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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Does UK surveillance surpass Orwell's dystopian vision?

The wired website reports on the views of the United Nation's newly appointed special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci, who says that digital surveillance in the UK as "worse" than anything imagined in George Orwell's novel, 1984.

Speaking to the Guardian, Cannataci -- who doesn't own a Facebook account or use Twitter -- lambasted the oversight of British digital surveillance as "a rather bad joke at its citizens' expense".

Warning against the steady erosion of privacy and increasing levels of government intrusion, he also drew sinister parallels with Orwell's vision of a mass-surveilled society, adding that today's reality was far worse than the fiction: "At least Winston [a character in Orwell's 1984] was able to go out in the countryside and go under a tree and expect there wouldn't be any screen, as it was called. Whereas today there are many parts of the English countryside where there are more cameras than George Orwell could ever have imagined."

There is no doubt that surveillance in Britain is growing daily,as it is throughout the rest the Europe and the United States in response to a whole range of threats, some of which are domestic, others international. The issue though has to be who controls this surveillance, what is it used for, how and why is it stored, who has access to it and can we inspect information held on us?

Those questions are central to the question as to whether the dystopian vision painted by Orwell in 1984 has come true today. The fact that we cannot answer those questions adequately and to our own satisfaction in 2015 inevitably raises alarm bells for civil rights and privacy in the UK.
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