No Joking Matter

by James M. Kushiner

After walking along the Moskva River during a beautiful late-evening sunset in early July 2011, I confessed to my Russian hosts that back in the 1980s my family and I used to tell a joke about the Soviet Union. I had to set it up for them: American television stations, I explained, regularly identify their call letters and repeat a slogan. So went the joke: In the Soviet Union, a Moscow television station regularly identifies itself on the hour (using the "Boris and Natasha" accent from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show): "We are WKGB-TV. When you are watching us—we are watching you!"

My friends laughed, but the KGB never was a joking matter. And today, the joke may soon be on us. Surveillance capabilities and practices have increased greatly—Alexa, smartphones, built-in laptop cameras, cookies, geo-fencing, uniform-cams, red-light cameras, and so on—with consumers often acquiescent or unaware. It seems inevitable that, sooner or later, there will be nowhere to hide from a coming Big Brother.

"Social credit" scores are already being given out to Chinese citizens by their communist government, and these scores are used to determine rewards and punishments for behavior the state wishes to promote or discourage. People's access to jobs, schools, and various privileges depends on their social credit score.

In the West, a less formal form of this pressure is on display when someone's donation to support marriage or an organization deemed "hateful" gets him fired. Are we approaching the day when the mandarins of "social justice" will decide that there are overriding reasons (e.g., to eliminate "hate" or a "phobia") to monitor our emails, visits to websites, and online comments? If they're not already, they will be watching you. And that's not funny.

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.

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