The Total Surveillance Society Approaches

A new report envisions an Orwellian surveillance society in our near future. Paris discusses the implications.

By: /
December 22, 2011

In today’s Ottawa Citizen, I write about a recent Brookings Institution report by John Villasenor, an engineering professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in which he argues that authoritarian regimes will soon have the capacity to monitor, record, and permanently archive the communications and activities of their citizens from birth to death.

Here is the conclusion of my op-ed (including a couple of hyperlinks that don’t appear in the newspaper version):

“Some might dismiss this vision as a dystopian fantasy. But why wouldn’t countries with records of using every tool at their disposal to monitor their citizens also take advantage of these new surveillance and data storage capacities as they become available? And isn’t it true that even in liberal democracies with strong privacy laws, including Canada, we have also seen a gradual shrinking of private space and pressures for more ubiquitous surveillance?

The main benefit of Villasenor’s report – like that of other stylized visions of the future, including George Orwell’s – may not be its specific predictions, but rather, its ability to shock us into seeing real-time trends that might otherwise go unnoticed, including in our own society. Indeed, it speaks to the importance of a different kind of heightened vigilance: not of our fellow citizens, but of our right to remain largely hidden from the constant gaze of the state.”

You can read the full op-ed here.