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November 11, 2009

Every breath you take, Britain’s Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” will be watching you

In Britain, all internet service providers will soon be required to keep records for a year of every customer’s personal communications: in other words, and to paraphrase Sting, every phone call you take, every text message you make, every email and website visit you thought opaque, they’ll be watching you.

Britain is fast becoming the reality show of the oligarchic society of the Oceanian province of Airstrip One, envisaged in George Orwell’s book 1984, and will finally bring into being the harbinger of Orwell’s vision of state spying.

Remember his world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control and the voiding of citizens’ rights? Well, it is about to become law in Britain, according to an article in the Telegraph newspaper.

In the book, Winston Smith, an intellectual and editor responsible for historical revisionism, lives out a meagre existence in a one-room apartment on a subsistence diet. In an alcove beside his “telescreen”, he believes his thoughts can remain private, but he is found out by the Thought Police, or Thinkpol, who spy on everyone, and is sent off for interrogation, electroshock and reintegration.

Perhaps exaggerated beyond its social significance, it is still true that there is widespread opposition to the almost exponential volumes of surveillance and invasion of privacy in Britain. And let’s not forget that this is a country that already has one and a half times as many surveillance cameras as China: in Britain today there are 4.2 million closed-circuit TV cameras; one camera for every 14 people.

Now, according to the Telegraph, it is recommended that, “653 public bodies will be given access to the information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors”.

Not only that, but these bodies need not seek the permission of a judge to obtain this personal information, but “simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority”. While the authorities will not have access to the content of personal emails or mobile phone calls, they “can see the internet addresses, dates, times and identify recipients of calls”.

Just like in Oceania, the new law will expose citizens’ personal data via the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which for years has been established as a euphemism for “fighting terrorism”. That term, presumably, excludes state terrorism.

The shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, said he feared the abuse of data intercept: “The big danger in all of this is ‘mission creep’. This government keeps on introducing new powers to tackle terrorism and organised crime, which end up being used for completely different purposes. We have to stop that from happening”. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, criticised the cost of the scheme, and said it would in effect be “state spying”.

According to the Daily Mail newspaper: “The government also deploys millions of security personnel, which include uniformed, official security guards who work along side police, patrolling the streets and others who bug phones, scour the internet for sensitive material and block international TV news bulletins…Figures released showed that in Britain the number of Big Brother snooping missions by police, town halls and other public bodies has soared by 44 per cent in two years.”

Remember, in Britain and coming soon: every single day, every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay, they’ll be watching you.