I’m currently reading a great novel by Henry Porter about the temptations of totalitarianism in the birthplace of constitutional limits on state power. Porter’s book The Dying Light recounts an all-too-credible attempt by the British government to use a fake emergency to suspend citizen rights that have their origins in England’s Magna Carta, first proclaimed in the year 1215. Now, however, we live in an age of blanket technological surveillance that can vastly increase the ability of a government to control the population it supposedly is elected to serve.

In this battle, the same communications technology that helped enable the pro-democracy revolts we are now witnessing across the Middle East also facilitates its opposite, in this case an all-too-realistic version of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

It’s fiction, to be sure. But barely. At times it’s difficult to discern the points separating storytelling from journalism, especially when I compare the novel’s plotline to the ongoing drama surrounding the Wikileaks organization and the attempt by various countries, chiefly the United States, to shut down the organization while discrediting and vilifying the people who run and support it.

In Porter’s novel, a potential whistle-blower with devastating evidence of political wrongdoing faces a government-sponsored attempt to plant child pornography on his computer hard drive as a safeguard against anything he might reveal. The public repugnance that is automatically triggered by such an accusation would overshadow anything he might reveal while giving authorities the pretext to lock him away in a dark, quiet place for a long, long time.

While the details are murky, the Porter story eerily foreshadowed the current real-life battle of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange against sexual assault allegations, just at the moment his website is revealing a monster trove of secret documents that are embarrassing governments around the world. The confrontation is clearly demonstrating that the public’s right to information about their political masters in the so-called democratic sphere is very limited indeed. The efforts to silence and discredit Assange and his supporters are even more revealing.

In the Porter novel, the operation and implementation of the all-seeing surveillance state is contracted out to a private corporation that has essentially taken control of the government with its access to and control over information about every citizen in the country. The company cross-indexes these databanks with instantaneous access to Britain’s ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras on public thoroughfares, as well as Internet and mobile phone communications.

Back in the real world, take a look at the recent experience of Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for the online publication Salon, and a vocal supporter of Wikileaks and the public’s right to know. Two weeks ago, it was revealed by the New York Times (among others) that Internet security firms were helping powerful entities such as the Bank of America and the US Chamber of Commerce investigate and discredit Wikileaks and other critics. This is happened during the concerted effort by the US government to shut the group down, remember. Among a number of likely illegal tactics was a plan to develop fake documents designed to embarrass people at the Wikileaks organization and a number of media critics such as Greenwald, said the Times.

The leaked strategy pompously promised to force journalists like Greenwald into silence. Said the strategy paper, “These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause.”

It’s unlikely to have been successful in Greenwald’s case. But he tellingly writes that the revelations illustrate “just how lawless and unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power…. The revolving door between the highest levels of government and corporate offices rotates so fast and continuously that it has basically flown off its track and no longer provides even the minimal barrier it once did. It’s not merely that corporate power is unrestrained; it’s worse than that: corporations actively exploit the power of the state to further entrench and enhance their power.”

So not only are our rights and liberties being attacked, they are being privatized as well. If nothing else, the Wikileaks drama amply demonstrates the adage that the power of knowledge accrues to those who control it. But information technology has taken this to a new extreme.

The saving grace is that the same technology can be turned against those who try to usurp the power to control, exploit and suppress information. The documents proving wrongdoing by the agents working for the Bank of America were hacked by a group of activists known only as “Anonymous,” the name itself symbolic of our essential right to lead private lives free from oppressive intrusion.

It’s the story told in the Porter novel, whose title – The Dying Light – provides a guide to the determination now being demonstrated by peoples across the Middle East, who are risking everything to win democratic rights for their long-oppressed nations at the very moment we risk losing them for good.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” wrote the poet Dylan Thomas. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”