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  PRIVATE LINE: Shades of '1984'?

Nation News | November 4, 2006

by JEANNETTE LAYNE-CLARK

It's an alarming prospect. The recent report out of the U.K., equating the spread of surveillance technology to the rise of the Big Brother state, is enough to send more than the occasional shiver down one's spine.

It would seem that George Orwell's "society of the future" has been transported from the pages of his satirical novel, 1984, directly into the real world.

The totalitarian society of Orwell's novel, written way back in 1949, has no place for truth since historical records are destroyed and information is replaced by propaganda. Additionally, thought and love attract punishment and privacy simply doesn't exist!

But it is the ominous warning, "Big Brother is watching you", conveyed through placards in the imaginary Orwellian state that is probably best remembered by readers of 1984.

That warning is certainly à propos if the British report on the emergence of the Big Brother state is anything to go by.

Drawn up by a team of respected academics, the document is said to paint a disturbing picture of what Britain (and, elsewhere, I suggest!) could be like in ten years' time unless the use of spy technologies is regulated.

Anyone reading the newspaper or watching the international TV news within the last week or so would have gathered that the UK is one of the three world leaders in the use of surveillance technology; and the Brits, the most spied-on citizens in what most of us still think of as "the free world".

A fallout of New York's "Nine-Eleven" terrorist attack and the more recent London bombings, this obsession with surveillance is becoming contagious. And my guess is that it won't be long before Big Brother makes his presence more obvious here in our own backyard.

The British report on the spread of surveillance technology looks at a time in the not-too-distant future when human beings everywhere may be forced to be "microchipped", with implants under the skin storing personal information, allowing everybody's movements to be tracked.

The claim made by the editors Dr David Murakami Wood (managing editor of the journal, Surveillance And Society) and Dr Kirstie Ball, Open University lecturer in Organisation Studies, is astonishing. It asserts that by 2016, almost every movement, purchase, and communication of these "chip-citizens" could be monitored by a complex network of interlinking surveillance technologies!

Some time ago, it was disclosed that the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in humans (with the implantation of chips in 70 mentally-ill patients) was being put on trial in the United States. If the claims of the official British report prove to be accurate, such use would, in a decade or so, be unlimited and the Orwellian state would have become a reality.

Only this past week, the BBC revealed the presence of 4.2 million surveillance cameras in Britain. And viewers were informed that the average Briton is caught on camera some 300 times every day!

Britain's Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has reportedly voiced his concern about possible consequences resulting from the accumulation by the corporate sector or government agencies of too much information about ordinary people.

His apprehension is shared by campaigners for civil liberties. A spokesman for the organisation, Liberty, conceding that he sees nothing wrong with the technologies themselves, argues that it's their potential uses which raise legitimate fears.

He contends: " . . .There is a rather scary underlying feeling that people may worry that these microchips are less about being a human being than becoming a barcoded product."

That realisation is unnerving. With easy access to high-tech surveillance, stringent regulations must apply. If not, Big Brother could soon be watching all of us!

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