1984 (Privacy)

1984 is a movie based on George Orwell’s classic
dystopian novel by the same name. The film depicts a totalitarian state in the
future which is indefinitely at war, and is ruled by a party that dictates all public
and private life through ubiquitous government surveillance and public manipulation, and
persecutes all forms of individualism and independent thinking as “thought crime.” “30 to 40 group, take your places please. Right. Let’s see which one of us can touch his toes. Right over from the hips, brothers and sisters
please.” The Party is ruled by Big Brother, an ostensibly
benevolent but oppressive dictator. As in the case of real life dictators like
Stalin or Mao, Big Brother’s authority supposedly derives from his leadership of a revolution
that brought the ruling party to power. The population is expected to express loyalty
for Big Brother through actions of devotion that border on worship. In order to enforce this loyalty, The Party
intrusively monitors people’s every word and movement in their homes. In this regard, 1984 is the quintessential
warning of the modern threat that the state, armed with powerful surveillance and data
collection technology, poses to the fundamental right of privacy, the very foundation of human
personality, and freedom. “I’m 39 and I’ve had four children. We don’t all have the privilege of fighting
in the front lines. Remember our boys on the Malabar Front! Just think what they have to put up with!” Privacy is a universal human right, and is
guaranteed by Article 12 of the Universal Declaration. “Page 3, byline 2, should read: Miniprod Forecast
Increase Chocolate Ration April 1984 from 20 to 25 grams per week.” In addition to it being essential to human
dignity, the right to privacy allows the space for individuals to develop, express, and share
with others ideas that can resist the power of the state. For this reason, one of the hallmarks of totalitarian
society is the personality cults that seek to erase privacy in every area of society. Contemporary examples include Cuba and North
Korea, where citizens are still punished with imprisonment, torture, and death for expressing
ideas critical of the government. “Society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against
its own subjects, and its object is not victory over Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the
very structure of society intact.” “You know what us parsons are like.” “You’re a thought criminal.” The first priority of all totalitarian governments
is to control freedom of speech and the dispersion of information. Total control allows the regime to enforce
their view of reality. Those who support the regime’s view of reality
are rewarded; those who resist are punished. This is why totalitarian states relentlessly
collect and store information on citizens, all the while invoking national security,
defense, patriotism, and other values to justify such oppression. Another feature of totalitarian states is
their tendency to seek external enemies in order to validate their oppression of citizens. The hysteria of war and the threat of war
with these external enemies serves as a distraction from the fact that the real struggle in such
societies is the daily war of the government against its own people’s human dignity and
fundamental rights. Permanent, limited war serves the state’s
goal of maintaining control over its populace by keeping them in ignorance and fear, conditions
that allow for the perpetual deprivation of their rights. “April the 4th, 1984. I think. To the past, or to the future, to an age when
thought is free, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of the Thought Police, from a
dead man. Greetings.” With totalitarian regimes, the leadership
seeks to control all aspects of economic, political, social, and cultural life. They define what is right or wrong, true or
untrue. This is achieved because only one party, with
an official ideology, entirely controls the diffusion of information within the society. Organizations or individuals who hold ideologies
that may differ with the ruling party’s are prosecuted, and the private lives of all citizens
are monitored. The result for those who are deemed traitors
is imprisonment and death. “Now they can see us.” “Now we can see you. Clasp your hands behind your heads. Stand out in the middle of the room. Stand back to back. Do not touch one another.” “Surrounded.” “The house is surrounded.” “I suppose, suppose we may as well say goodbye.” “You may as well say goodbye. While we are on the subject, here comes a
candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” Tragically, the digital age has exponentially
multiplied the ability of states to engage in surveillance and data collection, far beyond
what George Orwell could have imagined. In our digital world, recording devices go
far beyond cameras to every internet-connected device imaginable– for example, car companies
collect data through devices in our cars and internet firms such as Google have purchased
smoke alarm and fire alarm companies so that they can monitor our activities in our home. Beyond that, the government has a potent array
of new surveillance and data collection tools ranging from satellites to programs that create
digital fingerprints of citizens that can be used to accurately predict future behavior. The elimination of privacy is one of the greatest
assaults of totalitarianism upon human dignity, the human person, and freedom itself, so we
should all be deeply disturbed that even governments in the free world are looking more and more
like the oppressive regime in Orwell’s novel. For example, according to Joe Cannatacithe,
the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Privacy, digital surveillance in the UK is now worse than Orwell
could have foreseen. May we recover an understanding of our fundamental
right to privacy before it is lost forever to our children and grandchildren. “Neither the past, nor the present, nor the
future exists in its own right, Winston. Reality is in the human mind. Not in the individual mind, which makes mistakes
and soon perishes, but in the mind of The Party, which is collective, and immortal. If you want a vision of the future, Winston,
imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.”

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