In a fictional place known as Oceania, Winston Smith struggles with oppression and the ever-watchful eye of Big Brother. It is a place of conformity where individuality is banned. It is a life without freedom or liberty because there is no privacy. This is the thesis of George Orwell’s book 1984 and perhaps a most prophetic analogy for a world in which we now live.
In the latest example of this Orwellian reality, it appears that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has come across several rogue cell phone spying devices in and around the District of Columbia. In an 11-month study, they uncovered sophisticated surveillance devices that are able to intercept calls near the White House, Pentagon, FBI, U.S. Capitol and Embassy Row.
International Mobile Subscriber Identity devices, also known as IMSI catchers, have been unearthed. This means that they intercept a cell phone by simulating phone towers and deceive the cell phones into connecting. And what’s in the goodie bag? Well, there are text messages, data streams and of course, your phone calls.
And who is operating these so-called StingRay devices? DHS doesn’t seem to know. Naturally, they are pointing the finger at foreign actors. Must be Russia, right?
NOT SO FAST
With all the upheaval and recently exposed duplicitous actions by the Department of Justice, FBI and CIA – not to mention the private U.S. companies about there – American conservatives have good reason to doubt DHS’s assumption.
Who doesn’t know someone who has felt the hand of Big Brother these last few years? One woman who worked for Liberty Nation told the story of discussing taking the kids to Disney World with ALEXA in the room. Poof! Like magic, both she and her husband received Disney coupons in an email not a half hour later. Another LN employee was musing about going to a spa on a screened-in porch – no ALEXA, no nothing, save a few cell phones – but when he got home there, in his inbox, was an advertisement for the very same spa which he had never been to nor searched for on the web. Even my hair stylist is creeped out by the ECHO DOT in her home. “Is someone listening to me?” she wonders.
THE DEATH OF PRIVACY
It was December 31, 1999, and we all sat around the table drinking champagne. The question arose, “What will be most coveted in the 21st century?” One averred money, another power, but I chimed in with “privacy.” The richest of the rich, I postulated, will search out and purchase a deserted island in the Pacific where they can be left alone. Much laughter arose from the table.
Bet they’re not laughing now.
So, DHS has now uncovered spying apparatus in the nation’s capital. Shocking? Well, no, not really. Somehow, in some way or another, we are all being watched, listened to and surveilled for one purpose or another. Maybe coupons to Disney World aren’t the end of the world as we know it, but that slippery slope where people have some modicum of privacy is turning into an avalanche of information about our lives, our conversations, and our beliefs. Unfortunately, Pandora’s Box is now open, and there is little, if anything, the average American can do about it.
And that my friends, would make George Orwell seem less of a novelist and more of a Sensei.