Big Brother Is No Myth

Opinion: Information control occurs daily, and mind control may be just around the corner.

In "The Big Brother Myth," Ben Rothke takes us down the garden path of legitimate information gathering, justifying corporate snooping "for business purposes."

One statement in particular took my breath away: "In [George Orwells] 1984, the government oppresses its citizens via mind and information control. This could never happen in the United States." What planet is Rothke from? Information control not only could happen in the United States, but it is happening all around us every day. And mind control could be just around the corner.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead Ben Rothkes column "The Big Brother Myth."

For example, Googles Gmail scans customers e-mail content and delivers targeted ads based on interests and buying patterns. Even if youre not a subscriber, if you write to someone with a Gmail account, your messages will be scanned and the data stored.

Recently, a federal appeals court ruled that companies providing e-mail services may read clients e-mail and use it as they wish. Unlike your voice phone conversations, which can be recorded legally only under a court order, your e-mail is available to industry for the buying and to government—think IRS, Homeland Security and Patriot Act—for the asking.

In April, the Department of Homeland Security, as reported in a competing publication, announced that it had awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman for up to $350 million to build "a network of networks" to connect all levels of government—federal, state and local—to help defend "the U.S.s borders and trade." Homelands chief technology officer, Lee Holcomb, said, "Its a paradigm shift at the classified level."

Then this from The Washington Post, June 16: "An expert panel of federal experts" recommends that the FDA approve "a surgical implant that stimulates the brain" to treat chronic depression—chips to regulate mood, in other words.

Then this in World Net Daily, June 21: "President Bush plans to unveil next month a sweeping mental health initiative that recommends screening for every citizen."

Bottom line: The government is tying governmental networks together in a supernetwork controlled by a super-agency, the government approves putting chips in the brains of unhappy people so they wont be unhappy any longer and the government supports screening to decide whos happy and whos unhappy.

The technologies we IT professionals control can be used for good or evil. We must consider the moral dimension of our work and deal with uses of IT with openness, integrity and a recognition of the potential for abuse. We must never think that "it could never happen here." We have a choice whether to aid and abet Big Brother—or not.

David Fenton spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force working in computer-aided information gathering. He is director of training for a global technology company specializing in video and audio information. He lives in Toronto and can be reached at Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. Send submissions to