The Washington Post

Britain’s Web monitoring plan draws comparisons to ‘1984’ and Kafka

The cover of “1984. (Brown University Library/Fair Use)

Since the plan was announced Sunday, initial public disbelief has turned into outrage, with many Britons questioning how much this threatens civil liberties in the country. Conservative MP David Davis called it “an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people,” according to the BBC.

Online, the backlash was pronounced, with comparisons made between the government’s plan and the two dystopian novels — “1984,” by George Orwell, and “The Trial,” by Franz Kafka.

Many Britons tweeted their outrage using the hashtag #TellDaveEverything, with “Dave” a reference to Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservative head of a Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition. Some said the proposed plan sounded a lot like the pervasive government surveillance present in the novel “1984”:

Dear government, “1984” was supposed to be a dystopian fiction novel, not an instructional manual #telldaveeverything @number10gov

— Wille (@wfaler) April 2, 2012

British news site The Independent’s “I” paper made the same comparison, referring to the well-known phrase from the novel, “Big Brother is Watching You.”


Others said the government’s monitoring plan threatened civil liberties in the same way the massive phone hacking scandal in Britain did:

I am struggling to see the difference between the government reading emails & NotW hacking voicemail. I didn’t give either permission.

— Funny Bunny (@tweetyaca) April 1, 2012

By Monday, even the Home Office had picked up on the #telldaveeverything hashtag in an effort to stem the rising public anger:

Security minister James Brokenshire ‘It’s not about trying to create some sort of big new government snooping exercise’ #telldaveeverything

— The Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) April 2, 2012

British Twitter users only mocked the Home Office response, while others shared Cameron’s private e-mail address so that people could spam him with complaints.

Several petitions asking the Home Office to scraps its monitoring plans also started gaining traction online. The Open Rights Group, a privacy rights organization, wrote in its petition that the monitoring plan was “Kafka-esque.” It’s likely a reference to the Franz Kafka novel “The Trial,” which tells the story of a man who is arrested and prosecuted for a crime whose nature is never revealed to him or the reader. Like “1984,” the setting of the novel is a society with pervasive government surveillance.

“We need to tell the government to stop this wasteful, intrusive plan for wholesale snooping on our daily lives,” the petition writes. As of this writing, more than 13,000 people have signed.


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