Amid recent revelations of the extent of U.S. government surveillance, copies of George Orwell’s “1984,” the classic novel that warns of Big Brother, are selling like hotcakes. Sales of two different editions of the book are in the top 20 on Amazon.com’s Movers and Shakers list — which tracks sales from the past 24 hours and is updated every hour — with the Centennial Edition at No. 5, up more than 7,000 percent. The other edition is at No. 20, its sales up 292 percent.
True, the book celebrated the 64th anniversary of its publication this week. Some reports also say the novel is often put on many students’ summer reading lists. But here’s another possible reason born near Silicon Valley, home to the tech industry that has ties to the surveillance: A San Francisco man on Sunday started a movement called “Flood Washington with 1984.”
Brian Morearty, an independent software consultant who has worked at such companies as Intuit and Oracle, is calling for people to send copies of Orwell’s book to their legislators to protest the spying by the National Security Agency, which was first reported last week. His official goal is to send 100,000 copies to Washington by July 4, although he told SiliconBeat in an email there’s no real way for him to know when that goal is reached.
The extent of tech’s role in the spying under a program called Prism is unclear at this point. Companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo have denied giving the government direct access to their users’ information. Google today said it wants to disclose Prism requests that would prove that to be the case, but the U.S. won’t allow it.
“I want tech companies to resist the pressure, but when it comes in the form of a court order can’t blame the tech companies for giving in,” Morearty said. “That is why we have to pressure Congress. They are the only ones with any say in what the NSA does. They did approve this program, after all.”
The Flood Washington with 1984 Facebook page has under 150 Likes as of this post, but Morearty shared a screen shot of the admin panel that shows how many people have viewed the various posts on the page — thousands. He has also tweeted about it, and was retweeted by David Heinemeier Hanson, creator of Ruby on Rails, who has 80,000 followers. Morearty said his hope is that legislators will get the books — and the message — and act to restrict the spying.
Morearty’s senator is (Revised) Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, chairman of the national intelligence committee, is and defends the program. She and other government officials, including President Obama, say the spying is legal and necessary to fight terrorism. As we wrote earlier today, advocacy groups and valley companies such as Mozilla sent a letter to Congress calling the surveillance illegal. The ACLU also has sued the government.
Morearty said he sent a copy of “1984” to Feinstein’s Washington, D.C., office on Saturday. SiliconBeat could not reach her office after repeated attempts — the line was busy.
Photo from Bay Area News Group archives