Privacy, Cybercrime Propel Orwellian Policy from Justice Dept.

Posted by · December 1, 2011 9:15 am

Most of us have read, watched, or heard a reasonable synopsis of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In fact, it’s not uncommon to invoke the legendary author’s name when describing what one believes to be an abusive government policy. As the surveillance of individual activity expands and the general understanding of personal privacy contracts, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to view reality through a more, well, Orwellian lens.

However, despite the insight that Orwell’s novel delivers, it frequently leads readers to conclude that government is an innately sinister being, with no motive—other than pure evil—to guide it in a never-ending, irrational expansion of power. And unfortunately, this tragic conclusion then creates a perception that essentially grants a pardon to those who actually benefit from the disintegration of personal privacy through their less-than-transparent influence on public policy.

Case In Point

This week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged people to begin spying on neighbors to guard against intellectual property offenses. According to Wired reporter David Kravets, the Justice Department is specifically interested in preventing transactions involving unapproved pharmaceuticals and illegal movie and music downloading. The announcement marked the launch of a massive public campaign against intellectual property theft.

“Fortunately, we can all be part of the solution,” Holder’s announcement eerily started. “Anyone who suspects an IP crime can visit cybercrime.gov, fbi.gov, or iprcenter.gov to report suspected offenses.”

To be sure, we can all do our part as “vigilant partners in identifying and disrupting intellectual property crimes” by having a paranoid perception of our neighbors and spying on each other.

Adopting a rhetorical line that is steadfastly condemned in public discussions on universal healthcare and unemployment benefits, Holder told Americans that the government “won’t be able to win this fight and keep pace with today’s criminals alone.”

“Our efforts will always depend on…the vigilance of the American people,” he concluded.

Cui Bono

To those who view government as an unalterable yet unavoidable evil, such an announcement simply validates those preconceived notions. Government is pure force, they argue. Eventually, that force is going to wreak havoc on the whole of society, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Not only is such a nihilistic outlook depressing. It’s destructive.

By concluding that the only cause of bad government is government itself, the beneficiaries of public paranoia escape the scrutiny of suspicious citizens. Speaking to the example outlined above, these beneficiaries include, quite unsurprisingly, the recording industry, Hollywood and the pharmaceutical industry. All of which have, to put it mildly, cozy relationships with the current White House.

In fact, the Obama Administration has appointed five former Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) attorneys to influential positions in the department—including the No. 2 and No. 3 positions. As a result, the administration supports an award of $150,000 in damages for each illegally shared music track.

That turns into an attractive source of revenue when one considers the free police work being provided by millions of apprehensive citizens.

Hollywood is less of a surprise. With its long history of loyalty to the Democratic Party, in terms of both votes and campaign contributions, the movie industry is essentially collecting another dividend check on a time-tested investment.

As for the pharmaceutical industry, that relationship is a bit more complicated, but no less of a surety. It began almost immediately after President Obama was sworn in. With healthcare reform a top priority on the new administration’s agenda, a give and take connection began to substantiate. In return for increased investment in Medicare prescription-drug coverage and a pro-reform ad campaign by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (Big Pharma), the administration agreed to fight congressional attempts to import cheaper drugs and grant Medicare bargaining power with the pharmaceutical industry.

Once one becomes aware of the gravity of this relationship, it makes sense that Big Pharma would be a beneficiary of this new Orwellian policy coming out of the Justice Department. By keeping unauthorized drugs off the market, the industry can rest assured that profits will continue to soar as prices continue to be set without inconveniences like competition or price negotiation.

Big Brother Equals Big Money

“While we applaud the idea of installing keyloggers on friends’ computers to see if they are undermining the country’s economic recovery,” Kravets sarcastically concludes, “asking America to be on the lookout for terrorists and intellectual property infringers at the same time could be confusing.”

Though I resonate with Kravets’ concern for a befuddled public, the greater harm is the chronic condition that is slowly enveloping the population. With the introduction of each new Orwellian policy, a greater cross-section of the citizenry adopts the ideology that government is an inherently broken institution that will continue down the abusive road of ever-increasing brokenness until, at long last, it withers away and must be rebuilt from scratch.

Tragically, this perception of governance creates a vacuum that repeatedly allows those who caused the collapse to come right back as the harbingers of the next system. That is, by attributing failure to government in general, the true culprits are never addressed, and people become increasingly pessimistic—a perfect formula for those who repeatedly exploit this trend.

The elusive truth is this: Government takes on the character of those who influence it.

When one views the government as someone from the outside looking in, that is itself the problem. If an increasingly large portion of the population views government in this manner, it only means that a smaller, more self-interested group is free to shape policy that serves its own exclusive benefit without any real resistance from the rest of the population.

In other words, Big Brother is not the inevitable end of every government. Rather, it is the equally predictable result of allowing a powerful minority to assume a role that is reserved for the whole of society.