Surveillance - a step towards the perfect world?

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uppladdat: 2007-05-11
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Imagine a world where love does not exist, a world without thoughtfulness, without friendship and without free thought. Imagine a world where it is possible to control our ability to think. It would be a society where you live alone, even if constantly surrounded by people. You would never have a conversation with anyone about what you think and how you feel; you would always have to deal with your thoughts by yourself.
Most of us would probably laugh at the thought, a world like this is impossible! It will never be possible to control the mind of man, we might say. Still, it is exactly a world like this that George Orwell describes in his book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. He writes about it with such logic that it is hard to deny the possibility of such a world. Reading about George Orwell’s society, it strikes me that there have been attempts to create this sort of society during the twentieth century.
Only eighty years ago, the first attempt was made in Soviet Russia, soon followed by Nazi Germany. These states had one thing in common – they scared people with their secret police. According to, citizens did not dare to show their doubts about the leading party and fear of your friend being a secret policeman caused even greater fear of talking about your opinion of the ruling party.
Another common factor was the use of a scapegoat, something or someone to blame. The communist party in Soviet blamed the capitalists and the Nazis in Germany blamed Jewish people (…om detta må ni berätta…, p. 4).
George Orwell’s state uses the same thing, it blames a certain group of people and the fear of the secret police is huge. So why did Germany and the Soviet Union fail to build a society where the government has all the power? And is a society like George Orwell’s possible in the future?
The state which George Orwell describes is a dictatorship. They are ruling with an iron hand and all efforts by the citizens to be free are crushed. To me, it seems like there are two keys to keeping a terror like this alive; surveillance and control. With surveillance cameras everywhere; in flats, in houses, in public premises and in squares, they supervise all citizens twenty-four seven. If any citizen shows distrust towards the party, anytime of the day, he will be taken care of. Just a wrinkle in the forehead while hearing news about the party is enough to get caught. The complete surveillance system makes it more or less impossible to express your thoughts or feelings and gives the party full control of everyone’s life. In Germany or Soviet Russia, they could catch people for showing their doubts about the leaders, but they could never catch people just for thinking. It was impossible since they did not have the capacity for total surveillance.
The other key, control, is to control everything, the citizens of course, but also to control reality. My first question when I understood that control was one of George Orwell’s keys to endless dictatorship was: how is it possible to control reality? Actually I got the answer from TV, before I read it in the book. It was in the middle of the day so as usual there was nothing worth watching. I zapped for a while before I got stuck with Dr. Phil. It is the kind of show everyone watches but no one admits he does. I guess it is relaxing to hear about other people’s problems and let go of your own for a while. Anyway, I cannot remember much of the theme, but I do remember one thing. He said: “There is no reality; there is just our picture of reality.” This is what George Orwell means. In the same way as the past is captured in our minds, the present, the reality, exists only in our minds. This makes sense when it comes to feelings. If I become sad for something, that is a bad thing for me. But if my friend becomes happy for the same thing it is a funny thing for him. But what if you think in the same way when it comes to matter? If a stone in my reality is hard, is it possible that the same stone is soft in my friend’s reality? This is actually the question that is being treated in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The party makes the citizens believe in the same thing, and when enough people believe it, it becomes reality.
So what is the big difference between George Orwell’s state, Soviet communism and Nazi Germany? Why did they not manage to control their citizen’s minds? Like in George Orwell’s state, they used secret police, they used scapegoats, and they crushed people who tried to overthrow the dictatorship. As I said, I think that the big difference was the surveillance system. Fifty years ago, the technology had not developed enough to supervise all of us.
But many years have passed since Nazi Germany and Soviet communism were defeated or overthrown, and today’s technology is doing things we never thought would be possible fifty years ago. According to Declan McCullagh on, a global system known as Echelon has the ability to eavesdrop on telephone calls, faxes and e-mail messages anywhere on earth. And on, Humphrey Taylor says the camera surveillance system in streets and public places is expanding. This is a development that is obvious for the attentive. For many years there have been surveillance cameras in stores, but today they are found in more private places; in schools, in public baths and so on. In my own school there are cameras in the corridors, watching me walking between classes. There are cameras in the lunch restaurant, watching me having lunch. Do I care about these cameras? No, I honestly do not. It is not like I think of the cameras while I move the fork towards my mouth. But the big question is, are we headed for a world like the one in Nineteen Eighty-Four or is increasing surveillance a good thing for us?
One of the greatest arguments against surveillance is that “it is a threat to integrity”. And it sure is. They might catch you on tape kissing your girlfriend’s sister, or spitting your chewing gum on the ground. They might even watch you urinate! But they might also catch burglars, murderers and even terrorists.
By increasing surveillance we will make it more complicated for criminals to hide their planned crimes and the chances of catching them will increase. We all remember the horrible weeks after terrorists had placed explosives in the London suburb. In The Times on March the 31st 2004 you can read about how the surveillance system helped the police to catch the terrorists behind the attack. Without the cameras, the terrorists would probably still be free. In the same article you can read about how the police tracked the terrorists for weeks before the attack. I am not an expert, but with a greater surveillance system they would maybe have been able to stop the attack in time. Therefore, if more cameras can save innocent lives, I think our integrity should be scarified. And if someone wants to watch me urinate, that is fine with me as long as I do not have to watch him.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the surveillance system is used in the wrong way. The party who controls the surveillance uses it to oppress, and to make sure that everybody is doing as told. Our world is headed towards a more open society. Media is getting more and more access everywhere, the top directors’ bonus systems are being reviewed and people with the real power are being watched carefully. It is almost a problem in the opposite sense; media tends to tell too much about their lives. I do not care if our prime minister’s mother in law is having problem with her breath or if his dog died. I care about how he is doing his job and his mother in law, or his dog, has nothing to do with it. So I think that if the surveillance is being used in the right way, which is to catch criminals, it cannot be anything but good for the world to increase the surveillance system. Although we need to make sure it is used in the right way by controlling the people in charge of it. One more thing, and I am probably going to lose my job for saying this, it is important to keep the media away from the surveillance cameras; the public does not need to know private details about our prime minister.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian vision of how a world with surveillance might be. How would a utopian world with surveillance be? Criminals and terrorists would not exist and all evil would be gone. We would kno...

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