spy watching eyeThe recent stories about the National Security Agency’s tracking of phone records and PRISM have drawn comparison to George Orwell’s 1984. That is an unfair and insulting to the NSA. Big Brother was nothing compared to the operation they’ve built.

Oceanian lacked the computerization and high density digital storage to create a truly amazing surveillance state. While Big Brother’s had surveillance devices in many places they required humans to monitor them. The nature of the fictional society meant that at any one time there was a very low probability any one surveillance device was actually in use. Similarly technological limitations meant that only a limited amount of data could be stored for the long term. Winston Smith had a camera in his apartment for his whole life but it was only once a decade he was chastised for not doing the morning exercise correctly.

More importantly, Big Brother only really attempted to monitor a small subset of the population who had some power. The low income Proles who made up the vast majority of the population were considered too lowly to be worth serious surveillance. Big Brother was only ever truly watching a small part of the country.

What the NSA built is infinitely more impressive. Technology has allowed the NSA to track, categorize, store and data mine an unimaginable level of information. Your photos, tweets, emails, etc… can be looked at, analyzed and stored for later use. The NSA isn’t just always watching, it never forgets.

Photo by gureu under Creative Commons license