George Orwell Predicted Cameras Would Watch Us in Our Homes; He Never Imagined We’d Gladly Buy and Install Them Ourselves

Normalization—the main­stream­ing of peo­ple and ideas pre­vi­ous­ly ban­ished from pub­lic life for good reason—has become the oper­a­tive descrip­tion of a mas­sive soci­etal shift toward some­thing awful. Whether it’s puff pieces on neo-Nazis in major nation­al news­pa­pers or elect­ed lead­ers who are also doc­u­ment­ed sex­u­al preda­tors, a good deal of work goes into mak­ing the pre­vi­ous­ly unthink­able seem mun­dane or appeal­ing.

I try not to imag­ine too often where these things might lead, but one pre­vi­ous­ly unthink­able sce­nario, the open­ly pub­lic mass sur­veil­lance appa­ra­tus of George Orwell’s 1984 has pret­ty much arrived, and has been thor­ough­ly nor­mal­ized and become both mun­dane and appeal­ing. Net­worked cam­eras and micro­phones are installed through­out mil­lions of homes, and mil­lions of us car­ry them with us wher­ev­er we go. The twist is that we are the ones who installed them.

As com­ic Kei­th Low­ell Jensen remarked on Twit­ter a few years ago, “What Orwell failed to pre­dict is that we’d buy the cam­eras our­selves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watch­ing.” By appeal­ing to our basic human need for con­nec­tion, to van­i­ty, the desire for recog­ni­tion, and the seem­ing­ly instinc­tu­al dri­ve for con­ve­nience, tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies have per­suad­ed mil­lions of peo­ple to active­ly sur­veille them­selves and each oth­er. They inces­sant­ly gath­er our data, as Tim Wu shows in The Atten­tion Mer­chants, and as a byprod­uct have pro­vid­ed access to our pri­vate spaces to gov­ern­ment agents and who-knows-who-else.

Com­put­ers, smart­phones, and “smart” devices can near­ly all be hacked or com­man­deered. For­mer direc­tor of nation­al intel­li­gence James Clap­per report­ed as much last year, telling the U.S. Sen­ate that intel­li­gence agen­cies might make extend­ed use of con­sumer devices for gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. Web­cams and “oth­er inter­net-con­nect­ed cam­eras,” writes Eric Limer at Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics, “such as secu­ri­ty cams and high-tech baby mon­i­tors, are… noto­ri­ous­ly inse­cure.” James Comey and Mark Zucker­berg both cov­er the cam­eras on their com­put­ers with tape.

The prob­lem is far from lim­it­ed to cam­eras. “Any device that can respond to voice com­mands is, by its very nature, lis­ten­ing to you all the time.” Although we are assured that those devices only hear cer­tain trig­ger words “the micro­phone is def­i­nite­ly on regard­less” and “the extent to which this sort of audio is saved or shared is unclear.” (Record­ings on an Ama­zon Echo are pend­ing use as evi­dence in a mur­der tri­al in Arkansas.) Devices like head­phones have even been turned into micro­phones, Limer notes, which means that speak­ers could be as well, and “Lipread­ing soft­ware is only get­ting more and more impres­sive.”

I type these words on a Siri-enabled Mac, an iPad lies near­by and an iPhone in my pock­et… I won’t deny the appeal—or, for  many, the neces­si­ty of con­nec­tiv­i­ty. The always-on vari­ety, with mul­ti­ple devices respon­si­ble for con­trol­ling greater aspects of our lives may not be jus­ti­fi­able. Nonethe­less, 2017 could “final­ly be the year of the smart home.” Sales of the iPhone X may not meet Apple’s expec­ta­tions. But that could have more to do with price or poor reviews than with the creepy new facial recog­ni­tion technology—a fea­ture like­ly to remain part of lat­er designs, and one that makes users much less like­ly to cov­er or oth­er­wise dis­able their cam­eras.

The thing is, we most­ly know this, at least abstract­ly. Bland bul­let­ed how-to guides make the prob­lem seem so ordi­nary that it begins not to seem like a seri­ous prob­lem at all. As an indi­ca­tion of how mun­dane inse­cure net­worked tech­nol­o­gy has become in the con­sumer mar­ket, major pub­li­ca­tions rou­tine­ly run arti­cles offer­ing help­ful tips on how “stop your smart gad­gets from ‘spy­ing’ on you” and “how to keep your smart TV from spy­ing on you.” Your TV may be watch­ing you. Your smart­phone may be watch­ing you. Your refrig­er­a­tor may be watch­ing you. Your ther­mo­stat is most def­i­nite­ly watch­ing you.

Yes, the sit­u­a­tion isn’t strict­ly Orwellian: Oceana’s con­stant­ly sur­veilled cit­i­zens did not com­par­i­son shop, pur­chase, and cus­tomize their own devices vol­un­tar­i­ly. (It’s not strict­ly Fou­cauldian either, but has its close resem­blances.) Yet in prop­er Orwellian dou­ble­s­peak, “spy­ing” might have a very flex­i­ble def­i­n­i­tion depend­ing on who is on the oth­er end. We might stop “spy­ing” by enabling or dis­abling cer­tain fea­tures, but we might not stop “spy­ing,” if you know what I mean.

So who is watch­ing? CIA doc­u­ments released by a cer­tain unsa­vory orga­ni­za­tion show that the Agency might be, as the BBC seg­ment at the top reports. As might any num­ber of oth­er inter­est­ed par­ties from data-hoard­ing cor­po­rate bots to tech-savvy voyeurs look­ing to get off on your can­did moments. We might assume that some­one could have access at any time, even if we use the pri­va­cy con­trols. That so many peo­ple have become depen­dent on their devices, and will increas­ing­ly become so in the future, makes the ques­tion of what to do about it a trick­i­er propo­si­tion.

via Red­dit

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less, Kafkaesque Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

The Exis­ten­tial­ism Files: How the FBI Tar­get­ed Camus, and Then Sartre After the JFK Assas­si­na­tion

Lyn­da Bar­ry on How the Smart­phone Is Endan­ger­ing Three Ingre­di­ents of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Lone­li­ness, Uncer­tain­ty & Bore­dom

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Cal says:

    Not all of us com­ply.

    I do not have a TV — nev­er, Smart­phone, etc, LANDLINE only. I do have a com­put­er. Out­side of the com­put­er on which I work, and which is not always con­nect­ed to the inter­net, I refuse to pay for those domes­tic ene­mies and trai­tors to our nation UNLAWFUL and trea­so­nous spy­ing on us.

    I know that I am not the only one, but those that most of you that par­tic­i­pate do so freely and of your own will. Since you want to be watched, “pro­tect­ed”, super­vised, pat­ted down (molest­ment), etc please feel free to move to anoth­er nation. Here we need Amer­i­cans.

    Have you read the US Con­sti­tu­tion? What about your state Con­sti­tu­tion? Are you aware that they are the con­tracts and laws (supreme Law of this nation and high­est Law of your state)? That those who serve with­in our gov­ern­ments — state and fed­er­al — are Oath bound to the US Con­sti­tu­tion, to SUPPORT AND DEFEND it before the orders of sue­ri­ors and the duties of the posi­tion being occu­pied? Also those who serve with­in state gov­ern­ments have as their very first duty every day to sup­port and defend the US Con­sti­tu­tion, and then to do the same to their state Con­sti­tu­tion? That every, or most every, elec­tion peri­od there are Amend­ments added to the state Con­sti­tu­tion which changes that con­tract — and if you believe that those that serve with­in your state are giv­ing the peo­ple more pow­er rather then grab­bing more for them­selves I have a few bridges to sell you.

    Do YOU know your duty as a JUROR? It is a crit­i­cal step to keep­ing our free­dom. Become an informed juror and then serve with pride and be res­olute because the courts are cor­rupt. Are you aware that judges are NOT put into office for life? That they are ALLOWED to serve for life as long as they use the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly required “good Behav­iour” while serv­ing. Big dif­fer­ence. The US Con­sti­tu­tion and the state Con­sti­tu­tions say what “good Behav­iour” is; it is doing their duties as con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly del­e­gat­ed, tak­ing and KEEPING the Oath.

    Are you aware that all able-bod­ied Amer­i­cans are the Mili­tia of the server­al states? That you are con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly REQUIRED to be trained as the Con­gress requires the mil­i­tary to be trained, and edu­cat­ed in the US Con­sti­tu­tion and your own state’s Con­sti­tu­tion?

    Richard Hen­ry Lee: “Where­as, to pre­serve lib­er­ty, it is essen­tial that the whole body of the peo­ple always pos­sess arms, and be taught alike, espe­cial­ly when young, how to use them; nor does it fol­low from this, that all promis­cu­ous­ly must go into actu­al ser­vice on every occa­sion. The mind that aims at a select mili­tia, must be influ­enced by a tru­ly anti-repub­li­can prin­ci­ple; and when we see many men dis­posed to prac­tice upon it, when­ev­er they can pre­vail, no won­der true repub­li­cans are for care­ful­ly guard­ing against it.” (1788, Ini­tia­tor of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, and mem­ber of the first Sen­ate, which passed the Bill of Rights)

    George Wash­ing­ton: “It may be laid down, as a pri­ma­ry posi­tion, and the basis of our sys­tem, that every cit­i­zen who enjoys the pro­tec­tion of a free gov­ern­ment…, but even of his per­son­al ser­vices to the defence of it, and con­se­quent­ly that the Cit­i­zens of Amer­i­ca (with a few legal and offi­cial excep­tions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Mili­tia Rolls, pro­vid­ed with uni­form Arms, and so far accus­tomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Coun­try might be called forth at Short Notice on any very inter­est­ing Emer­gency.” (“Sen­ti­ments on a Peace Estab­lish­ment”, let­ter to Alexan­der Hamil­ton; “The Writ­ings of George Wash­ing­ton”)

    Pres­i­dent Andrew John­son: “Out­side of the Con­sti­tu­tion we have no legal author­i­ty more than pri­vate cit­i­zens, and with­in it we have only so much as that instru­ment gives us. This broad prin­ci­ple lim­its all our func­tions and applies to all sub­jects.”

    What about the Grand Jury, Grand Jury Inves­ti­ga­tions, etc, under­stand that they are a tool of the peo­ple, NOT those who serve with­in our gov­ern­ments?

    Grand Jury — “The grand jury is men­tioned in the Bill of Rights, but not in the body of the Con­sti­tu­tion. It has not been tex­tu­al­ly assigned, there­fore, to any of the branch­es described in the first three Arti­cles. It is a con­sti­tu­tion­al fix­ture in its own right. In fact the whole the­o­ry of its func­tion is that it belongs to no branch of the insti­tu­tion­al gov­ern­ment, serv­ing as a kind of buffer or ref­er­ee between the Gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple”.
    “Thus, cit­i­zens have the unbri­dled right to empan­el their own grand juries and present “True Bills” of indict­ment to a court, which is then required to com­mence a crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ing. Our Found­ing Fathers pre­scient­ly there­by cre­at­ed a “buffer” the peo­ple may rely upon for jus­tice, when pub­lic offi­cials, includ­ing judges, crim­i­nal­ly vio­late the law.” (Mis­be­hav­ior, “Good Behav­iour” require­ment)

    “The grand jury is an insti­tu­tion sep­a­rate from the courts, over whose func­tion­ing the courts do not pre­side, we think it clear that, as a gen­er­al mat­ter at least, no such “super­vi­so­ry” judi­cial author­i­ty exists. The “com­mon law” of the Fifth Amend­ment demands a tra­di­tion­al func­tion­ing grand jury.”

    “Although the grand jury nor­mal­ly oper­ates, of course, in the cour­t­house and under judi­cial aus­pices, its insti­tu­tion­al rela­tion­ship with the judi­cial branch has tra­di­tion­al­ly been, so to speak, at arm’s length. Judges’ direct involve­ment in the func­tion­ing of the grand jury has gen­er­al­ly been con­fined to the con­sti­tu­tive one of call­ing the grand jurors togeth­er and admin­is­ter­ing their oaths of office. The grand jury’s func­tion­al inde­pen­dence from the judi­cial branch is evi­dent both in the scope of its pow­er to inves­ti­gate crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing, and in the man­ner in which that pow­er is exer­cised.”

    “The grand jury ‘can inves­ti­gate mere­ly on sus­pi­cion that the law is being vio­lat­ed, or even because it wants assur­ance that it is not.’ It need not iden­ti­fy the offend­er it sus­pects, or even “the pre­cise nature of the offense” it is inves­ti­gat­ing. The grand jury requires no autho­riza­tion from its con­sti­tut­ing court to ini­ti­ate an inves­ti­ga­tion, nor does the pros­e­cu­tor require leave of court to seek a grand jury indict­ment. And in its day-to-day func­tion­ing, the grand jury gen­er­al­ly oper­ates with­out the inter­fer­ence of a pre­sid­ing judge. It swears in its own wit­ness­es and delib­er­ates in total secre­cy.”
    “Rec­og­niz­ing this tra­di­tion of inde­pen­dence, we have said the 5th Amendment’s con­sti­tu­tion­al guar­an­tee pre­sup­pos­es an inves­tiga­tive body ‘act­ing inde­pen­dent­ly of either pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney or judge”

    “Giv­en the grand jury’s oper­a­tional sep­a­rate­ness from its con­sti­tut­ing court, it should come as no sur­prise that we have been reluc­tant to invoke the judi­cial super­vi­so­ry pow­er as a basis for pre­scrib­ing modes of grand jury pro­ce­dure. Over the years, we have received many requests to exer­cise super­vi­sion over the grand jury’s evi­dence-tak­ing process, but we have refused them all. “it would run counter to the whole his­to­ry of the grand jury insti­tu­tion” to per­mit an indict­ment to be chal­lenged “on the ground that there was incom­pe­tent or inad­e­quate evi­dence before the grand jury.” (Nor would it be law­ful of them to do so.) Jus­tice Antonin Scalia writ­ing for the major­i­ty said In the Supreme Court case of Unit­ed States v. Williams, 112 S.Ct. 1735, 504 U.S. 36, 118 L.Ed.2d 352 (1992) (end Grand Jury quote)


    What has this to do with what is going on with the UNLAWFUL spy­ing, etc on Amer­i­cans? If you do not know what our gov­ern­ment can LAWFULLY do, then how will you rec­og­nize trea­son, and oth­er crimes against the Amer­i­can peo­ple, our coun­try, our legit­i­mate gov­ern­ment?

    There is NOT one per­son who serves with­in the NSA, FBI, CIA, oth­er “intel­li­gence” agen­cies whose actions are at the least that of a domes­tic ene­my of our nation, and quite often is trea­son. They too are bound by that Oath, and they break it dai­ly if not hourly in pret­ty much every­thing they do.

    George Wash­ing­ton: “A free peo­ple ought not only be armed and dis­ci­plined, but they should have suf­fi­cient arms and ammu­ni­tion to main­tain a sta­tus of inde­pen­dence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own gov­ern­ment.”

    Instead of dis­man­tling his­toric mon­u­ments, it should be the build­ings that house the NSA, TSA, CIA, FBI, etc that are dis­man­tled. Those peo­ple fired and those that were only domes­tic ene­mies kicked out for­ev­er from our nation to nev­er be allowed back in for ANY rea­son. Those that are found to be trai­tors must be pun­ished for their crimes AGAINST the Amer­i­can peo­ple, this nation, this con­sti­tu­tion­al repub­lic.

  • Security nerd says:

    I should point out that this piece is pub­lished on a site that does not sup­port https (your traf­fic is unen­crypt­ed) and has 17!! track­ers. Every­one from Google to Chi­nese intel­li­gence knows who you are and that you’re read­ing this. Fix your own site first!

  • Paul Atriedes says:

    Ty ty ty! That was one of the most infor­ma­tive pieces I’ve read in a long time! That should be an arti­cle not buried in the com­ments! Bra­vo! And thank you again I only hope the few red blood­ed Amer­i­cans left are able to lay eyes on this infor­ma­tion! It is sol­id and will ben­e­fit ALL who read it!
    Amen and God bless you and God bless this USA!

  • Lux says:

    I did my own test­ing with a cheap $5 micro­phone ele­ment, a sin­gle tran­sis­tor pre­am­pli­fi­er I built and a $15 USB audio adapter (turns audio into mp3 files. The one lit­tle mic can pick up in about 80% of my house. I would guess that actu­al engi­neers who intend­ed to do this would have much bet­ter results than I had. It’s all here includ­ing the MP3 files:

    Mul­ti­ple pages

  • Randy says:

    This blog post brings up a thought-pro­vok­ing obser­va­tion about the evo­lu­tion of sur­veil­lance tech­nol­o­gy. George Orwell’s pre­dic­tions were indeed ahead of his time, and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to reflect on how our per­cep­tion of pri­va­cy has shift­ed. The wide­spread accep­tance and vol­un­tary instal­la­tion of cam­eras in our homes high­light the com­plex dynam­ics between secu­ri­ty, con­ve­nience, and per­son­al choice. It’s impor­tant to crit­i­cal­ly exam­ine the impli­ca­tions and strike a bal­ance between the ben­e­fits of sur­veil­lance and the need for pri­va­cy. The rapid advance­ment of tech­nol­o­gy con­tin­ues to chal­lenge our notions of pri­va­cy, mak­ing it an ongo­ing and cru­cial dis­cus­sion. Thank you for shar­ing this intrigu­ing per­spec­tive!

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