The future of American life is beginning to look like a sort of trap rather than a boundless freedom. Where the ability to choose between options was once highly valued in this nation, today lawmakers have created legislation that in practice infringes upon the rights of the public. In George Orwell's novel 1984, we read about a society that was brainwashed and controlled by their government, or as the book called it, stripped of their rights by "Big Brother" . The point of this essay is not to say that we have become such a society. Rather, the point of this essay is to explain and give examples of how, if we do not have an active role in perceiving and discerning the laws that govern us, we will be inching closer to such a dim world. The Bush administration has implemented various acts and measures that increase the power and oversight of the government in many different aspects. By focusing mainly on the PATRIOT Act, and on the more minor actions of the administration as well, I will attempt to portray a public that is teetering on the edge, in great danger of losing its self-governance.
When the PATRIOT Act was introduced, there was little controversy about its initiation into American society. However, after September 11th, it seems that the government began to strengthen the act with other provisions meant to keep the "homeland" secure. By looking at the act, we began to see some striking similarities to the policies that "Big Brother" encouraged.
A disturbing similarity is the use of wiretaps to survey the public. In Section 225 of the PATRIOT Act, we find a provision that says that, "no cause of action shall lie in any court against any provider of a wire or electronic communication servicethat furnishes any informationin accordance with a court order or request for emergency assistance under this Act" The main point of this provision is that it protects providers like Sprint against lawsuits from their customers being tapped by the government. However, the most important aspect of this provision is that it provides the basis for wiretaps to be placed without informing those people being wiretapped. This is an invasion of privacy because it invades the private lives of Americans, whether or not their guilt has been proven in the court of law. It seems that the telescreens in 1984 are on the same line of thinking as wiretaps are in our era. They are implemented without regard for guilt or innocence.
The activities in 1984 serve to immobilize the majority of the population. As I stated in the opening of this article, Americans seem to be looking the other way while portions of their population are immobilized. The PATRIOT Act has a few sections that lead me to believe that the government sees immobilization as a form of defense, no matter who it affects. One of these sections is Sec. 355, the Illegal Activity Reference clause. This clause states that "written employment references may contain suspicions of involvement in illegal activity" . If you look closer at the clause, it does not require a court judgment of somebody's apparent guilt. Rather, it relies on subjective suspicions of fellow employees or management to make a character judgment on someone they perceive as "suspicious". The language in this section is absolutely frightening, as it sets the bar for a paranoia-inspired society. An example of this can be seen in the statement that asserts that a person can submit a written report to someone's future employer containing "information concerning the possible involvement of such an institution-affiliated party in potentially unlawful activity." The potential consequences of this action could cause a completely innocent person to become "black-listed" from a field of work. There seems to be very little legal basis for this statute. The same goes for the National No-Fly List. Individuals are placed on the list because their name corresponds with a name that the government finds to be suspicious or "on alert". However, there have been numerous reports of flaws in the system. In an assortment of cases, innocent individuals attempting to travel around the country have been halted and not allowed on planes, all because they have a name that sounds like a potentially dangerous person! Worse yet, and most suspicious of all, is that for years there was no known appeals process. Only recently has an appeals process been placed into development. This has indeed aided in the creation of an immobilized existence for a few normal Americans.
The novel 1984 is actually a study about how language is used to change the power balance in society. We see that in the novel, "Big Brother" uses authoritative language, and very little language of consequence is used by Winston's fellow men. They are mostly subjects under the power of a leader. This language is today being used in a division of the United States Government that has much to do with the installation and oversight of the PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security. In one example, the website of the Department of Homeland Security uses the word "provide" or "provides" four times in a synopsis of the PATRIOT Act . The very use of the word "provide" creates an imbalance of power. Our parents provide for us and are in power when we are young; our teachers provide us with knowledge as we learn; our government should not be the providers of our nation. This implies that they hold power over us, no matter if we want to accept their "advice" or not.
One way that the United States Government can keep society in a state of immobilization is by covering their tracks. In 1984, one of the most famous quotations is the statement that "Who controls the past now, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past. One instance of this theory being used in the present government is evident in a high-tech cover-up. In December of 2003, the Washington Post reported that the White House had done some "web scrubbing" after their announcement that the Iraqi War would go over budget. A statement from one office aide claimed that the United States would only spend 1.7 billion dollars on the war. This was in October of 2003. When the budget began to reach into the tens of billions of dollars, instead of admit to their mistakes, the government decided to cover their tracks. In a manner that accurately represents the Ministry of Truth in 1984, the White House web page inserted the new numbers into the old quotation, and then deleted the links to any articles previously posted (as to prevent the public from seeing the old numbers) . Indeed, this is another way to immobilize the public, this time mentally instead of physically.
The most horrible atrocity of all is the use of sneak-and-peek searches by the government in connection with any crime, be it concerning terrorism or not. In Orwell's novel, there was a level of public surveillance that is unparallel to anything that has ever happened in the United States. However, the use of these searches without a warrant seems to be an indicator of the sliding scale of our privacy. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "sneak and peek" warrants authorize law enforcement officers to enter private premises without the occupant's permission or knowledge and without informing the occupant that such a search was conducted" . The fact that the authorities have the ability to maintain a level of non-disclosure when they search an individual's property attests to the decline of our rights in this nation.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, nor am I worried that my rights are being trampled on, but as I said in the beginning of this essay, I am most concerned for my children and the future of our nation. Generations of Americans have endured civil rights atrocities, but rarely has the level of secrecy and non-disclosure been so evident. It seems that the accountability of our government is rather low, but the power that they have in everyday life is increasing. This picture is not comforting, for when those in power are increasing their strength but lessening their availability and accountability to their constituents, only unfairness and tension can arise.
To present a quote from 1984 that is indicative of the United States' current situation may do our situation some justice. "In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. " Thus, while those incapable of understanding the atrocities of the PATRIOT Act and other recent actions may be hurt by such acts, as long as they never grasp what is occurring, they will never be mentally harmed. On the other hand, for those of us who see the movement occurring right in front of our eyes, the future is not so bright. A time of great hardship may very well await us if something is not done to remedy the current situation.