On the Publicity of Government Surveillance in Oceania
One of the first things mentioned in the novel is the poster in the hallway of Victory Mansion (where Winston lives), which reads BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING. Also named are the telescreens, found in nearly every setting in the story, which are widely known to be surveillance tools.
My question is, why would the government be so explicit about its surveillance of the People?
Surely a society so technically advanced would have concealed cameras and microphones, and could make use of them, so why didn’t they?
The short answer might be fear, as a population would be “scared straight,” as it were, by the surveillance, and even the dissenters and thoughtcriminals would keep themselves in line as a necessity of being so closely watched.
However, the Party could just as easily have kept the surveillance a secret (and probably vaporize those who tried to spread this fact), and it might have even been better for them this way. If only a few knew of the level of surveillance being enacted against them, the population as a whole would be more open and willing to express their dissent, even if only in the “privacy” of their own home.
Then, the Party would have a whole new slough of people to “re-educate” or “heal.” The Party’s goal to have the entire population know and love Big Brother would be even closer to their grasp, as the same tactics used on Winston would surely work on everyone, or at least the vast majority of the detainees.
Of course, there is also the psychological aspect of the knowledge of your constant surveillance. A person, knowing they are being spied on, will typically distrust the spiers and their productivity will be diminished (see here).
Why it was this way in the story, I can only guess that it was more convenient to the writer. It was easier to portray the world as dystopian and backwards if the people are constantly under surveillance and made to listen to propaganda through the telescreens, a world unimaginable by people in the 50’s, when the book was written.
The constant surveillance may have been publicly carried out, and perhaps in our world, this would lead to negative side effects. However, in the (I was going to say Orwellian here, but realized that would be redundant) world constructed by the Party, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The Party, in contrast, keeps such an iron grip on its people (almost to the extent of an organized religion with many devout followers) that such negative results were not found.
Whichever way the Party carried it out, they achieved the same goal: total domination of the masses’ lives.