There is a Soviet-era joke about a citizen who died and had a brief chat at heaven’s gate:
St Peter: “You are a sinner, you should go next door, but I like you and I’ll give you a tip: Lucifer, my counterpart there, will ask you to choose between capitalist hell and socialist hell. Don’t make the big mistake! Go for the socialist one!”
Citizen: “I thought capitalist hell would be more comfortable?”
St Peter: “On the contrary. In the socialist one something is always missing: one day there is no coal to light the fire up, the next day the little devils are on sick leave or having a party meeting. You never get to the cauldron.”
First, it’s much more arbitrary and less systematic; it depends on whether your neighbour or your colleague denounces you. They are not reliable. They can get drunk, have a flat tyre on the way to the office, fall in love or simply forget.
Second, even if they denounce you, it’s all just paperwork. Coffee spills on papers, papers get lost in drawers, people fail to consult them.
Third, even if your name makes its way into the file, and even if the files are neatly kept and occasionally consulted, don’t despair! The end of history has not been invented yet; the regime will collapse sooner or later, secret archives will be opened and eventually you’ll get out.
With the NSA, there are no such flaws. Their search engine will find you anywhere, they’ve got the best anti-virus systems, their data are backed up, and reminders will flash inescapably whenever your name appears in an email, in a newspaper article, in a book or in a phone chat thousands of miles away.
And the system is here to stay. No end in sight. God help us!