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Orwelllian risks in the age of surveillance


2 June 2014

Professor James Der Derian's article on Edward Snowden and the NSA is in the latest issue of the Australian Book Review. In this timely article Professor Der Derian reviews four books, including Luke Harding and Glenn Greenwald's accounts of Snowden's defection.

"1984 is back. George Orwell's nightmare vision of governmental surveillance, secrecy, and deception clearly resonates with the revelations first leaked to the Guardian by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Indeed, it is practically impossible to find an account of the Snowden affair without at least one 'Orwellian' adjective dropped into the mix. Sometimes it comes qualified: Justice Richard J. Leon, District Court Judge for the District of Columbia ruling in December 2013 that the bulk collection of US mobile phone records was probably unconstitutional, called the NSA program almost 'Orwellian'. This decision is currently under appeal.

Orwell's shadow falls darkly over the two best books on the topic: The Snowden Files by Luke Harding; and No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald. Harding aptly captures this Orwellian world with two word-pictures drawn from 1984. In the first a familiar Big Brother spouts Newspeak on a two-way telescreen in front of rows of grey automatons. An athletic woman, chased by riot police through the uniformed ranks, stops and hurls an Olympic-sized hammer at the screen of Big Brother, shattering it."

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