Big Brother is watching and listening

November 18, 2012 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, My Column 


The electronic age is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I suppose it was the same when the world moved from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. The smarter people would have capitalized on the weaknesses in the Stone Age society and would have done some terrible things.
But it was not all bad when we think of the iron wheels that would outlast anything, the railways that move millions of people, the cars and buses and lorries and bridges that last more than one hundred years.
When I was in the Falklands a few weeks ago, I was taken to the Bodie Creek Bridge, which was the southernmost suspension bridge in the world. Immediately my mind flashed back to Guyana where we have had a suspension bridge since the 1930s, the Denham Suspension Bridge which is commonly called the Garraway Stream Bridge.
These phenomena are still standing in Guyana and at Bodie Creek, because of the iron that went into their construction. People have iron security grills all around their homes although the walls of their homes are sometimes made of stone.
The Electronic Age came in a rush and with it, easier communication. No longer did people have to wait weeks to have a few words exchanged between relatives, friends and partners. In fact, people can now sit in their homes and actually see the party with whom they are speaking, regardless in which part of the world this person is.
But even before that came the telephone that was seen as the most revolutionary instrument. It was only the other day that these instruments began to make their way into homes to the point that they are now fixtures and no longer considered luxuries. The telephone became even more invidious when they became smaller and smarter.
The cell phones came on the heels of the computer that has literally changed the world. Every individual wants a computer for whatever reason. Educationists and scientists and reporters use the computer for research; young people use it for social contact and the more professional people use it to exchange information.
All this is for the good but as always happens, there are smart people who find other uses. Some use the computer to rob banks and to steal people’s identities. They also use it to spy on others. The Guyana Government is no exception. It employs people who could hack into the various computer systems. Ordinary people now complain that their simple e-mails are subjected to the prying eyes of people who seem to have a special interest in some people.
Needless to say, there are those other than the government who also pry. An American, former CIA Director David Petraeus, had his correspondence from his computer made public and the world learnt of his affairs.
I suffered the same fate, although my conversations were with harmless people, and I believe that my e-mail has been exposed to people who have an interest in what I do. But that is small when compared to what happens to the phones. Landlines are simple. People go to junction boxes, hook up some gadget and listen or record conversations between people.
There was a time in Guyana when smart people stole phone lines and charged a fee to those who had no telephones or who wanted to speak to their relatives overseas cheaply. That was a most unsophisticated method, because who did that often removed the telephone lines so that the owner was without a service.
Guyanese thought that once they had a cellular phone then they would have been exempt from such intrusions. Now they know that their every call can be monitored and recorded.  I was not surprised, since I had known that this happens.
Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan had equipment to do this and he used it to track people he had a problem with. He was not alone. Such technology is beyond me. I hardly know how to open my own telephone when I forget my password.
A few years ago, the government asked the telephone service providers to acquire equipment that would allow for wiretapping. There were the initial objections, but governments almost always have their own way. There was silence about whether the telephone service providers did acquire the equipment, but I wanted to know.
So when I asked Dr Roger Luncheon whether the equipment was in place and whether the government was making use of it, I was not surprised when he answered in the affirmative. He went further; in response to another question he said that the government has actually acquired recordings of telephone conversations.
What was surprising was the ease with which this could happen. Dr Luncheon said that the courts are almost always amenable to providing the requisite permission for people’s records and conversations to be infiltrated.
I do not profess to know whose conversations have been listened to, although I suspect that mine would be among the lot. What I am amazed to know is that with all the talk about drug lords in Guyana, none has been caught in this trap. Perhaps the government is concentrating on politicians and its opponents.
There is no record of the government being able to catch gunmen, although these are people who use their phones almost incessantly. Suffice it to say that no one has been charged, although the government has listened to them.
Even this column, I suspect, was monitored even before I submitted it to the newspaper. I would say that there is hardly any privacy on the society. This pushes my mind back to the days when I read a novel by George Orwell, “1984”. The central theme in that book which was completed in 1948, was “Big Brother is watching.”
Big Brother is all over Guyana watching everyone but the right people.

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