In 1949, English author George Orwell published what would go on to be one of his most well-known works, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The story would help shape the term “Orwellian”, which refers to a massive surveillance state as depicted in the novel. “Big Brother” would become a symbol for a watchful and invasive government.
At the time, it was a fiction novel. Overtime, it has gradually become more factual. Today, one could say it is – in a way – nonfiction or realistic fiction.
Back in April, The Intercept published an article about the Central Intelligence Agency investing in programs that monitor social media. The article discussed a money trail that is feeding the rise of these various programs and details four different types that have specific functions, all with the focus on social media monitoring.
Geofeedia is one of the four and is actively being used by law enforcement. The program works by tracking geotagged social media posts, which helps users track movements such as protests. It’s a powerful monitoring tool for law enforcement to use to keep tabs on social movements and citizens in general.
One instance is the South Portland Police Department in Maine, which has spent $13,500 on the program over the last few years. First used in 2014, the South Portland Police Department recently renewed their license with Geofeedia.
The police use Geofeedia to track movements of individuals who use terms like “gun” online. The purpose, according to law enforcement, is to track possible pockets of gun-related violence and other problematic events. By being able to see clusters of individuals using the term “gun”, police can follow up on the scene.
By the South Portland Police Department’s own admission though, the program isn’t effective as it hasn’t led to any arrests. On the other hand, Geofeedia is a powerful tool that allows police to indiscriminately mine information on social media users and track their locations.
What is the point in wasting a great deal of tax dollars on a law enforcement program that doesn’t produce results?
In some ways, Nineteen Eighty-Four foreshadowed this.
We live in a world where technological devices are our entire life. Cellular phones and tablets are everywhere, with microphones and cameras that can be remotely activated. Laptop computers have built-in webcams that can be remotely accessed. All of these can be used to monitor an individual without their knowledge.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, telescreens are everywhere in society. These devices are televisions that display images and play videos, but they also act as security cameras for the government to monitor the citizens. The problem is that citizens are never aware if they are being actively monitored, because the telescreen can allow snooping agents to watch without being revealed.
As law enforcement becomes more militarized and technologically advanced, the government is providing the funding to develop greater tools that could be misused in the wrong hands. One must wonder if this is how George Orwell envisioned Nineteen Eighty-Four beginning.
If we allow law enforcement to monitor our every step and post, will we stop Emmanuel Goldstein?