Skip to main content

Living in a Surveillance Society

The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.


Whether we like it or not, there are few moments of the day which are actually our own. Our fascination and fears of living in an Orwellian surveillance dystopia are well-founded, with nearly 100% CCTV blanket coverage in most population centres. It has become increasingly simple for those charged with spying on us to carry out their job and keep us under surveillance. In contemporary society, the vast majority of the population are electronically monitored from the moment we wake, until we close our eyes for the night and in the interim period of sleep, the All-Seeing Eye of electronic surveillance is constantly there, silently watching.


Without even delving into the almost subliminal methods used to track our on-line browsing behaviour, by corporate giants like Google and Microsoft, let's examine an average day for "Mr/Ms Average" in a hypothetically average city. Mr/Ms Average wake up and over breakfast switch on the television for the morning news: Cable, Satellite and all digital viewing patterns are monitored, collated and filed by the ever-present media corporations for financial and marketing purposes, at the very least.

If Mr/Ms Average check their email or cellphone texts their activities are routinely monitored by the likes of Microsoft, Google, their ISP, or cell phone company, not to mention the various agencies charged with protecting national security. The cell phone, with built-in tracking capabilities, that Mr/Ms Average is likely to carry to work has been proven to have the capability to accurately triangulate the phone's position to within a couple of feet. Not even Mr Orwell could have believed that one day we would quite willingly carry around with us a fully functioning homing beacon, tracking our every action, plus as an added bonus we would gladly pay dearly for the privilege of owning the most up to date, even more, sophisticated model!

The journey to work whether, by automobile, bus, plane or train is closely monitored by an ever-growing forest of CCTV traffic-cameras, passively recording our journeys, from departure to destination. A growing trend within the automotive industry is to fit new models with tracking devices similar to those previously only used by cash-in-transit armoured trucks. If Mr/Ms Average is employed in an office, shop or virtually any workplace their movements will be monitored by in-house CCTV cameras. Those who use computers in the workplace again invite the attention of the previously mentioned surveillance giants and most probably their own employers logging their every keystroke. A lunch-break off-premises means further CCTV surveillance from other buildings en route not to mention the ever-present cameras officially used to monitor crime in suburban and commercial districts.

Most cities in the Global North have virtual forests of CCTV surveillance

Most cities in the Global North have virtual forests of CCTV surveillance

Mr/Ms Average's journey home will be under just as much electronic surveillance as their original journey to work and that's without factoring in elements such as the ever present 'law enforcement', military and news media helicopters providing a near omnipresent eye in the sky. Google Earth and Google Streetview are now available to the general public at the click of a mouse, so just imagine how advanced the capabilities of satellite surveillance have progressed in the hands of those within the military-industrial complex who have been in the spying business professionally for literally centuries

Mr/Ms Average's time is never going to be solely their own ever again. Even if they were to travel to the most desolate regions of the globe, that highly mobile tracking beacon also known as the friendly cellphone is still capable of tracking it's an owner to within a few feet.

Scroll to Continue
 Mobile phone surveillance oby an AXR recorder from the MONACOR HYBRID set-up

Mobile phone surveillance oby an AXR recorder from the MONACOR HYBRID set-up

Orwell Was Also A Spook

For those who happen to be involved with political activism the probabilities that one is not just passively monitored but the subject of much more intrusive surveillance is a safe bet. And even if someone is not the subject of active surveillance the knowledge that it is a distinct possibility can lead to states of hyper-vigilance and even paranoia in even the most level headed of us.

Should we worry about living in a surveillance society? That is indeed the $50,000 question but the reality of modernity is that Orwell's dystopian surveillance society is already here to stay and the reality has surpassed any of his wildest dreams. Orwell, apart from being an author was himself a spook and informed to the British secret services on the activities of Communists. Worrying about anything has never been an effective problem-solving method and it is doubly futile to become over-anxious about today's surveillance realities. A simple awareness of the surveillance capabilities in modern society is as good as it gets and we can either adapt our lives accordingly or let paranoia prevail and opt-out completely by going 'cordless' or 'off-grid' altogether.

With password cracking programs readily available on the Internet to anyone with a computer and a little technical knowledge, the mind boggles as to the surveillance potential of the professional snoopers into our online behaviour. It has been said that if most of us knew how vulnerable our PC's, MAC's, smartphones, tablets and wireless systems were to hacking and surveillance, the more hypervigilant of us would probably never switch them back on again. Again, correlating with Orwell's 1984 dystopia is the 'doublespeak' of which we are daily exposed to by the likes of Fox, the BBC, CNN and the mainstream media.

George Orwell's 1984 Surveillance Dystopia has come, then passed and most of us did not even notice or care enough to realise that it has become a 21st Century reality.

"There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate, they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized." (George Orwell - 1984)

Orwell's 1984 vision has been surpassed decades ago Orwell himself was a government informant.

Orwell's 1984 vision has been surpassed decades ago Orwell himself was a government informant.

© 2019 Liam A Ryan


Liam A Ryan (author) from Ireland on November 14, 2019:

It certainly made their capabilities more widely known.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 14, 2019:

I think it was the Will Smith film, 'Enemy of the State' that first made me think about surveillance and tracking.

Related Articles