Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Assistant Professor
University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies

Little Brother

Little Brother tells the story of a group of teenagers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are captured by officers of the Department for Homeland Security after a terrorist attack and detained at a black site without official arrest or access to a lawyer. Being held and questioned without any reason or explanation changes their lives forever and the teens start questioning what worth are their citizen rights, when they can be abolished at any time: “The law didn’t care if you were actually doing anything bad; they were willing to put you under the microscope just for being statistically abnormal.”

Awakening in a world where RFID chips, CCTV, and log files of cell phone connections track every citizens move, where communication is monitored and data are screened for allegedly anomalous pattern, they decide to fight back. Resistance is organized through acts of civil disobedience as well as the construction of communication networks that are more difficult for oppressors to infiltrate and to control. While Little Brother tells an exciting and thrilling story about the resistance against an overwhelming and dangerous enemy, it also provides valuable insight in encryption technologies, the issues of privacy and how to protect it. It eloquently debates the core problem of the increasing surveillance and its inevitable harm for freedom and citizen rights: “In a pool of twenty million people, a 99 percent accurate test will identify two hundred thousand people as being terrorists. But only ten of them are terrorists. To catch ten bad guys, you have to haul in and investigate two hundred thousand innocent people."

Whatever politicians are promising to ensure our safety through increasing surveillance, the use of pattern recognition, the perpetual monitoring of all our movements, health data, employment history, the wiretapping of our communication etc. It won't make us any safer, but strip us of our citizen rights, our privacy and eventually our freedom. Little Brother is not only the 1984 for the digital age, but also a highly educative book that teaches the use of tactical media. It is a book that provides arguments for the debate as well as inspiration for hands on activities. For students of new media this book is compulsory reading as it is for anybody concerned in our freedom and its abolishment through politicians who invest a false hope in information technology.

Cory Doctorow: Little Brother, http://craphound.com/littlebrother/

Date August 2008 Category News

While so far Europe's politicians have luckily been unable to install a centrally organized police authority that spies on its citizens and strips them of their citizens rights, the United States has witnessed the emergence of a powerful and frightening authority that threatens to invade all areas of private life and monitor all citizens. The Department for Homeland Security seems to top all Orwellian nightmares.
How unbalanced and unquestioned power, paired with the excessive use of information technology for surveillance and pattern recognition is undermining democracy and constituting repression is described in a timely novel by Cory Doctorow.

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