Since the latest controversy on a theme that defines our lives and times — citizen privacy — revolves around our second lives on social media and digital platforms, let us start with a joke gone viral as a meme. A government-employed cyber-snoop is seen chiding activists and citizens protesting against violations of their privacy, saying, “But for decades, you complained the government does not listen to you?”
Big Brother is watching more, more of us, and for most of our time, armed with more eyes than Lord Indra, mythological king of heaven, who had all of a mere 1,000 eyes. There are CCTV cameras everywhere. Phones can be listened to and are listened to; conversations are recorded, emails are read. Your real-time bank statements, latest location details, payments, chats — everything is adding up as an offering to the Deity of the Century — the Big Data God, who in turn, subserviently, works for the Supreme Duo of the surveillance state — lords of national security and anti-terrorism. The ubiquitous mobile phone, proof of our economic renaissance since the great liberalisation of 1991, the measure of India’s rise as a nation in the new millennium, the telecom bridge to closing all gaps, obliterator of all inequalities, provider of opportunities for all, delivering governance and pizzas to your doorstep, the panacea in your pocket linking you to the world, running to the command of your fingertips — has been breached, unimpeachable reports cite, at the behest of Big Brother himself.
As we read about how Pegasus, an Israeli spyware, sold only to governments, has breached the privacy protecting wall we believed was bigger than the Great Wall of China, and stronger than the wall US President Donald Trump is yet to build, the end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, owned by a gawky teenage disruptor-turned-tech moghul Mark Zuckerberg.
Gone are days when science, fiction and fear fused to moments of epiphany when you stood under a divinely lit dark sky, wondering while counting the stars, if we are alone in the universe and if some alien is watching us from somewhere up there, from beyond the Milky Way. Today, you and I must just look at our WhatsApp group or the FB chat, and wonder, who else is there? Each WA group admin must know a larger, unseen, omnipotent, omnipresent vigilant of a tax-paid Theo is indeed a reality. The Bard of Avon must read the rejoinder they have emailed to him — the ghost of Banquo is no longer imaginary.
There is a war underway, AI-powered, between two sets of codes of zeroes and ones — one protecting your privacy, and the other, protecting the government against your privacy, and despite the festive season’s claims, the good is losing. Let us make no mistake, on this, all governments are together. The surveillance will get sharper, stronger and more intense. Such is the magical power of a password called “national security” that it will get the minions of Big Brother past any firewall, break any protest or resistance and stop any attempt to seek privacy in a world where the thoughts of the deepest recess of your soul are a threat to everyone else.
We will slide down this slope till the Pegasus of the future can read your minds, hack your hearts and snoop in your soul. To the brave new world, ahoy!...