IT Confidential: An Interview With Big Brother

We talk with BB about Hillary Clinton, the NSA, video surveillance in the U.K., and those creepy guys from Google.
Last month, a video on YouTube parodying Apple's infamous "Big Brother" Super Bowl commercial and depicting Hillary Clinton as the Evil Overlord garnered a great deal of attention. First, it was a big hit, generating millions of views. Second, the copyright owner of 1984, the novel in which the character of Big Brother first appeared, threatened to take legal action against the video. I decided to track down Big Brother and get his thoughts on the controversy and his take on the current state of affairs. I reached him by phone at his home in Sarasota, Fla.

IW: Have you seen the video?

BIG BROTHER: (Laughing) Yes, I've seen it. Hillary doesn't look a thing like me. Except for the moustache.

IW: So, what have you been up to since 1984?

BIG BROTHER: I'm semiretired. I still do a little work for the agencies--the CIA, the FSB, the Guoanbu--you know, that kind of thing. I play a lot of golf.

IW: Do you think you've been unfairly characterized in the media?

BIG BROTHER: It's been tough. Some people recognize me and they can't help but say, "Hey, Big Brother--watch this!" Then ... well, you can imagine. I've learned to live with it.

IW: Has the 21st century turned out like you thought it would?

BIG BROTHER: Where do I start? The Internet--in my wildest imaginings I couldn't have dreamed up something like that. It takes keeping track of people to a whole different level. Ditto for cell phones. And what about those guys in the software business? Microsoft sells software to the public that automatically reports back to headquarters and they market it as a feature? Nice! Larry Ellison advocates the use of a national ID card while his company is the largest developer of database technology? You have to admire that kind of chutzpah.

IW: Are there other technologies you follow?

BIG BROTHER: I've always been interested in video surveillance, and I'm very gratified at the level of commitment to it. Market forecasts indicate revenue from video surveillance technology will double by 2011--somebody's watching somebody out there. It's very big in England. I read a report that U.K. police officials have added voice capability to their public surveillance cameras, so staffers monitoring the streets can scold people for jaywalking or littering. Gives new meaning to the term "voice of authority."

IW: And how about in the United States?

BIG BROTHER: First, you have to cut those NSA guys some slack. Hey, if telecom companies have data sitting around, somebody's going to want to take a look at it--simple human nature. As for the Patriot Act ...

IW: I meant in terms of technology.

BIG BROTHER: Well, RFID has been something of a disappointment. Based on the hype a few years ago, I thought everyone in the country would have been implanted with RFID chips by now.

IW: What do you think of Google?

BIG BROTHER: That holier-than-thou act gets a little tired, doesn't it? Frankly, those two guys give me the creeps, and I don't get the creeps easily. As for the whole data collecting thing, you know what they say: Knowledge is power. Next time you hear the phrase "Big Brother Is Watching You," ask yourself--who are they really talking about?

IW: Thanks for your time.

BIG BROTHER: Don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Who's your daddy? I'm on the lookout for an industry tip. Send it to [email protected], or phone one in at 516-672-5326.

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