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iWatch Brings Big Brother Out Into The Open

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.

big brother apple computerOver 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?

3 thoughts on “iWatch Brings Big Brother Out Into The Open”

  1. Bill says:

    I propose a new motto for privacy activists (with tongue only half in cheek), an inversion of a dang stupid assertion originating with that friend of transparency, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and frequently heard in variations from security-theater fans today:

    “If you don’t have anything to feel guilty about…maybe you should.”

  2. J Clifford says:

    “Feel guilty about” implies that this is all about internal states of being. I prefer to consider whether there exists, from the 12 years that our government has been engaged in widespread surveillance of our online activities, any information that could be used against me. I’m fairly confident that there is.

    Even if it’s just emails that you’ve sent that were for particular audiences, but not for others to see, I think we all have created material online that could be used against us. It’s not necessarily something to feel guilty about, but it’s information that can cause pain, if properly applied. That the military is now likely to be in possession of such information is, I think, especially chilling.

    1. Bill says:

      The most insidious thing about the Schmidt Doctrine (“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”)…especially when it is espoused in various forms by gummint spooks…is that it inverts a couple hundred years worth of one of America’s founding and sustaining values: privacy. The high value Americans have traditionally placed on privacy is one this nation’s strengths. Without privacy, the individual has no foundation. I don’t care if ‘maybe I shouldn’t be doing something,’ or not, and its not up to King George to make ‘maybe’ calls. If I’m breaking the law, arrest me. If I’m not, leave me the frack alone. I don’t care if some bonehead six degrees of separation away from me is planning to blow up a mailbox; if you don’t have reasonable cause to believe I’m involved in it, leave me the frack alone. If we lose that sense of the fundamental importance of the individual’s privacy, I believe we lose our souls.

      This may be the only known issue on which majorities of folks on both the Right and the Left can readily agree. Which would suggest that the opportunity is there to amend the Constitution to clearly define the right to privacy, a right that shouldn’t be voided every time someone in Washington declares we’re in a Forever War (because we’re always in one Forever War or another).

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