Monday, June 30, 2014

We’ve Been Living in ‘1984’ Since 1921

That was when the Bureau of Investigation—the forerunner of today’s FBI—first opened a file on the magazine.

This is an excerpt from the new e-book Surveillance Nation: Critical Reflections on Privacy and Its Threats, a fascinating and timeless alternative history on the rise of the surveillance state. The e-book is now available on tablets, smartphones and computers—download yours today.

A healthy democracy demands transparency from its government and privacy for its citizenry. Only if we know what our government is up to can we exercise our responsibility as citizens to ratify or veto their actions at the ballot box. And only if we can be assured that our conversations are not being monitored by government officials will we have the space to develop our critical faculties, pursue intimate associations, try out new political ideas and flourish as human beings.

However, too many government officials, even in democratic states, tend to favor secrecy for their own actions and transparency from the citizenry. When asked what measures they are employing that might threaten our privacy, officials have long responded with some version of “We can’t tell you, of course… but trust us.” And when facing charges that they have violated the privacy of those they represent, the government invariably argue’s for the narrowest definitions of privacy (your metadata isn’t private) and the broadest justifications for invading it (“fighting terrorism” generally does the trick).

Because democracy depends on government transparency and personal privacy, but our representatives too often prefer the opposite, citizens, civil society and the press must be vigilant about privacy and its threats. Absent popular resistance, the tendency of government to favor secrecy and access to its citizens’ most intimate information will undermine the very foundations of democracy. For its entire existence, The Nation has exercised that watchdog role for the country with courage, conviction and persistence. This volume, consisting of essays, investigations, editorials and columns dating from 1931 to 2014, illustrates the critical importance of the Fourth Estate in checking the desires of the surveillance state.


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