It’s probably fair to assume that Orwell was hoping his predictions would be wrong, but probably not like this. Even he could not envision the extent to which Big Brother would be watching out for we little brothers and sisters. How could he, as he had no conception of the type of technology that would be available to those who wish only to protect us.
In order to serve us better (and we all know what’s coming after that phrase), our guardians on both sides of the Atlantic are making sure they do everything they can to make sure that they can warn us should we ever come close to transgressing. Or, maybe they just like to watch.
Here in America, as the Times reports, police departments all over the country know when we’ve been sleeping and know when we’re awake:
Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.
The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.
With cellphones ubiquitous, the police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders. One police training manual describes cellphones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.
But the Brits have got (or will get?) our local cops, if not the FBI, beat by a country mile, perhaps fitting given we’re talking about Orwell’s homeland:
The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.
Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.
The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it.
Attempts by the last Labour government to take similar steps failed after huge opposition, including from the Tories.
A new law – which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech in May – would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.
But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long.
Well, then, that’s alright. I don’t mind if the government knows where I am every second, who I’m talking or writing to, and what websites I’m visiting, as long as it doesn’t know precisely what I’m saying, unless, of course, if feels it needs to know.
Getting back to these shores, this all makes me think about the very malleable doctrine of original intent, used by our right wing judges to impose their legal philosophy (if it can be dignified by that term) onto a distracted nation, for according to the Times, it is hard to say if this government snooping is unconstitutional. We now know that the government may not attach a physical device to our cars to track our movements, but who can say whether it can do precisely the same thing by tracking our cell phones. After all, you don’t have to have a cell phone. You know, buyer beware and all that.
But isn’t it odd. The original intent doctrine essentially amounts to a belief on the part of judges that they can know precisely what the sainted founders would think of an issue. So apparently we now know that Jemmie Madison, who appears to have been a fairly rational guy, judging by his writings, would, after being fully briefed on the history of the last two hundred and 30 odd years, disapprove of requiring people who can afford health insurance to buy it. On the other hand, we can’t say with certainty whether Madison, who himself corresponded in code, would have had a problem with the government keeping track of the identity of his correspondents, the places he went, and the materials he read.