Are We Bringing ‘1984’ Upon Ourselves?

Orwell wouldn’t understand why we’re embracing and even paying for our own surveillance state

In the groundbreaking and chilling novel 1984, George Orwell wrote about a future where a brutal, power-hungry government monitors their citizens at all times and stamps out any hint of free-thinking or individual expression.

In the novel, every person has a tele-screen in their home that is always on, always watching, and always listening. No word spoken out loud is private, the state knows all.

Now, 1984 seems to be coming true in certain ways – except we’re paying for it.

The Amazon Echo device responds to the voice of those around it, placing orders, playing music, executing searches etc.

It also stores that voice data in an Amazon server.

Why bring this up?

Because a recent crime investigation in the United States involving an Amazon Echo has raised the potential that private conversations stored in servers could be accessed in certain circumstances.

As reported by CNET, “While investigating, police noticed the Echo in the kitchen and pointed out that the music playing in the home could have been voice activated through the device. While the Echo records only after hearing the wake word, police are hoping that ambient noise or background chatter could have accidentally triggered the device, leading to some more clues.”

Further, “Amazon stores all the voice recordings on its servers, in the hopes of using the data to improve its voice assistant services. While you can delete your personal voice data, there’s still no way to prevent any recordings from being saved on a server.”

Police are trying to get access to the info on the device, and got a warrant from a government judge. The warrant also applied to the Nest thermostat, a weather monitoring program, a lighting device, and their alarm system.

At this point, you may be thinking “Well it’s a crime scene, so what’s the problem?”

The problem is the precedent – and we can bet issues like this will be faced in Canada as well.

It’s not the police I’m concerned about, they’re just doing their jobs.

The issue is this: As more and more people install these devices in their homes, imagine what would happen if a corrupt government had access to all the conversations stored on electronic devices.

Orwell would be disturbed by that thought. And yet, it’s a discussion we don’t seem to be having.

Embracing technology is a good thing, but as we do, we must consider the worst-case scenarios as well. As technology empowers people to make our lives easier and express ourselves freely, governments are desperately grasping for all the control and power they can get.

It’s one of the ironies of our time that as decentralization becomes more possible than ever before, centralization seems to be the order of the day.

We can’t just assume the best and hope that governments would not abuse the massive power of spying on conversations.

If we don’t protect our rights, we’re basically paying to set up a surveillance state that could be used against us.

We need to make sure we protect our rights as individuals and stop the government from seizing unaccountable power to listen in on all of us.

Let’s make sure we don’t bring ‘1984’ upon ourselves.

Spencer Fernando

Photo – Twitter