The tele-screen received and transmitted simultaneously. ... There was of course no way of knowing when you were being watched. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual was guesswork. At any rate they could plug in to your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — on the assumption that every sound you made was heard, and ... every movement scrutinized." — George Orwell, "1984"

Ever since its first publication in 1949, the novel "1984" has represented everything freedom-loving people are supposed to fear and loathe. "Big Brother is watching you" became shorthand for a nightmarish totalitarian state of thought police, torture and insidious surveillance technology. That was them, we re-assured ourselves, the East Germans with their Stasi, the Russians with their KGB.

As it turns out, that was also us — or should I say U.S.? Journalist and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras was contacted in early 2013 by an anonymous intelligence community source using the code-name Citizenfour. He warned her of the need for extreme caution, that "every border you cross, every article you write, site you visit, subject line you type and packet you route is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited, but whose safeguards are not." That source turned out to be Edward Snowden.