Although the idea of “Big Brother” watching you is derived directly from the book 1984, the real Big Brother today comes in three forms. If you are a regular computer user, there is an above average possibility that someone is at least sometimes checking what you do on that computer. Most of the time, this is some type of network or internet tapping device, but computers can be rigged with keystroke monitors even if they never go online or get a network connection.
The first “Big Brother” for most people is their employer. More and more, companies are installing sophisticated snooping software on their networks. The vast majority of employees in modern offices and other computerized settings are connected to each other and the internet via a server. The server acts as a clearing house for all of the traffic generated on the network whether it is staying in house or accessing the internet.
Because of this, it become relatively easy for companies simply record all of the computer activity company wide. This data can then be sorted and categorized by user id, time and date stamps, and type of transmission through the network. If an employee is using instant messaging to find dates or chat with friends, the company will learn of it eventually and have all of the history needed to take disciplinary action.
The same is true if improper websites are being visited or ugly emails are being sent. Too much online shopping or visiting porn sites may land you in the unemployment line. Showing that you are not a loyal employee by badmouthing the company over the network will have similar results.
Since September 11, 2001, the United States government through the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security have begun to do extensive snooping on the internet. Under the mantle of national security, private citizens are being monitored more than ever when they go online. Various types of websites have been targeted for government scrutiny. If you like to visit these sites, you will be watched. If you go too far in what you do while visiting, you may find visitors at your door.
Besides national security issues, the government is constantly searching for pornographers who cross the line into child and other illegal forms of pornography. Even looking at these sites will leave fingerprints on your hard drive that can be used to prosecute those who do not post but do too much looking and downloading. Even a few dozen pictures of underage pornography on your computer can land you in prison and label you as a child sex offender.
State and local law enforcement agencies join in the fun of internet monitoring. There is a considerable amount of handshaking between the federal agencies and those lower on the food chain. While a lot of this is good for our society, the concept of tapping the internet is a lot like illegal search and seizure. The courts are siding with law enforcement.
This means that you need to protect yourself when online. Much of the data recovered by these agencies is up for interpretation by those who do the snooping. If they have some reason to want to make a splash, or you have a history of bumps and nicks with the law, it could spell trouble for you even if your activity is relatively innocent. You may eventually win in court, but it could easily drain your life savings to do it.
The third tier of “Big Brother” is in the domain of parents and school systems. Neither of these two are usually looking to arrest you unless you are doing something dangerous or making serious threats to others. However, teens are often heavily monitored in the name of protecting them from internet predators. Mostly, this is a good thing.
Again, it can become problematic depending on the interpretation of those looking at the data. Students can be suspended or expelled from the school. Parents can mete out harsh punishments for youthful offenders. Teens have very few rights to protect them in this area.
Those who are going to do extensive surfing in the shady areas of the internet or use company equipment for non-business purposes need to learn how to protect themselves. Employees have few ways to defend against this if they continue to do forbidden activity on the company network. Citizens can and should learn ways to surf the web far more anonymously than many do now.
There is software available that will scrub your hard drive of files in ways that does not allow others to recover the data later. Other software can be purchased to hide the identity of the user and even disguise the service provider information. Online, you can find websites that work as jump sites to block others from tracking you all of the way back to your locality. A little research and diligence can go a long way.