

Re: Shady Re: So porn images were filtered out?

"....all the cyber terrorists had to do to maintain security was wear fake boobs....." Unless they were wearing the fake boobs on their face it would be a bit pointless. Hmmm, how to explain facial recognition software to the sheeple?

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Joke

Re: Shady So porn images were filtered out?

There - fixed it for ya :)

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Devil

Not gonna happen

"Both the British and American governments should do much more to protect whistleblowing..."

Ayup, they should. They won't.

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"Orwellian" isn't an absolute

The article seems to be making the case that since the extremes described in 1984 haven't (all) happened in Britain (yet) then we should all be jolly grateful and get on with our lives.

But that's missing the brilliance of Orwell's vision. The book isn't supposed to be a literal prediction of our future; rather it's an allegory that shows us what might happen if we aren't careful.

It's good that the article mentioned other regimes that have veered much further into totalitarianism than we have (the former East Germany for example), but just because other people have had it worse doesn't mean we have nothing to worry about.

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Re: "Orwellian" isn't an absolute

I would recommend El Reg actually visit the Stadtssicherheit (Stasi) Archives. Maybe they would then realise why such surveillance should not be allowed.

If what the Stasi managed to accomplish without modern electronic surveillance is anything to go by, I hate to think what the US and British (well, the whole 5 eyes) governments could do and now there is an arms race of "me too" going on with other groups, such as the BND also wanting their share of the toys...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Orwellian" isn't an absolute

But that's missing the brilliance of Orwell's vision. The book isn't supposed to be a literal prediction of our future; rather it's an allegory that shows us what might happen if we aren't careful.

It's also building on a concept called "panopticon" developed by social theorist Jeremy Bentham many years earlier. If you keep that in mind, you are much better equipped to examine the consequences of what is happening today, because it's not just about wanting information, it's about influencing how you think in everyday life.

The panopticon was a prison designed to obtain (I quote) "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example". The idea is to place prisoners in an environment wich would make them feel watched all the time by watchers unseen (sounds familiar?) and thus change their behaviour.

This is why the mentioning of 1984 is actually distracting as it's just a story, you should look at the end goal of the panopticon strategy instead. The panopticon is a deliberate, in my opinion brutally malicious strategy to "grind down" people who have been found to work outside the boundaries set by <insert favourite megalomaniac>. Granted, it's not exactly waterboarding, but more like Scientology or the sort of disinformation you see in places like North Korea - long term pressure to make you comply with a set of rules, a set of rules you had no part in shaping (so much for "democracy" - that has become IMHO somewhat of a joke in this context).

Now look around you. CCTV everywhere. State surveillance which is now more or less sanctioned (nobody has really been punished anywhere), companies that gather deeply personal data about you without being subjected to any real punishment - I can already see people give up the idea that they can have any sort of privacy, despite that being an acknowledged human right which was in some cases is even codified into law (for example in EU law).

You have done nothing wrong. You are not a prisoner, therefore you and your friends, children, family and everyone else you know does not deserve the treatment like you are one. Be very careful that you don't accept by acquiescence - losing your privacy is a one way street. Fight.

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Mushroom

Re: "Orwellian" isn't an absolute

One aspect of the panopticon is that we are all talking about our rights and privacy etc. when we really should be asking..

"What right have they to do this?"

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Re: "Orwellian" isn't an absolute

One of the article's points seems to have been that there is in the UK (and I would add, the US) what must be, to some, a fairly distressing lack of evidence that either government has attempted to emulate East Germany, let alone actually done so. That seem to be true also for the remaining Five Eyes, Germany, France, Sweden, and Israel, to mention some whose names have come up in a context of collecting telecommunications data.

All of these are stable democratic regimes with regular electoral options to change personnel in charge. They also have a comparatively free press to raise the alarm when the government steps out of bounds. The chance of anything like this uproar over government surveillance happening in East Germany would have been about zero, and I suspect it would not happen many other places today.

As one of the first posters noted, the risk seems not to be from present governments but from ones that might be installed in the future. In the countries named above, communication (and public video) surveillance or not, we voters will have ourselves to blame if that happens. It is well and good to talk of reforming the government's surveillance, although I haven't seen evidence that is likely to happen in the US, but it is a plain fact that a government intent on establishing a police state has little need for communication surveillance. As the East German experience demonstrates, it will not lack informants to provide it precise and timely information about dissidents.

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