Nineteen Eighty-Four Revisited?

Many years ago I read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. For those who have not read the book it is a piece of literary political and science-fiction. 1984 is a classic novel. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, newspeak have become contemporary vernacular since its publication in 1949. Moreover, Nineteen Eighty-Four popularized the adjective Orwellian, which refers to official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past in service to a totalitarian or manipulative political agenda.

I have to say the book had quite an influence on me and since reading it I have always been on the lookout for government wanting to invade the privacy of its citizens. There is much to be worried about as governments go on their merry way collecting personal information on its citizens on a daily basis.

Recently our government in Ottawa has introduced legislation demanding the authority to collect IP addresses, email addresses, mobile phone numbers and other identifying information on anyone who interests them without a warrant. Wow hard to believe but there it is.

What is more surprising is this legislation is coming from the same government that “whipped up moral panic” over the gun registry and the long-form census? In each case, they told us our right to privacy was threatened by intrusions from the state. So let’s see government has no business knowing how many rooms you have in your house – but if the government wants access to your online activities, no problem go right ahead and have fun. Conservative voters who opposed the federal long-gun registry and the mandatory long-form census stated that these are examples of the state intruding in the lives of citizens in search of information it had no right to demand. Applying that same principle, should the state be allowed to have new powers to know who we are on the web – in effect, to register our online identities – without a judicial warrant or even our knowledge or consent?

The new legislation, commonly referred to as the lawful access bill, would not give the government the power to track your movements, either online or through your phone, without a warrant. But it would require telecom companies to give up identifying information on clients if asked by the police.

None of us want to handicap police in their efforts to track those who would defraud us, harm children or plot acts of terror which is the bill’s intent. But we must also be wary of granting government powers that could restrict the sovereignty of citizens.

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…”
– George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 5

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