Who’d have thought Little Brother would end up being just as big a threat to our privacy and security as the classic, Orwellian Big Brother? Yet now we live in a world where not only do clandestine government surveillance programs track us beyond all reasonable bounds of decency and legality, where we not only have to worry about our rights being violated by the state or some shadowy department thereof, but we have to worry about every jerk with a mobile device recording our image, voice or video.
There are benefits to ubiquitous mobile recording devices, to be sure. Be they phone, tablet, or wearable, the ability for everyone and anyone to capture real-time news and record events as-they-happen is invaluable to history, journalism, and even law enforcement. If we, as humans, were perfect, with unimpeachable morality, unassailable ethics, and unquestionable motivations, it could be the single greatest advancement for society, not just technology, that we’ve enjoyed since the printing press.
We’re the assholes who find as many deplorable, despicable, desolate ways to abuse these breakthroughs.
But we’re not. We’re the assholes who snap pictures of each other in changing rooms, who post videos of kids pretending they have lightsabers, who wrongly identify bystanders as suspects, who release recordings of people famous and unknown at their worst, and who find as many deplorable, despicable, desolate ways to abuse the breakthroughs we’ve achieved as we do exemplary, meritorious, and glorious. In many ways our fellow humans are worse than Big Brother – it’s not often that we worry about the government publicly elevating-by-demolishing our reputation with a compromising photo or video.
The advent of the camera phone has revolutionized news gathering and telling. Firsthand sources now have more than just their word – they often have images or video of what they’re describing. Camera phones have captured all manner of important, grisly, and embarrassing events, often making worldwide news.
The 2006 execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was captured with a mobile phone and ended up online in just a few hours. 2011 saw the capture, brutal abuse, and eventual death of overthrown Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of a Libyan rebel militia.
New York Congressional Representative Anthony Weiner was brought down by a sexually suggestive photo of himself posted onto Twitter in 2011 from his smartphone. Weiner claimed for several days that he had been hacked before finally admitting that the photo was of him. It took the leaking of a second photo (again, taken with his own phone) before Weiner resigned from office.
The power provided by modern mobile recording technology brings out both the best and worst of us. Every moment where the deaf can video chat or the blind can use voice control or parents can see their children or loved ones can hear each other’s voices from across the globe is purchased by an equal and opposite moment of tyranny, betrayal, and bullying.
It’s not the technology we need to worry about. It’s not even each other. We have control over neither. It’s ourselves. The only way to avoid worrying about “Little Brother” is for each of us, every day, every hour, to refuse to be a “Little Brother” that needs to be worried about.
In other words, to quote Wheaton’s law: Don’t be a dick.
Are you concerned about pervasive government internet surveillance?