Jean Seaton on BBC World Service

9 November 2017
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Jean Seaton recently appears on the BBC World Service’s Click programme to discuss Orwell and the Future of Surveillance.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” The words of George Orwell, writer, journalist, critic and for a few years, a BBC producer. On the 7th November at Broadcasting House in London, the BBC erected a statue to the author of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, with the words “Liberty” engraved on it. Orwell wrote of webcams, mass surveillance and the death of privacy in his dystopian classic, many of his ideas resonate to this day. So why is his work still relevant and what can it teach us about our relationship with our privacy and technology?

The Future of Surveillance
Nearly seventy years ago, Orwell gave us his satire of a possible post-privacy surveillance future. Well now we are in that future – well some kind of version of it, what next? What of surveillance in the years and decades ahead? And how about the idea that if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear. Some say that is lackadaisical at best, downright dangerous at worst.

Right at the beginning of Nineteen Eighty-Four, our protagonist Winston is in his flat, pen poised, about to write in his diary. When, in the distance, he notices a helicopter hovering “like a bluebottle”, it was a police patrol “snooping into people’s windows”. Was Orwell anticipating police surveillance drones? Well in Los Angeles, California the LAPD has just approved a one-year pilot programme to evaluate drones in law enforcement.

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