Net Widening: Big Brother Is Watching You

Privacy is a right that many Americans take for granted. Americans, for the most part, feel that they have privacy. But do they really? In order for one to achieve individuality and autonomy one must have privacy, which is the key factor. For the rapid advances in technology, however, one exchanges their privacy. Should one happen to use a computer to use the Internet, for example, their level of privacy is decreased substantially as you open the door to social control. As Orwell says in 1984, “Big Brother is watching you. ”

Ever since the creation of the Internet, more specifically the World Wide Web, the government has utilized Orwellian tactics of surveillance. “Many parts of the Internet are still kind of like the raw frontier and the Government wants to stake its claim” (TechnoCulture). For instance, in December of 1995, news was released concerning the Government’s intention to fund another ten thousand closed circuit surveillance systems. Even though civil libertarians were assured this action had no sinister motive, responses from most were leery to say the least (“Big Brother…”).

This technology is very similar to that which Steven Mann, MIT computer specialist, uses. His “wearable wireless webcam” provides anyone logged onto his Internet home address live views of his daily routine. “The Internet is sprouting eyes. And ears. And vending machines, hot tubs, coffeepots, robot gardeners, and model railroads. The armada of devices plugged into the Internet, in fact, is transforming the network into a bizarre place that falls somewhere between George Orwell’s 1984 and Candid Camera run amok” (TechnoCulture).

Intel currently uses the same technology for the cameras they sell for consumers to put on top of their monitors in order to be seen by others. This technology is inside your very computer monitor (“Eyes On The Net”). How do you know it’s not being utilized to oversee you? Is Big Brother watching you? “A year ago, there were only a few devices connected to the Internet that any person could freely use. But the number of devices is exploding. Uses for these things are as diverse as a person’s imagination.

As devices have proliferated, imaginative applications of telepresence technology have attracted a huge following among rank-and-file Internet users. The implications of such devices have devastating potential” (“Eyes On The Net”). Another bit of a shocker is that Web pages can actually keep track of the Internet addresses of visitors. This intrinsically is a complete invasion of privacy. Just imagine someone else knows about every Web page you go to. So what? What’s the big deal? The big deal is that this infringement of privacy strips one of their individuality and autonomy.

This form of social control can kill individuality. According to JM Balkin, “Each of us has both a public and private self; the public self we reveal to the world, and the private self we retain control over by withholding it from others. Our ability to provide or withhold aspects of our private selves preserves and constitutes our autonomy. The exchanges of private information, signal intimacy and trust, and their disclosure to third parties is usually thought of as a sign of betrayal” (Understanding…).

Even if one is unaware of the infringement against them it will still harm their individuality because what you withhold from others is a part of what makes up your individuality. Once others know what you don’t want them to, your individuality is opened and destroyed (Understanding…). These violations are already presented in several businesses and educational institutions throughout America (“WARNING…”). These violations produce what Edward Bloustein describes as “…a being that is not an individual. “A man compelled to live every minute of his life among others and whose every need, thought, fancy, or gratification is subject to public scrutiny merges with the mass and is deprived of individuality and human dignity. ” (“Privacy as an…”). When a collective conscience, in this instance the government, penetrates deeply into everyday affairs, what seems to be trivial can soon escalate into devastation. Privacy violations are no different from Nazi totalitarianism. In totalitarian governments, like Nazi Germany, the collective conscience can penetrate all relations between individuals.

Such totalitarian governments have killed approximately 115 million people. Once America is filled with non-autonomous drones and a totalitarian stage is set, government genocide, massacres, and other mass killings could likely take place as well. No matter how extreme the possibilities, they must be looked at. Another example of social control is utilized widely on the Internet by the Government but is not as Orwellian as the previous examples. Internet censorship is a form of privacy invasion. The very essence of the Internet is absolute freedom. It’s a cyber-anarchy in which there is peace.

However, buried within the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is a clause restricting indecent material from being transmitted across the Internet. “Note that this is indecent material, not obscene material. There is, in the legal sense, a difference. Obscenity, which is not protected by the First Amendment, must meet this three-pronged test: An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find the material appeals to prurient interest. The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by law.

And, the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. That is the law’s definition of obscenity, and it is not protected by the First Amendment. It is illegal in all mediums Internet included. What we are talking about is indecency, which is a whole new ball game. These laws will criminalize material ‘available to a person under 18 years of age that depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs. ’ This is basically fancy talk for indecent material” (“Censoring Internet is wrong”).

That is much broader than the three-pronged definition. It hypothetically includes anything from objectionable music lyrics to movie sound clips to drug store pornography. This is stuff that is all legal, although some of it to people 18 and older. Yet the bill labels it to be illegal to ALL when on the Internet. Whether in electronic form or in a magazine, the material is unchanged. Yet its restrictions change dramatically. While its intentions may be pure the government cannot be allowed to establish the precedent of censoring legal material in any medium at all (“Censoring Internet is wrong”). Once this happens, we are one step closer to George Orwell’s 1984, where not only computers, but thought as well, are regulated by the Powers That Be” (“Censoring Internet is wrong”). Now one must also look to the opposite end of the spectrum in all fairness. The technological advances may be worth the sacrifice, if there even is one. As a practical matter, scientists and engineers see real advantages to telepresence. NASA routinely guides spacecraft millions of miles away, but the Internet offers rudimentary telepresence for the masses.

Astronomers at the University of Georgia and three other southeastern universities now operate a 30-inch robot telescope on a mountain in Arizona without ever leaving their offices. Internet users can access government data buoys in the middle of the ocean to check local wind and wave conditions. Californians can now track stream-flow in remote rivers from instruments connected to the Internet. Anyone on the World Wide Web can access a battery of “weathercams” enabling him or her to actually see the weather. “Given the groundswell of interest, the day may not be so far off when people water their own plants from afar.

Maybe they’ll even figure out a way to feed the cat and walk the dog via the Internet” (TechnoCulture). Does this technology have to be bad? Steven Mann stated: “Sometimes women ask me to give them a safe escort back to the dorm. If we really want safer streets, maybe we should distribute cameras like mine to everyone. In addition to having a little fun, wearable videocams could become personal safety devices” (TechnoCulture). In fact, this same surveillance technology has succeeded in trapping under-age drinkers and drug users on tape.

Police have also used the technology to target local criminals. The video evidence has proven incontrovertible thus leading to swift punishment and safer communities. Just like anything of great responsibility, in the right hands this new technological era can bring forth much good, however, in the wrong hands can bring forth much peril. These advances bring societies closer to Orwellian ones but they also better the societies. If the abuse of this technology does indeed exist, all there is now is the speculation of such an activity.

Hopefully it will stay that way. Is Big Brother Watching You? Works Cited Balkin, JM “Understanding Legal Understanding: The Legal Subject and the Problem of Legal Coherence” (1993) 103 Yale Law Journal 105-176. 1997. “Big Brother is watching you. ” Nd. : n. pag. Online. Internet. 06 May 1998. Available WWW: http://malone. math. soton. ac/postgraduate/students/ Polton/December_1995. html Edward J. Bloustein. “Privacy as an aspect of human dignity – An Answer to Dean Prosser. ” Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy: An Anthology, ed. Ferdinand Schoeman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 177. “Eyes On the Net. ” Home Page. Nd. : n. pag. Online. Internet. 06 May 1998. Available WWW: http://www. mitchell. net/article. htm Orwell, George. 1984 New York, Signet. 1949 “TechnoCulture Archive” Home Page. Nd. : n. pag. Online. Internet. 06 May 1998. Available WWW: http://www. mitchell. net/ant/article. htm “WARNING: Big Brother is watching you” Home Page. Nd. : n. pag. Online. Internet. 06 May 1998. Available WWW:http://www. diku. dk/students/ballerp/big-brother. html

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