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1984 in 2019

The New Privacy Threat from China’s Social Credit Surveillance Systems

ZIN GEORGE ORWELL’S CLASSIC NOVEL, 1984 THE STORY’S protagonist, Winston Smith, is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Wherever Winston goes, even within the supposed comfort of his own home, the Party’s eyes monitor him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of Big Brother, the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader. Although Western democracies are nowhere near the extremes of social control envisioned in this cautionary tale, written as it was when the technology was unavailable to even the most industrialized countries, that is no longer the case, as evidenced in recent stories abut China’s move to place hundreds of millions of cameras around its country to monitor every move of its citizens.

In 1984, language is controlled, something that we can see today with mandatory pronouns and the steady stream of misinformation. The Party created by Orwell strives to implement an invented language called Newspeak (alternative facts), which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it (fake news); or doublethink, holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time (America first/Putin first). In Orwell’s dystopia, even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrimes are, in fact, the worst of all crimes, even worse than kneeling during the national anthem.

All of this space that we thought was open to us and free for us to express ourselves in suddenly seems somewhat limited, constrained, even controlled, and most certainly monitored. For half a century after the publication of 1984, it has felt as if society had dodged a bullet, that western democracies were safe, that privacy was guaranteed, and that freedom was a given.

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About Skeptic

THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL AND GOD COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Laser Therapy: Hope or Hype and Hokum?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Sisyphean Challenges of Skepticism or, Start by Disbelieving, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Pterosaur Thunderbird: The Origin of a Fake Native American Legend with an Anti- Evolution Agenda • Conversations with My Dead Mother: Why We See Signs and Omens in Everyday Events • Is Cousin Marriage Dangerous? • Therapeutic Touch Redux Twenty Years After the “Emily Event”: Energy Therapies Live on Through Bad Science • What Can Science Learn from Religion? Steven Pinker on Religious Beliefs and Rituals • Becoming Fantastic: Why People Embellish Already Accomplished Lives with Incredible Tales of UFOs and Other Phenomena • 1984 in 2019: The New Privacy Threat from China’s Social Credit Surveillance System SPECIAL DEBATE SECTION Michael Shermer v. Brian Huffling: Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence Against the Christian God? REVIEW Graham Hancock’s “America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization” reviewed by Jason Colavito JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Colossal Case of the Cardiff Giant: One of America’s Greatest Hoaxes