Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Did George Orwell's 1984 Predict Today's Personal Data Breaches?

1984 is about a totalitarian state where every aspect of public and private behavior is regulated. We certainly aren’t at that point, but the control over our names and personal data by business and government has set the stage for the next step. As Erich Fromm wrote in the book’s “Afterword,” Orwell warns us that, unless drastic changes are made, people will become “soulless automatons.”

Back in 2001, David Goodman did a “Special Report” in Insight on the News, “Orwell’s 1984: The Future Is Here.” It is an excellent article if you are an Orwell fan but is also far-reaching in the analysis of the writer’s meanings in 1984.

First, he makes a comparison between the book’s totalitarian state and the implementation of the USA Patriot Act of 2001. Next, he wonders about the title…why 1984? There are three theories that make interesting reading.

But my favorite is his focus on the fact that, although the liberals embrace Orwell’s resistance to the loss of civil liberties, they can’t admit their leaning toward the principles of totalitarianism. You have to assume that Goodman is referring to the “more government” belief of some Democrats.

If you look closely at Orwell’s “Party” in 1984, as the representation of the all-powerful force that controls every aspect of the people of the fictional country of Oceania, it is easy to draw a comparison with the situation today, where our private information is under the exclusive control of government agencies and business.

In Chapter four of Part one, Orwell writes of the ease with which real people can be made “unpersons,” which closely parallels the idea that credit bureaus can place incorrect and damaging data in your records and damage your credit, and life, forever.

Rick Perera, writing in a 2000, Computerworld article, was concerned even then over privacy issues and the Internet. In his article, “Security and privacy issues loom large for Internet’s future,” he combines the “explosive” development of the Internet, with the warning of privacy legislation if it doesn’t police itself. He remarks, “Citizens around the world are scared about this. A scenario out of George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which companies could know more and more about users of their Web sites, would be a dangerous world.”

Orwell did envision the Internet in the second draft of the book, but in later editing, for some reason, deleted it. His concept of the telescreen even rivals that technology. 1984’s protagonist, Winston Smith, couldn’t speak above a whisper for fear of being heard by the police on this TV-like, customary fixture in most party-members’ homes. Within its field of vision, which was most of his modest living quarters, his every move could be monitored. The author turned the infancy of television, 1948, into a full-scale, scientific phenomenon.

On her BLOG, Your Right To Know, Heather Brooke gives the American consumer credit for rising up against the Patriot Act in her article, “Let Them Read Heat.” (Scroll up to top.) The act was “pushed” through by Bush, but when the American public figured out what was going on, “their protests grew loud and angry,” she reports. A comparison is drawn between this and the British public’s “…lamb-like disposition toward its leaders.”

In all fairness, Heather, the Brits are far ahead of the U.S. in their protection of the consumers’ name and personal data, as evidenced by the United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act of 1998. It at least provides that anyone processing personal information must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that they are doing so, which just falls short of my concept that consumers should have control over their names and personal data. Both articles are available on The Dunning Letter.

Although there were no legislative matters to deal with in 1984—Big Brother did all the legislating—the U.S. Congress had better take note of Orwell’s intentions to warn an apathetic public. Unless, of course, this is all a huge conspiracy between business and Congressional leaders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog contained issues relating to definition of identity theft which I found quite absorbing. I would argue that definition of identity theft matters are best left to the professionals in most cases.