Like many great literary classics, I own it and haven’t read it yet. George Orwell’s 1984 is one of them. It’s taking me a while to get through, I’m on a serious The Office US binge at the moment; Orwell’s masterpiece demands my full attention and I’m Post Cheltenham Literature Festival Super Mega Tired. I was half way through 1984 when I decided to see the premier of Citizenfour, followed by a live Q&A from the London Film Festival with the film’s director and maker.
Citizenfour isn’t the next big Marvel film or another Nicholas Sparks sobfest, it’s a documentary. Its maker is Laura Poitras and this film is the third in an unplanned trilogy of films exploring Post 9/11 America; Citizenfour started as a film on the heightened domestic surveillance in America until she received an encrypted email. She was contacted by a man who would become the biggest whistle blower of the 21st Century: Edward Joseph Snowden, he goes by Ed, was disgusted by what was happening within the National Security Agency and contacted various journalists looking for an unbiased outlet.
I was vaguely aware of this story when it broken. After 9/11, the country was in a dangerous state of paranoia, fear and grief. They wanted to know how this could have happened and to never let it happen again, so they closely monitored those they considered a threat. Snowden exposed that it went further than that, NSA and other intelligence agencies were intercepting, recording and storing everything. Every phone call, every google search, every online purchase; electronic data was handed over to the government. As it was all happening ‘over there’, I couldn’t understand the outrage. If you have nothing to hide, then you’re safe. Right?
In the documentary, Snowden made a very valid point: it is limiting our curiosity. If you wanted to understand al-Qaeda better, their beliefs and why they consider The West a threat; would that put you on a list? Would you become a sympathiser in the eyes of the government? Would you be labelled a terrorist? When you think about it like that, it is a big deal. If the US Government were to follow me and record my every move, they would think me pathetic. I spend my whole life on social media and Tumblr fantasising about becoming Mrs Cumberbatch, Hiddleston or Fillion. But the problem is, the US Government isn’t following me, the English Government is!
It’s not all ‘over there’; domestic surveillance is happening on our tiny island, it is called Tempora. A formerly secret computer system that intercepts internet communications in the UK, this information is also shared with the US. Watching this informative and urgent film was scary, it’s not science fiction, it is Orwell’s bleak look at the future where there is no privacy.
WAR IS PEACE.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
The motto of the ruling party in the iconic novel is becoming a reality. We have been kept ignorant to what is happening, which is why we need people like Edward Snowden. The documentary revealed a second whistle blower who will be coming to light very soon. Our freedom is restricted, our curiosity is stunted. These big governments monitoring domestic communications for threats, it’s as if they are looking for a war. I’m reading 1984 at the right time, every time I turn the page, the closer we get to this reality. Big Brother is watching us.