What moneyed interests support a politician? It would clearly enhance the politics section of any newspaper if that type of contextual information could be presented as an accompaniment to news articles that feature the words and voting behaviour of elected representatives. That’s probably exactly what a teenager in the USA was thinking when he developed a browser plug-in that “when you mouse-over the name of a US lawmaker, will serve up a list of which parties have donated to their campaign funds, and the quantities”.
One could think of many interesting extensions or alternative applications: For example, one could adapt it to other polities by drawing on datasets from other countries or it would be possible to switch the perspective from lawmakers to firms and represent information on firms’ lobbying history via mouse-overs.
In their book “Full Disclosure. The Perils and Promise of Transparency”, Fung, Graham and Weil (2007) call this type of emergent transparency “collaborative transparency”. In the age of big data, ubiquitous information technology and smart kids, this is going to stay exciting for a long time to come.
Today it was in the news. Facebook snapped up WhatsApp. I never really feel comfortable communicating privately via Facebook. I feel Facebook knows too much about us, while we know too little about what Facebook knows about us.
Now WhatsApp. When my old Smartphone broke a few years ago I didn’t really bother to replace it. I’m sort of glad that it spared me the choice of installing WhatsApp. I thought, well, surely the technology is great but here comes yet another monopolising service that snaps up all our data, and can pass it on to people that run network analyses on my friends and colleagues and content analyses on my messages.
Of course, Facebook has much of that data already. I never believed you could trust them. But well, nearly everybody uses it and in a way we are all in this together, generation „friend“ and „like“ and „tag“. I just didn’t like the idea of once again succumbing to the seduction of a company that makes money by me connecting to it, by me pouring information about me and everyone around me into it. Now it’s basically one company. I still don’t like it.
There are other, more private and secure services as well. But when you load them it feels like an empty corridor. No one is there. You hear your own echo. Still, I don’t wanna give up on it.
You can set up free and encrypted chats on your mobile phone with apps for Android and iOS. You can also connect to them from Windows, Mac and Linux computers. It take some more effort than WhatsApp and might not develop as fast. But you won’t be bugged so easily either. You will be free. At least a little bit.
The National Security Agency (NSA) boss Keith Alexander announced on Thursday, 9th August 2013, that the NSA intends to reduce the number of system administrators by 90% in order to lower the risk of further leaks like those released by Edward Snowden. Apparently, the NSA does not only not trust the American population, it also doesn’t trust its own staff.
Those administrators who remain may be more carefully vetted. That vetting may also include more careful and constant “background screening”, which means that someone needs to monitor those who monitor the population at large. Then, someone also needs to (secretly?) monitor those (secretly?) monitoring the population. Why do I put a question mark behind “secretly”? Because thanks to Snowden it’s not secret anymore that large-scale surveillance is installed and its also quite obvious that the NSA itself feels a need to increase its staff surveillance. So it is out in the open that “secret” surveillance is being conducted.
What we are left with is a situation that is dripping with paranoia of a dual sort: The NSA doesn’t trust anybody and nobody can trust to be left alone by the NSA and their corporate allies.
Distrust may, hopefully, not always be the most solid of foundations. For all I can imagine about the role of system administrators in defending IT systems, I doubt that large-scale redundancies are a sustainable way of fortification. There are hordes of smart hackers out there. The NSA will certainly continue enlisting them. But they may only ask for advice from a distance — like consulting an online doctor instead of going to a hospital.