George Orwell's 1984 was a watershed in how humanity in general thought about the future. If you haven't read it, I really, REALLY recommend you do. It (along with Animal Farm) gave us chilling insights into a society which could, if left unchecked, become dystopian in the very near future. But over the decades since its release, people have always taken it for granted that this was but the fancies of one man, and mankind was savvy enough to protect itself from the beginnings of its own demise.
Up until now.
"Big brother is watching you", the refrain of many a snide comment about totalitarian governments has never been so chilling in its applicability to the modern democratic state. And no, I'm not getting unnecessarily melodramatic or anything - a series of events which have happened in the past week have made me question a lot of things I'd taken for granted before. Not in the least, the concepts of privacy and freedom.
The slow erosion of the founding principles of the United States has been evident for a while now - certain quarters have taken decisions to curtail basic human rights in the name of eradicating terrorism. Others have launched campaigns about Intellectual Property, in the name of which thousands of innocents have been legally targetted - I refer to the RIAA's attack on individuals over the past year or so. And then of course, there's the Indian context of banning blogs which condone terrorism, or are against the sentiments of a particular religious or ethnic group. Censorship for a cause, but still censorship.
All aspects of our social life are on the internet - our email, our invitations, photos, contacts, files, credit card databases and bank accounts. Drivers licenses when swiped in a card reader let the government know where you are. Combine all this information, and you can find out where I shopped, what I bought, when I did so. Google earth allows you to look at my backyard. You now know where I live. You have me on surveillance cameras. Practically every aspect of my life is available to those who want it - legally or otherwise.
The first inkling of the approaching storms was the recent tie up of Orkut, the social networking site, with Indian law enforcement agencies in order to help nab people making a nuisance of themselves online. Not only can you now be censured, you can be thrown in jail! As if that wasn't bad enough, surveillance cameras have now been put in force around Britain which can, hold your breath, READ YOUR LIPS! Thats right! Now, not only can they use facial recognition to find out who you are, they know what you're saying. Perhaps the shouting cameras they installed a while ago will find something to talk about with these.
So you thought that only people who pirate DVDs and music are in trouble? Sure they are - as the recent *dictat* by the US shows. They have recently targeted 12 countries which apparently have bad track records when it comes to containing piracy. India and China included of course. But here's the funny part - they mention Thailand too, because of that government's efforts to subsidize patented drugs from the US for their own use, to make them available cheaply to people who have AIDS.
Whats that? Make their own drugs so that they can save people dying of AIDS? Those *bastards*.
'Sure, the U.S. government can impose economic sanctions on non-compliant countries, but that only takes you so far. The U.S. Constitution requires that the federal government respect the sovereignty of foreign nations. U.S. courts won't typically touch a copyright infringement case if the infringement occurs overseas.'Oh wait a minute. respect the what? Last I saw, Iraq was a sovereign country with its own government. Bleh.
But the icing on the cake is yet to come - and explain the title of this post too. Everyone who watches DVD movies knows that DVDs are hard to copy like VCDs used to be - thats because of the built in encryption, and Digital Rights Management (DRM). Well, the flip side of this is that even if you own the DVD and say, break it - there's no way you can get a replacement without paying for it all over again. Which is basically an extra few bucks for the big record companies. Of course, what one man can build, another can break. An enterprising hacker here
recently cracked this system, and put it up on the web for all to see. To summarize this hack, all you need is the code 09-F9-11-02-9D-74-E3-5B-D8-41-56-C5-63-56-88-C0 to break this encryption. And of course, some more technical knowhow. But you see my point. The fact that this number was published was going to make the AACS (the people who collect royalties on movies) pretty bad. So they issued a cease and desist order against.. hold your breath.. GOOGLE! and Yahoo. and others. And thats what broke the camel's back.
The internet as we know it was built to enhance communications amongst groups of people around the world - and the advent of modern communication technology like faxes and teleprinters was in no small way responsible for the demise of the USSR. When the masses have a collective decision and a medium to act upon, there's not much that can be done to stop them. And this is what is happening. The entire web is up in arms against the AACS. Instead of being able to clamp down on this number, everyone is making new web pages with this number to spread it even further. In my opinion, this is a watershed in the history of the internet because for the first time, people across boundaries have as a group targeted one specific entity. Even as I type, people are printing out coffee mugs, t-shirts, banners, stickers and all sorts of other merchandise to showcase this number. At this point, it has ceased to be just a number - it now stands as a symbol of 'sticking it to the man' - as poignant as the photo of that lone chinese man at Tienanmen square, stopping the approach of an entire column of tanks, and as the world collectively watched, the rising storm of communism.
Except that this time, its not one man. There's a few million of them. And they rise not against communism, but the capitalistic hegemony of corporations. Ironic ain't it?