“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” George Orwell - 1984

George Orwell

“Over four million cameras” said the American presenter, with visible emphasis. “Britain”, he said, “has become the world’s leading surveillance society and thanks to plans from our own Department of Homeland Security (DoHS) for the wider introduction of closed-circuit television in our cities, we’ll be catching up quickly.”

In fact, the Americans, with an invisible menace to fight, are taking surveillance technology to their hearts. The head of the Washington project states”I don’t think there’s really a limit on the feeds [the system] can take”. Further, he wants ‘to build…. the capability to tap into not only video but databases and systems across the region’, and eventually moving into any number of schools, businesses and neighbourhoods.”

A friend of mine, who used to wear a trench coat and carry a copy of the Financial Times, told me, in early in 2001, “You only need to start worrying about government when it really starts to join-up and there’s no real evidence that it will be able to achieve the levels of integration and departmental cooperation you’re worrying about for a long time to come.”

That was before 911 which gave impetus to the concept of ‘joined-up’ government and urgency that it never had before. In the United States in particular, the arrival of the DoHS has given carte blanche to the concept of inter-agency information sharing and the introduction of biometric passports and observers are concerned by the arrival of the “No-fly “database which will hold the names of all “known” and “suspected” terrorists. “

“What happens”, asked the TV presenter, “if someone with a grudge against you adds your name to that list? You’ll be hauled-off an aircraft wherever you happen to be and with no appeal”. He didn’t mention the recent example of singer Yusef Islam (AKA Cat Stevens), who was recently diverted on his flight to Washington and promptly deported for the possession of dubious musical talent but it illustrates the power of databases that governments on both sides of the Atlantic are busily compiling and sharing in their search for potential terrorists. For Americans in particular, there is now the added risk that the United States now offers no easy distinction between active "enemy combatants", material supporters and the much larger class of radical opponents of government policy

Twenty years later than George Orwell predicted we can thank David Blunkett and George Bush for introducing a raft of well-intentioned technological measures, ostensibly aimed at protecting national security and which instead of guaranteeing democratic freedoms continue to help erode them. “Men”, said George Orwell, “are only as good as their technical development allows them to be” and technology is a willing partner in fuelling society’s fear of the unknown. As 2005 approaches and illustrated by the contents of the Queen’s speech, we are allowing ourselves to be drawn into the 1984 world of ‘Doublethink’, twenty years later than predicted. Where Orwell wrote, “Big Brother is watching you”, we should be asking where the intrusive presence of technology can be halted and whether in fact we have surrendered any right to say “No” to its growing place in our lives?


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