In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four, the dictator Big Brother uses conspicuous, nearly ubiquitous electronic surveillance of the citizens of Oceana to enforce social and political control.
Over the last few weeks, we have used the label “Big Brother” to describe the aggressive, multifaceted electronic surveillance program of the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There’s PRISM, cell phone surveillance, domestic snooping on email content, web tracking and spy drones in the sky – and we’ve referred to these all as part of “Big Brother”.
To be fair, I have to note that there are four differences that distinguish Big Brother and the electronic surveillance programs of the U.S. government:
1. Big Brother was in a novel. The U.S. electronic surveillance programs are taking place in real life.
2. Big Brother took place in Oceania. The U.S. electronic surveillance programs are centered in the U.S.
3. Big Brother was instituted by a dictatorship. In the U.S., we still have democratic elections.
4. Big Brother surveillance was conspicuously applied. In the U.S., widespread surveillance has been implied over the last decade, but not conspicuously asserted on a day to day basis. The system was officially kept secret, and officials often denied its existence.
This fourth point of distinction may soon be greatly lessened, however, with the released of up-to-now rumored product from Apple Computer: The iWatch. Apple has filed for the trademark iWatch in both Russia and Japan, confirming suspicions in the tech community that Apple will soon release a wristwatch device that is wirelessly connected to the Internet and data networks, and capable of making telephone calls.
The choice of the name iWatch, given the recent news that Apple Computer has been routinely providing massive amounts of private user data to the NSA as part of the PRISM spy program, is rather bold. The product label says, “Here I am, watching you. I watch!” It’s rather similar to the security motto of Oceania: “Big Brother is watching you!”
The name “iWatch” suggests that Apple Computer is not at all worried about consumers knowing that Apple electronic communications devices have been made part of a huge spy network, acting as mobile “bugs” that record sound, pictures, video as well as data, sending it all off to military intelligence headquarters. “I watch,” Apple declares. “You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
The iWatch is one step forward into an electronic surveillance network in the USA that is not only nearly ubiquitous, but conspicuous as well.
Will you wear that badge on your wrist?