Yesterday in my Professional issues in Creative Media class, we had begun watching Laura Poitras’ documentary ‘Citizen Four’. The documentary revolves around the collection of personal data by the NSA, using telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T. The documentary also features interviews with the whistleblower behind all of this: Edward Snowden.

According to the documentary: The NSA gathers all of this data and compiles it into a database where search parameters and filters could then be applied to track certain individuals, with computer programs making estimated guesses as to their occupations, hobbies and lifestyle. One of the issues raised in the documentary was something called ‘Linking’. If I remember the example correctly: If you use your metro card to travel somewhere, the data can be linked back to your bank card (If it is used in conjunction with the metro card), where your bank card can be used to link to everything you use it for (Shopping, purchases etc..). This essentially gives the NSA enough information to make a guess as to the kind of person you are and depending on your purchases or internet search history, you can be flagged.

‘Flagged’ means that if you make a purchase (Catcher in the rye anyone?) or go somewhere that the NSA would consider ‘dangerous’, your data is brought to the attention of an NSA analyist where it can be viewed and reviewed, pending further action. This scenario reminds me greatly of Minority Report, where your guilt is judged by crimes you haven’t even committed or will never commit. Although in Minority Report, the PreCog system was abandoned because it wasn’t ethical. However, we now live in a future where George Orwell wasn’t a writer but a prophet, trying to warn us of the road that lay before us, where ‘Big Brother’ is always watching us.

Recently, I learned of a really nice idiom in a VSauce video concerning the construction of the first atom bombs that I think ties in really well with this topic (Forgive me if it is slightly wrong): Technology is a key, but that key can open two doors. One door leads to a paradise, where advancements in technology mean people live longer, easier and better. The other door is a gate to hell, where we will use technology for destructive and invasive purposes. Which door is opened depends on the person holding the key.

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George Orwell’s 1984

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