When Edward Snowden exposed the CIA’s wide-ranging surveillance of every American citizen, it was an instant reminder of what George Orwell warned us about in 1949 in his book, 1984. Orwell foretold of a time when governments would reach into the lives of every person watching every single thing they did. He termed that Big Brother.
Believe it or not, Big Brother is here. In my book Saints and Dragons, Edward Snowden in his Own Words</em>, Snowden gives an in-depth picture of not only the CIA’s broad surveillance practices, but all the agencies of the Five Eyes (US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).
What Snowden revealed to us is not only what these agencies are doing, but why it affects every one of us who carry smartphones in our pockets or purses, which is most of us. It began with advertisers tracking our likes and dislikes, where we shopped and the items we chose to buy. That practice was very quickly picked up by the prying eyes of intelligence agencies who have now taken it to an all-time high.
Think for a moment where you have gone in an average day, the places where you shopped and ate, and the friends you met while out. Surveillance (by your cell phone) is tracking you everywhere you go. And because it is also tracking your friends, it knows who you met with, when you met them and where. They also know what you’ve said in your phone calls and texting. And it is all being recorded so that the agencies will have a complete record of your daily life as far back as when you got your first phone. In addition, every single camera in public places is recording your movements there and keeping a record of that, as well.
“So why should I care?” you say. “I’m not doing anything wrong.” Remember, these are not human beings watching you, these are computers which are programmed to pick out key words you have uttered that will flag you as a possible terrorists. Let’s say you text a friend about a friend: ‘That guy’s a jerk. He should have his head cut off.’ Just an innocent play of words. Wrong! The computers pick up the words ‘head cut off’ and you are instantly flagged as a possible terrorist suspect. You are now on a government watch list and will be there for the rest of your life. Agents will be alerted to monitor your further actions. Local police will be notified you are in their area. And if something terrorist-related happens anywhere near where you might have gone, the agencies are going to want to know what you were doing there. They actually know it already by monitoring yours and your friend’s cell phones and the images captured on public cameras. They will just want to know how you respond to the question. Remember, they have recorded everything. They don’t have to ask. They know.
“How can these computers record everything?” you say. “That’s impossible.” Wrong! The latest surveillance computers are recording billions of cell phone calls every single day. And all of these calls are being saved. Anything you say or text that might have a designated terrorist word in it will automatically place you on a suspect list. Edward Snowden revealed all this to us and the governments of the Five Eyes are reeling that this illegal practice was revealed. There was instant fury about it in congress. But already, the protests have died down. The illegal surveillance continues.
“Well,” you say, “maybe we need that to catch real terrorists. Wrong! This mass surveillance was totally ineffective with the Boston Bombers. If the intelligence agencies had been focusing on normal-gathering-of-leads, they would already have been on top of the two terrorist brothers before Boston ever happened. Snowden explains this, as well.
What the youth of Hong Kong are protesting is the Chinese government’s desire to take away their freedom of expression, elections and press. Hong Kong has enjoyed these freedoms for years while under British rule. But Britain only had a lease on the territory and when that expired, it honorably gave Hong Kong back to China. What Beijing is seeking to install there now is overt surveillance. But there is a far more dangerous kind called subversive. And that is the kind of surveillance our governments are utilizing to monitor us, as well.
So when you bring up news blurbs on your smartphones and see thousands of fellow millennials out in the streets of Hong Kong risking their lives, demanding their freedoms, think about your own. Are you free to do and say as you wish? You think you are but think again. Edward Snowden believed mass surveillance was wrong because, in his words, “privacy matters.” That he details in my book, as well. You are being watched, recorded and scrutinized every single day. Big Brother is with you.
For a truly provocative read, check out Saints and Dragons, Edward Snowden in His Own Words.