In A.D. 1949, George Orwell published his novel 1984—a dystopian view of the future. Mr. Orwell’s most frightening prediction was that “Big Brother” would install video/audio monitors in each of our homes and workplaces to constantly spy on all of us, to ensure that we didn’t deviate from the “party line”. We would always be subject to government surveillance and never have a moment of privacy for ourselves.
Orwell’s prediction was about 35 years premature. So far as I know, government has not yet installed its own video or audio recording devices in my home. Still, if you’re like me, you probably have a video camera mounted on top of your computer screen, and you wonder from time to time if the government has secretly turned it on to spy on you.
Maybe our concerns about privacy are evidence of paranoia. Maybe they’re prudent. In either case, it’s nearly undeniable that even if government hasn’t yet used our own video cameras to spy on us, it has spied on our credit card expenses, telephone and cellphone conversations, email, websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
There’s no question that, every day, government uses ever-more sophisticated technology to spy on us. Orwell was right. Big Brother is watching all of us.
But Orwell was also wrong in that he did not foresee that the same technology that allowed Big Brother to spy on all of us, would also become so cheap and ubiquitous that virtually all of us—the millions of “little brothers”—could also spy on Big Brother.
• The political power of the internet was first demonstrated when it was used to disclose the relationship between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. At least two mainstream news outlets—Newsweek (if I recall correctly) and one of the major Washington DC newspapers—were aware of the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship but declined to report it as a courtesy to the President.
However, the story of the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship fell into the hands of Matt Drudge. He hosted a small, insignificant website out of the spare bedroom in his apartment. Drudge posted the Clinton/Lewinsky story on his website. The story went viral and ultimately pushed President Clinton to an impeachment process.
As you know, impeachment failed and Clinton held the Presidency. Still, the impeachment process cut Clinton’s political power enormously and and caused him to spend the balance of his term of office as a “lame duck”.
• The implication of the Clinton/Lewinsky story was clear:
So long as there were relatively few mainstream media (MSM) outlets and the MSM was disinclined to publish scandalous information concerning Presidents, a lot of presidential scandals were never disclosed to the public. For generations, thanks to the MSM, presidents could safely engage in various indiscretions without fear of public exposure.
However, once the internet came along, it became astonishingly easy for “little guys” (like Matt Drudge, you or even me) to publish “hot” stories on the internet and reach thousands or even millions of people. Presidents, senators, congressmen, judges and anyone else associated with government could no longer rely of the discretion of MSM editors to conceal their peccadilloes, perversions and crimes.
Worse, every “little guy” who worked around Washington DC politicians and had a PC and an internet connection could report any story he’d seen or heard within hours or even minutes of hearing it. Result? Some politicians political careers could be suddenly destroyed.
• The Internet’s capacity to turn anyone into a world-renowned “journalist” has to terrify politicians. People that politicians used to take for granted, tease or even abuse, have suddenly become potential and potent threats. Every janitor, cleaning lady, and Secret Service agent can “cash in” by reporting racy, criminal or treasonous stories over the internet.
What about “hackers” who intrude into your email or Twitter accounts? There’s no real safety in digital communication of the internet. Did you ever send a picture of yourself in the nude to your significant other? Well, you can probably kiss your illusion of someday becoming President goodbye.
Don’t believe me? Ask Hillary Clinton. Email can be lethal.
How’d you like to live in a world where you couldn’t trust any of the ordinary people that you encounter every day? If you were seen stepping one foot over the “line” of propriety, stupidity or even criminality, the whole world might instantly know. In fact, the world might even know before you realized what you’d done.
• Today, ordinary people are more than a little paranoid that someone might be “watching” them over their internet or cellphone connections. Our concerns about “Big Brother” might be valid or exaggerated.
Still, compared to ordinary people’s fears of one “Big Brother,” the politicians’ fears of exposure by hundreds, thousands, even millions of “little brothers” (like you and me, and Matt Drudge) must be hundreds of times greater.
Somebody might be spying on me or you. Maybe. But there must be hundreds or even thousands of people who are spying on Obama, Hillary and Trump.
The burden of knowing that the whole world might be spying on them, must weigh heavily on every politician, government employee and cop. (When a cop chases a suspect is he more afraid of bystanders (“Little Brothers”) pulling their iPhones to video-record the chase than he is of the suspect pulling a gun?)
• Here’s a story from Reuters (“Illinois Republican lawmaker resigns, cites Facebook, Twitter hacks”) that illustrates the spying stress that politicians must feel. Reuters reported on one politician who’s buckled under the Internet’s weight:
“A prominent Illinois Republican has resigned from the state legislature, citing multiple incidents of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts set up in his name in recent weeks.
“‘After some cyber security issues arose, I began to re-evaluate my continued public service,’ Representative Ron Sandack, House Republican floor leader, said in a resignation letter provided by the Republican Caucus.”
By “cyber security issues,” Mr. Sandack may have been referring to “leaked secrets” about his political activities.
By “continued public service,” he may have meant “ongoing criminal activities” and/or the “racket” we call “politics”.
“[Mr. Sandack’s] resignation comes as both major U.S. political parties are increasingly bedeviled by hacking, including last Friday’s leak of [Hillary’s] emails that have embarrassed Democrats as they gather for the party’s convention in Philadelphia this week.
“Sandack had been battling since July 4th to remove multiple fake Facebook and Twitter accounts in his name, he told Capitol Fax, a respected political blog based in Springfield, the state capital.”
The Business Insider article offered no indication of what was said on these fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. However, there’s enough information in the report to allow us to speculate. Given that:
1) State representative Sandack is reportedly the “Republican floor leader” in the Illinois legislature. He can be reasonably presumed to be a prominent, well-connected and knowledgeable politician within Illinois and within Republican Party party;
2) He’s well-connected to the Republican Governor; and,
3) Illinois is generally recognized as one of America’s more politically-corrupt states—
Then, it should follow that Mr. Sandack is at least well-aware of political corruption in Illinois and may even have been party to that corruption.
More, we can speculate that whatever was posted on these fake Facebook/Twitter accounts, it wasn’t claims that Mr. Sandack won’t go to sleep at night unless he gets to wear the pajamas with the bunny feet. Something is being claimed in those fake accounts that’s serious enough to make a hard-boiled politician fold up his tent and head for other pastures.
What could be claimed on the fake accounts that would cause Mr. Sandack to quit the racket?
• It’s unlikely that Mr. Sandack could’ve risen to prominence in the Illinois state legislature without making enemies. It’s possible that one or more of those enemies know of some potentially criminal or disreputable acts or relationships that involved Mr. Sandack. If so, and if those acts/relationships are being disclosed on Facebook and Twitter, it might be that Sandack can’t effectively deny them because they’re substantially true.
Is someone using Facebook to “blow the whistle” on Representative Sandack? Is the resulting public exposure driving a crook out of the legislature? Is it possible that the Internet’s social media will wind up wrecking a lot of criminal’s political careers—as is seen in the plights of Representative Sandack and Hillary Clinton?
More importantly, could the internet save America from increasingly-overt, political corruption?
• On the other hand, what if Representative Sandack is, by and large, a pretty decent guy who just can’t stand the constant threat of exposure to false claims that the internet offers every minute of the day? Could it be that the Internet is driving a good man out of politics?
The problem with internet defamation is that celebrities and people who have public “personas” can be defamed with impunity. Why? Because to prove defamation against a famous or even semi-public person, you have to prove that the statements made were not only false, but were made with malice. It’s so hard to prove that a comment critical of a public person was not only false and defamatory, but made with malice, that most public figures who’ve been defamed don’t bother to sue.
Should defamation laws be changed to limit the amount of abuse that “celebrities” and “famous persons” suffer because of internet lies and defamation?
• Whatever the explanation for Mr. Sandack’s internet troubles may be, his story is just one more example of the political power of the internet.
Yes, the government has the CIA, NSA, FBI and God-only-knows how many other agencies to spy on you and me. But We the People have iPhones, the internet and millions of websites to record and report the abuses committed by government officers and employees.
Who should be in greater stress? The hundreds of millions of ordinary people spied on by a single “Big Brother” armed with fields of Cray computers—or the thousands of politicians who are threatened with being observed and recorded every minute of the day by millions of “little brothers” armed with iPhones and the internet?
The same technology that allows Big Brother to spy on ordinary people, allows the ordinary people to spy on Big Brother. So, who has more to fear from surveillance technology and the internet? You and me? Or Big Bro?
The answer, for most people, is obvious. Government surveillance might make you and me squirm—but it makes the government tremble.
Look at Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Look at Eric Snowden. Look at Hillary Clinton and the email debacle that’s driving her out of her mind. Look, even, at Illinois state representative Ron Sandack who’s quitting the racket over some fake Facebook and Twitter “cyber security issues”.
Look at the Black Lives Matter movement. Would that have even happened if ordinary people weren’t video-recording police violence and publishing those video-recordings on the Internet?
In our digital age, government can no longer reliably keep its secrets.
How can anyone run a racket, if they can’t maintain secrecy?
Our millions of “little brothers” are certainly bedeviling Big Brother. It’s conceivable that millions of “little brothers” armed with cellphones and the internet might be on the verge of destroying Big Brother. No shooting, no bombing. Just transparency.
If we can see the truth, we’ll know who you really are, Big Bro, and we will simply shun you.
• In an article entitled “Hacker Publishes List Of Cell Phone Numbers, Private E-Mails For Most House Democrats,” CONSERVATIVEbyte described the hackers’ threat to politicians:
“The hacker ‘Guccifer 2.0’—who previously provided nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee e-mails to Wikileaks—recently uploaded an Excel file that includes the cell phone numbers and private e-mail addresses of nearly every Democratic member of the House of Representatives and for hundreds of congressional staff members and campaign personnel.
“Guccifer 2.0 has targeted the DNC, Hillary Clinton campaign staffers, and assorted Republicans, including John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Michele Bachmann.
“Guccifer 2.0 described himself as a committed ‘hacktivist’ and bristled at portrayals of him as a thief. ‘Stop calling me the vandal,’ he wrote. ‘I’m not a criminal, I’m a freedom fighter’ and a foe of ‘all the Illuminati and rich clans which try to rule the governments.’”
The hackers’ threats to politicians are more than hi-tech pranks. From some hacker’s perspectives, their threats are acts of heroism. It’s hard for governments to stop people who regard themselves as heroes.
There’s a war going on between thousands of “little-brother” hackers and amateur videographers on one side and with Big-Brother government on the other. Contrary to George Orwell’s prediction, Big Bro is losing. Badly.