23 Years After 1984, Big Brother Is Still Watching You

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

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“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” - a famous quote from George Orwell's 1984 that now holds more relevance than ever. For those how haven't read it yet, here is a short summary - 'Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, his dystopian vision of a government that will do anything to control the narrative is timelier than ever.'

Orwell wrote about a society ruled by an administration who craves nothing but pure power. Not for the sake of people, not for the sake of progress, not for the sake of war, but only for the sake of power. The year 1984 has passed long ago and while no Big Brother-led nation has taken hold of a nation anywhere, we can still see an alarming number of prophecies from the book coming true.

Source: Freedomworks

After 9/11, the rise of the police state and use of brutality to curb protests almost became the norm in the US. "Threat to security" was used to bring more control to the government. Targeting Muslim minorities and using extreme vetting became common. Fast forward to Trump administration, and we have already seen the emergence of concepts like alternative facts - which could be cited as being picked straight out of 1984. Orwell wrote how the administration drilled alternative facts and narratives in people's minds and make them believe all of it as true. Citation of non-existent terrorist attacks, complete denial of climate change, labelling all news as fake... Can you spot the similarity?

But this was about the US. What about India? Where does it stand? Not far behind apparently.

Enticing the poor and the oppressed to stay in power has been the forte of National Congress Party for a long period of time. All of it was just a facade to achieve their political means. BJP does not escape criticism as well. Pushing its own ideology and using nationalism to unite the voter base has been used by the party to achieve its means. To a general view, all of it seems the same. But in the recent years, the narrative has grown even more radical and those who stand on the other side face oppression.

Source: Livemint

Now, let's come to the surveillance part. Famous whistleblowers like Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden was known to everyone. There are documentaries and movies made about them. But the subject, of state spying and surveillance, is largely forgotten. Every move and every bit of communication is spied upon and yet somehow we get on with it perfectly well. India is no stranger to this and even has been more successful in escaping the public eye. In fact, India's Centre for Development of Telematics was reported to be one of the three worst online spies in the world, with the other two being US' National Investigative Agency (NIA) and UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The agencies involved in surveillance in the US are quite glorified in movies and other media, thus they are quite well known to the public. In India's case, though, there is hardly any information available about this. It can't be assumed, though, that Indian intelligence agencies are not as invasive nor is the government that authoritative.

Few know about India's Central Monitoring System Project, DRDO Netra, Lawful Intercept And Monitoring Project, National Cyber Coordination Centre, and Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring Project. Broadly speaking, any information that you transmit over the internet, mobile or any other communication media, can be monitored and intercepted by these agencies. All these activities are protected by Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

Source: Privacyinternational

So what is the Indian Telegraph Act? By definition, it is the enabling legislation in India which governs the use of wired and wireless telegraphy, telephones, teletype, radio communications and digital data communications. It gives the Government of India exclusive jurisdiction and privileges for establishing, maintaining, operating, licensing and oversight of all forms of wired and wireless communications within Indian territory. It also authorises government law enforcement agencies to monitor/intercept communications and tap phone lines under conditions defined within the Indian Constitution. The act came into force on October 1, 1885. Since that time, numerous amendments have been passed to update the act to respond to changes in technology.

So where is the public outrage? Where are the protests? Almost everybody knows about government spying but there are no mass protests against it. Has it been accepted by the public? Has everyone accepted that privacy and individual rights exist just on paper but not in reality? History has shown us that whenever too much power has been given to a select few, it has always resulted in a revolt. And yet, in this age of interconnected world where people speak up on topics as outdated as nationalism, we seldom see a protest against forced government narrative and excessive power in the hands of the administration.

Maybe George Orwell was right, after all, when he said: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

Title image: Earl-brown

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Niranjan Deshpande (WRITER)

An absent-minded introvert who likes to gobble up anything he may find on the internet. Armchair philosophist, gamer and an avid tennis lover. Loves to theorise about how humanity is going to finish itself.