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June 14, 2013

Are we living in Orwell's 1984 Oceania surveillance state?

By Abdus-Sattar Ghazali

Perhaps, Georg Orwell's worst nightmare has come true in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden's startling revelations of secret government surveillance. Writing under the title, "So Are We Living in 1984?" Ian Crouch of New Yorker argued that Edward Snowden, sounded, in the Guardian interview in which he came forward, like he'd been guided by Orwell's pen.

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Perhaps, Georg Orwell's worst nightmare has come true in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden's startling revelations of secret government surveillance.

Writing under the title, "So Are We Living in 1984?" Ian Crouch of New Yorker argued that Edward Snowden, sounded, in the Guardian interview in which he came forward, like he'd been guided by Orwell's pen.

From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmRl-kT1KSQ
by YouTube

The book aims to serve as a warning for what can happen when government overextends its powers; the term "Orwellian" has become associated with the idea of a totalitarian society. The haunting, but much-loved, book celebrated its 60th anniversary on June 6 amid the backdrop of real-life controversy that made the novel seem more prophetic than fictional.

Not surprisingly, sales of 1984 have been soaring in the wake of startling revelations of secret government surveillance. Now, sales of George Orwell's classic have spiked -- increasing by an incredible 337% on Amazon.com. As of noon on June 11, the book was number 5 on the "movers and shakers list," which represent the biggest gains in sales over the past 24 hours.

Are we living in "Nineteen Eighty-Four", the New Yorker asked and added: The technological possibilities of surveillance and data collection and storage surely surpass what Orwell imagined .

According to Silicon Beat, a San Francisco man has started a movement called "Flood Washington with 1984."Brian Morearty, an independent software consultant who has worked at such companies as Intuit and Oracle, is calling for people to send copies of Orwell's book to their legislators to protest the spying by the National Security Agency..

His official goal is to send 100,000 copies to Washington by July 4, although he told Silicon Beat in an email there's no real way for him to know when that goal is reached. Morearty said he sent a copy of "1984"- to Senator Feinstein's Washington, D.C., office. Feinstein says Snowden is a traitor. "I don't look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it's an act of treason."

ACLU sues over NSA phone records program

On June 11, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration, asking the government to halt a phone-tracking program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans and that it says is unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"The practice is akin to snatching every American's address book--with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where," the lawsuit says. "It gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations."

The phone-records program, disclosed last week by Britain's Guardian newspaper, collects customer "metadata," including the phone numbers dialed and the length of calls -- and, senators said, location data, which intelligence analysts use to detect patterns and personal connections. The administration said that the program does not monitor the content of calls and that it has been reviewed by a secret surveillance court and Congress.

A separate Internet surveillance program, known as PRISM, allows the NSA to collect videos, photos, e-mails, documents and connection logs for foreign users thought to be located overseas through nine leading Internet companies. The government obtains the data through orders approved by the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That program was disclosed by The Washington Post and the Guardian.

According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit--which names as defendants the heads of national intelligence as well as the agencies they lead, including the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice--also asks the court to purge phone records collected under the program, claiming the government action violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution.

The ACLU claims standing as a former customer of Verizon, adding that the government likely has much of its metadata stored in its databases.

The suit also alleges the government's program exceeds the congressional authority provided by the Patriot Act and singles out a particular provision that has given the government more leeway in obtaining

various records for intelligence investigations. "The fact that the government is collecting this information is likely to have a chilling effect on people who would otherwise contact Plaintiffs," the suit says.

However, on June 12, Gen. Keith Alexander , the head of the National Security Agency defended his agency's broad electronic surveillance programs, saying that they have helped thwart dozens of terrorist attacks and that their recent public disclosure has done "great harm" to the nation's security.

He said the surveillance programs were critical to unraveling terrorist plots at home and abroad. In particular, he cited the cases of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan American who pleaded guilty to planning suicide attacks in New York, and Pakistani American David C. Headley, who was arrested in 2009 for his role in a terrorist attack the year before in Mumbai, and who was plotting to attack a Danish newspaper that published a satirical cartoon of the prophet Muhammad.

"Hundreds of words to avoid using online if you don't want the government spying on you"

While discussion over internet continued on NSA surveillance program this scribe received an interesting story published by the British newspaper, the Daily Mail on May 26, 2013 with the above headline.  

The Daily Mail reported that the Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.

Released under a freedom of information request, the information sheds new light on how government analysts are instructed to patrol the internet searching for domestic and external threats.

The intriguing the list includes obvious choices such as 'attack', 'Al Qaeda', 'terrorism' and 'dirty bomb' alongside dozens of seemingly innocent words like 'pork', 'cloud', 'team' and 'Mexico'.

According to the paper, the words are included in the department's 2011 ' Analyst's Desktop Binder' used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify 'media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities'.

Department chiefs were forced to release the manual following a House hearing over documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit which revealed how analysts monitor social networks and media organizations for comments that 'reflect adversely' on the government.

However they insisted the practice was aimed not at policing the internet for disparaging remarks about the government and signs of general dissent, but to provide awareness of any potential threats.

 As well as terrorism, analysts are instructed to search for evidence of unfolding natural disasters, public health threats and serious crimes such as mall/school shootings, major drug busts, illegal immigrant busts.

The list has been posted online by the Electronic Privacy Information Center - a privacy watchdog group who filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act before suing to obtain the release of the documents.



Submitters Bio:

Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com

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