Surveillance in the Emerald City

from Mtro-Goldwyn-Mayer, "The Wizard of Oz"
from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “The Wizard of Oz”

A recent news report from Reuters (click to read entire article), found on Yahoo News, mentions that:

“The Guardian reported last week that the super-secret National Security Agency has been mining phone records from millions of American customers of a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

“The Washington Post revealed a separate program, code-named Prism, that gives federal authorities access to data from companies including Google Inc., Apple Inc and Facebook Inc on emails, photos and other files.”

Should this news give cause for, if not alarm, at least some genuine reflection on the state of the state? Many of the former hippie generation, the baby boomers, and even the generations immediately preceeding and following, remember how carefully we guarded our right to privacy and freedom of expression; how we protested and fought for these things. We explored the theoretical social order that would follow the disappearance of these personal freedoms in dystopic literature such as George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Books would become illegal (and would be burned), and those who kept them would be publicly humiliated and jailed. Huge wall-sized, two-way TV monitors would feed people the latest “news,” while “Big Brother” would observe them in their homes to determine whether they were behaving “appropriately.” The news was manufactured and updated (changed) daily, depending on which nations we were currently allied with, and which we were currently at war with. There was no room for dissent. Interpersonal contact and relationships would be stringently monitored, and unapproved interpersonal contact was punishable by imprisonment or, ultimately, death. Surveillance cameras were present everywhere, so there was no place to hide. While the stories in these novels were futuristic, and fell more into the genre of science fiction than non-fiction, their underlying themes grew out of  real trends and international events within recent memory of the authors. The technology for video surveillance, wireless communication devices, large-screen video monitors and two-way surveillance systems was still a few steps into the future. But not any more. The implications of these futuristic technologies for the privacy of the individual were chilling.

Jump to 2013. The current generation, enamored of the convenience of instant communication media such as cell phones and Facebook, seem to have little or no regard for personal privacy; they have grown up in a world where that concept is not even discussed; where sharing every intimate detail about yourself is seen as a good thing, to the extent that they feel compelled to update their “status” every few hours, to post and identify pictures of their friends and acquaintances (actions made readily accessible through macros pioneered on Facebook and now insideous even to iPhoto and other photography storage and manipulation software). In fact, we have witnessed an apparent total reversal of the parental (or grand-parental) understanding that “a man’s home is his castle” (a place where a family can expect to be left alone to think, act, and behave as they see fit without fear of intrusion or surveillance). Those who have lived through violent regime changes all over the world have learned the hard way that it is best to keep your thoughts to yourself, lest you stand out to be identified as “the enemy,” or as an example of how not to think or behave.

In the U.S. we have prided ourselves on our freedoms: freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, etc. Our news media is quick to point out the flaws in other governments that disregard human rights and carry our genocide on their own citizens.

Have you ever considered the words used by media in covering world news? How are the terms chosen to evoke an emotional and visceral imprint on the reader? The following excerpt from a satirical article is a study of how the terminology of news reporting (“Newspeak”) can affect our interpretation of world events and shape our impressions of other nations, their actions and their policies.

Consider how the U.S. is characterized in the following:

BOSTON, Mass. — Human rights activists say revelations that the US regime has expanded its domestic surveillance program to private phone carriers is more evidence of the North American country’s pivot toward authoritarianism.

The above lead-in is taken from  Inside the United States (click to read entire article), published in The Global Post.  Its aim is to examine the language American journalists use to report on foreign countries, by using the same language to report on U.S. events and news.

What I take away from all of the above is this: No nation is perfect. We all try to advance our own interests, partly by trying to make the other guys look bad. It is very instructive to step out of ourselves for a little while and observe our own rhetoric, in order to see where we are being fair, and where we are doing the same things we accuse other nations of doing.

In the end, the average Joe is pretty perceptive. Like the child in the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” who could see that the emperor was naked despite being told otherwise, people are able to see through political rhetoric that tries to villify others and frighten people. And as in Frank Baum’s classic book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,  if you read between the lines, you will discover, as did Toto, Dorothy, and friends, that the Great and Powerful Oz is just a man with a microphone behind a curtain. Once we are able to see things for what they are, we realize that there really is more that binds people across the globe together, than separates us. Don’t be put off by the flying monkeys.

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Author: Writewireless

I am a thinker, educator, and writer, who teaches English, French, design, and career skills. My articles and posts about being human, teaching, careers, parenting, travel, and world affairs have been published in various newsletters, websites, and blogs. I currently teach and inspire young people to write and to explore the world.

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