Owing to the reality television shows that ran for over a decade, most people are familiar with the phrase ‘Big Brother’ but I wonder how many know why the shows were as named? If you are one of them, here is the answer.
In 1948 British author George Orwell wrote a novel entitled ‘1984’ which depicted a future dystopian world where people’s every move and thought were controlled by an all-powerful body known by the deceptively familial term ‘Big Brother’. Citizens were spied on by cameras and microphones at every turn and everywhere they turned they would see disturbing warning signs with the novel’s catchpharse, ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’.
The novel was Orwell’s very prescient vision of the frightening Cold War world just around the corner where Churchill’s iron Curtain was about to come down in Germany, splitting it into the free West and the communist-controlled East, along with the oppressive regime of the communist Soviet Union.
Easy, then, to see why part of the catchphrase was lifted for a programme featuring a house with cameras in every room to record the activities and conversations of its imprisoned inmates, a fly-on-the-wall reality show to feed the voracious appetite for viewers of a voyeuristic nature but that was to trivialise Orwell’s insight and intent, much of which fiction became a reality as the 1950s unrolled.
This transition from private citizen to unwitting and unwilling participant in a daily reality show controlled by police and government has been hastened and facilitated by the warp speed leaps in technology over the last quarter of a century. In Britain, for example, there is scarcely a city, town or village street today which is not covered by 24/7 CCTV coverage, capturing the movement of almost every citizen somewhere, sometime every single day.
The government and police pro argument is that it keeps those citizens safer by deterring criminal activity and making it easier to capture evidence of wrongdoing whilst the personal privacy anti argument counters that it is an unwarranted intrusion into the lives of the innocent majority and only a tissue paper’s width away from 1984’s Big Brother’s total control and oppression. The visible CCTV cameras are, however, only the visible tip of the intrusion iceberg. All of us now have office and home PCs, laptops, tablets, cellphones and other connected devices, each and every one of which are vulnerable to spying and surveillance.
Such spyware is now readily available – computer software programmes or hardware devices that enables unauthorised users to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer use. They can be installed on your computer without your knowledge, and the person installing them doesn’t even need to have physical access to your computer. It can keep track of every keystroke you type, every software application you use, every website you visit, every chat or instant message you send, every document you open, and everything you print.
Some spyware software gives the person monitoring the ability to freeze, shutdown or restart your compute and some versions even allow the abuser to remotely turn on your webcam or make your computer talk. Once it is installed, it can run in stealth mode and is difficult to detect or uninstall. Without physical access to your computer, users can receive reports showing all of your computer activities, including copies of emails and instant messages sent, websites visited, etc., as well as screenshots of the computer screen every few seconds. This can all occur without the user knowing,, operating in stealth mode without notification or consent, and sending electronic reports to the perpetrator via the Internet
For instance one documentary make installed a ‘Find-my-phone’ app on a cellphone, then let someone steal it, after which the original owner spied on every moment of the thief’s life through the phone’s camera and microphone. The documentary tracks every move of this person, from brushing their teeth to going to work, to grabbing a bite to eat with their co-worker to intimate moments with a loved one. This is the power of apps that have access to your camera and microphone.
US government whistleblower, Edward Snowden revealed an NSA (National Security Agency) program called Optic Nerves. The operation was a bulk surveillance test programme under which they captured webcam images every five minutes from Yahoo users’ video chats and then stored them for future use.
Hackers can also gain access to your device with extraordinary ease via apps, PDF files, multimedia messages and even emojis. An application called Metasploit on the ethical hacking platform Kali uses an Adobe Reader 9 (which over 60% of users still use) exploit to open a listener (rootkit) on the user’s computer. The hacker alters the PDF with the programme, sends the user the malicious file, they open it, and hey presto – they then have total control over their device remotely.
Once a user opens this PDF file, the hacker can then:
Install whatever software/app they like on the user’s device. Use a keylogger to grab all of their passwords. Steal all documents from the device. Take pictures and stream videos from their camera. Capture past or live audio from the microphone. Upload incriminating images/documents to their PC, and notify the police.
This background might bring into context the current controversy surrounding the Chinese telecoms giant, Huawei. The White House today issued an executive order banning US firms from using telecom equipment from sources the administration deems national security threats. Though not specifically named, the order is deemed to refer particularly to Huawei, because of its close links to the Chinese government.
Cynics might say that’s the US government in effect saying don’t do as we do just do as we say and that may be so but given all the sypware devices available, consider this simple analogy. If someone were standing outside your bedroom window, staring in through the curtains you would call the police. Why then when you may be being monitored via your connected devices do you pretend it’s not really happening or it doesn’t matter??
There are some simple precautions you can take. Firstly, before you download a new app, study what permissions it asks for. Does LinkedIn really require camera access? Does Twitter really require microphone access? Also always make sure to cover your webcam with tape, and plug out your microphones when you’re not using them. After all, you never know who’s listening, monitoring and watching – it may be ‘Big Brother’.
There is a saying in South Africa which avers that, “the White man has no kin: his kin is money”. The saying rings very true considering what Mayer Amschel Rothschild – he of the planet’s wealthiest family – once said, that, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”
To the white man, the dollar sign looms so large in his optics that it was precisely the reason he appropriated Africa towards the end of the 19th century. The idea was to develop his continent, Europe, at the same rate as he underdeveloped Africa. Yet he was driven as much by economic imperatives as by sheer greed and prejudice.
A “pagan” King violates the Jewish Temple by setting up an idol in the Holy of Holies
Why, General Atiku, has the Judean setting (present-day Israel/Palestine) being the focus of so much geopolitical fervour over the ages when it is so resource-poor and is not even that agriculturally fecund being a virtual desert? Why have all the superpowers of history locked horns over it since days immemorial?
Just a ‘teaser’: we are all complaining of the ‘hot weather’ and ‘heat’ – but think about it, is this a reminder / warning from the Almighty that if we find this weather ‘hot’ can you imagine what the ‘fires of hell’ will be like should we get there?
Let us take this as a reminder and a ‘warning’ that we should change our lifestyles so that we follow in the path of righteousness and that which our Lord has directed. Failing this we will face the ‘fire of hell’ which undoubtedly will be many times worse than what we are facing on this earth.
Because as humans we have been favoured and bestowed with the power of intellect thus we enjoy greatness over other creation, coupled with a greater responsibility. Should that responsibility be misused then only on the Day of Reckoning will he know we will live in joy or in grief forever.
Since the dawn of creation Allah has sent down thousands of messengers, dozens of Divine Books but only ONE universal Message to humanity. That message of Divine Revelation and guidance is clear, unambiguous and eternal:
Allah is One, He is Master and Creator of the universe and of mankind and to Him is due all worship and obedience.
He has sent humanity Divine Revelation and guidance through His Messengers and His Books.
As death is inevitable in this world, equally is our resurrection in the Hereafter where everyone will face the consequences of their belief, unbelief and conduct in this temporal world.
This is the basic message, teaching and belief of every religion and without doubt we will all be called to account for our lives in this world and the manner in which we conducted ourselves, will be rewarded thereafter, the consequences of which may be joy forever for some or grief forever for others.
“It is He [Allah] Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (Qur’an: 67: 2)
In Islam the teachings of the Qur’an and the Last and Final Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) give clear guidance to the believer on how to live a life in this world so as to achieve success in the Hereafter.
‘If any do wish for the transitory things of this life, We readily grant them, such things as We will, to such persons as We will…… those who wish for the things of the Hereafter and strive for them with all due striving, and have faith, they are the ones whose striving is acceptable to Allah’ (Qur’an 17: 18-19)
In this world when a person sets out on a journey towards our Maker (Allah), he finds two paths, one leading to God and the other path to different destinations. A sincere and faithful believer will always try to find the right path and to live by the Divine injunctions, laws and code that his religion lays down. This requires us to live in harmony with the will of the Creator, in harmony with our own selves, and with the needs of the rest of creation. Unfortunately we have a tendency at times to toy with Divine Law and to surrender it to the laws of man and in the process to translate and interpret them into what fits in with our lifestyle of today.
If we are to use the intellect and the freedom of choice bestowed to us by God Almighty and follow His guidance, we will then live consciously in a state of “submission’ to Him, thus we will be virtuous. On the other hand when we ignore our Creators injunctions we work against the natural order, we tend to create discord, injustice and evil – and we become one without guidance. Therefore it is the intellect and the freedom of choice given to us that we are fully responsible for whatever we do.
However, it would be foolish for us to think of ourselves as totally independent and self-sufficient. If a person thinks in this manner, we become proud and. We will be inclined to become ungrateful for the bounties that we enjoy – the air that we breathe and the food we eat to sustain us, the eyes and ears we use to perceive the world around us, the tongue and lips we use to express our needs, wants and our inner most feelings and emotions. And being ungrateful, we will be inclined to forget or to reject the truth of the existence of God Almighty.
Unfortunately, people have varying views with regards to what the most important characteristic of a person is: for some it is the colour of his skin; for others, it is his economic situation – whether he is wealthy or poor; others think it is his , social or political standing, whether he is ruler or ruled; for others it is his social standing as an aristocrat, middle or working class; yet for some is his birth place and the language he speaks or the tribe he belongs to, etc..
‘Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe”, and they will not be tested? We tested those before them, and Allah will certainly those who are true and those who are false’. (Quran 29: 2-3)
In Islam, these have no significance rather they are merely taken as signs of the creative power of God to enable people to recognise one another. The Almighty declares “O Mankind! Indeed we have created you as male and female, and have placed you in nations and tribes that you may have mutual recognition. However, the most honourable of you, in the sight of Allah is the one who is most God-conscious” (Qur’an: 49: 13)
Hence, the most important characteristic of a person is whether he is conscious of his Creator, believes in Him and through that consciousness submits to Him at all times and in all circumstances.
According to the Islamic view man is created by Allah in a pure state, free from sin. He also created us with the capacity or power to do both good and evil. He gave us the freedom to choose between doing good or evil. The good and evil therefore is connected with mankind’s freedom of choice and responsibility for their actions. “Good” may be whatever is pleasing to Allah and therefore beneficial to us. Whereas “Bad/evil” may be whatever incurs the anger of God and is therefore harmful to man.
‘By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right – truly he that succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it….. (Quran 91: 7-10)
Therefore one of mankind’s main tasks is to keep away from and ward off evil. This is why Taqwa, piety and God consciousness is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an as the most important quality a person should develop in this regard. This means one must be conscious at all times not to over step the limits set by God. It works as a defence against evil and temptation by keeping a person within the boundaries of piety.