Oxford 2009: 1984 and Civil Liberties

  • Shami Chakrabarti (Director, Liberty)
  • Nick Cohen (author, journalist, shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Books 2008)
  • Chaired by Professor Jean Seaton (Director of the Orwell Prize, co-author of Power Without Responsibility)

The second of the Orwell Prize’s events at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival 2009.

This debate, marking the 60th anniversary of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, asks how the novel can inform the present debate about civil liberties. In an age of terrorist threats, government databases and social networking, it is increasingly difficult to avoid references to Orwell’s classic satire on the totalitarian state and the surveillance society.

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.


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