Wednesday, December 8, 2010
This is a bleak outlook, and not the only possible future, but it is disconcerting how far we have already gone down this road without even noticing. How much farther will we get before enough people notice that change is possible? The college I work for just switched over to Google Apps to handle all our e-mail and communication needs on campus - all students, faculty, staff and administration are now on Gmail all day every day. I wonder if the people in the upper echelon even stopped to consider the possible implications of it - more likely they are unaware of them all together.
Sorry for the burst of dystopia, a lot of what we discuss brings it out in me. There is always a chance that it will all work out. That Google and others will use their powers for good and not evil, right?
Is the fact that this is the second time I have referenced 1984 in these discussions indicative of something?
I very much enjoyed my time in this class. I will admit that I felt a little out of my depth at times, but overall I think that I was given a great deal to think about and the things I have read and discussed here will influence the rest of my time in grad school and, hopefully, my career. I think that overall, the modules I appreciated the most, the ones that I think I got the most out of in practical terms, were 3 and 4 dealing with copyright laws. I learned a lot about a subject that I had been previously ignorant of and that is very relevant to my future goals. If I had to pick a favorite discussion though, including my personal favorite post, it would be the WikiLeaks module. It was a perfect and timely way to examine so much of what we had discussed and learned about in class and it brought up a lot of complex feelings and ideas. Much like this course as a whole.
Thanks for a great semester everyone and happy holidays.
While reading Andrejevic’s article (or rather skimming it after I saw the word “ubiquitous” a handful of times), I was surprised at how much Big Brother is watching. The story of his friend with the DVD in Australia was a bit scary in that the computer knew where the friend was and wouldn’t play parts of the DVD. Why not? Does Australia have restrictions on their information? In some ways, it is nice because then the news that people receive can be tailored to where that person is. In other ways, I don’t like that people know what I’m looking at online (not that I have anything to hide, but that it is none of their business). But see, there we go again. If a terrorist is looking at information, wouldn’t we want to know it so we can stop him before he kills anyone? So, I guess it’s a fine line there on whether to allow this or not.
My favorite topic would have to be the Challenged and Banned books topic. I felt that this topic was the most relevant to my library work. I wasn’t too impressed with the Wikileaks discussion as I felt that he had no right to post any of the information he did. I’m almost glad that he’s been caught and put into jail. I had a feeling about him and it wasn’t good and the fact that he ran and tried to hide from authorities just helps to make it so. But that’s just my opinion…..
Happy Holidays to everyone!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Everything in moderation…
It’s a maxim we learned as children…to be observant and circumspect of excess. Like my classmates, I’m often concerned about the seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent nature of electronic surveillance. But then I remember that the computer…the Internet…is just a tool (albeit a culturally significant tool…). And when one realizes the ease at which a step back can be taken, and how the scene widens with a little distance, one can possibly realize then too that it is a tool we wield. I would argue that the Internet does not control us…but that we control it. If become concerned with the availability of personal information - like buying habits, topics of interest, relationship status, etc – then we have wandered into the realm of observation and understanding. We can moderate what we provide – there is no rule stating otherwise. You know me as Tecumseh – a name that I’ve never used on the Internet before – and a name I will never use again. And though I’m a bit more suspicious than some, there is a rebelliously empowering feeling one gets by relying on cash rather than credit – on the postal service rather than Google – in an attempt to tread lightly without leaving behind a trial. The power has always been with us.
I learned a lot and was enticed to venture out of my ‘comfort zone’ by many of your posts and responses. One thing about a blog I find interesting is the ability to retrace one’s steps and relive specific topics. I look forward to re-reading the posts, this time backwards - from most recent to the very first. Its been a trip! thanks
Monday, December 6, 2010
Andrejevic's article discusses the frightening possibility of Microsoft searching through computer hard drives in order to determine how best to advertise to the computer's user: "The software could conceivably gather information on every file on a user’s hard drive and send it to advertisers, and the application does
little to assuage security and privacy concerns" (Hoover, 2007). Now that it's 2010, I wonder if programs like this are in place. Perhaps they are. And that's unsettling. As we have studied during these 14 weeks, we librarians should advocate for privacy and confidentiality in today's technology. It feels like we need to make a stronger push for change.
This semester, my favorite module is when we learned about sampling in week 4. I really enjoyed the Youtube video about the Amen Break sound clip; I've added it to my Youtube favorites. My favorite blog post was also the one I wrote for week 4. That was quite an inspiring week.
Thanks for a lovely semester. I will miss reading everyone's new posts each week and learning about a new, exciting topic each week.
For anyone interested in a dystopian vision of where "ubiquitous computing" may be headed in the future, I strongly recommend the book Feed by the excellent YA author M.T. Anderson. It imagines a world where humans have a device implanted in their heads that allow them to have the Internet in their field of vision 24/7. It is a nightmarish book and Anderson makes some startling points about the Internet and the commercialism it has become associated with.
It's hard to pick out a favorite unit because I found the subject matter every week to be engaging and contemporary. The units on copyright were particularly interesting for me being a long time music geek. It was nice to take a peek behind the curtains and to think about the ways in which copyright can negatively impact artistic expression.
However, I have to say that the WikiLeaks unit could not have been better timed and I've found myself swept up in the ongoing drama surrounding WikiLeaks these past couple of weeks. As an aside, does anyone else think it strange that this leak of diplomatic cables brought far greater blow back than did the Iraq or Afghanistan document dumps? Since Cablegate, WikiLeaks has suffered DoS attacks, been chased from Amazon's servers (at the apparent request of Joe Lieberman) their bank accounts in Switzerland have been frozen and some on the right (Sarah Palin & Newt Gingrich in particular) have called for the US to treat Assange as an "enemy combatant." I find this to be slightly curious.
Also, in relation to WikiLeaks, and tangentially related to our topic this week of the shifting notions of privacy in our digitally connected world, did anyone else see that Colombia University's School of International and Public Affairs warned its students not to discuss WikiLeaks on social networks, such as, Twitter or Facebook. Apparently, the concern was that doing so may impact students' prospects for government jobs. Colombia has since walked back that advice, but my initial thought when I saw the story was, "I hope no one in class has an application pending with the State Department."
For those interested here's the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/06/columbia-university-walks_n_792684.html
My favorite post was Barriers to Access. Because I got to use the words defecate and micturate.
Good night, good luck, Happy Holidays. It has been a pleasure to discuss these topics with everyone.
Having someone looking out for us relates well to my favorite part of the class, WikiLeaks. I was surprised how interested and yet interested I was in it. On one hand, it seems very important, but since it's just a big fat dump of information without any good organization I can't get excited about sifting through it. That said, following the story that has been developing recently has been very interesting to me. I just read today how Amazon and Paypal have cut off WikiLeaks, things certainly are changing at a rapid pace.
Actually, I am somewhat concerned that companies can track us wherever we go and see whatever we do online….all in the name of profit. It’s not the “1984” motif that scares me…it’s the realization that people actually purchase items based on the suggestions presented by the companies…sometimes in frightening blind faith. However, the advertisement strategy must be working or they wouldn’t be doing it. What does it say about our collective psyche as a society? “Please tell us what to buy/watch/think?” Frightening.
One of my friends is a TV addict and has this thing called T-Voh (sp?) which he can use to record tv programs and play them back later. Sounds great! He was all “T-Voh is awesome!” Then, after a few days, T-Voh began making suggestions and telling him what to watch. He tried to turn off the “make suggestions” function but T-Voh wouldn’t stop. Many times it pre-recorded its suggestions allotting no free space to the programs my friend wanted to record. Way to go T-Voh.
Maybe the digitized world will become like T-Voh. A world where nothing that is suggested is what we want and where there are so many suggestions that it becomes impossible to find what we actually need. For example, I have a heart condition and may need another open heart surgery. In the digitized world, I may be looking heart surgeons but, because I have my teeth clean every year, all I find are “suggested dentists in my area”. How the bleep does that help me T-Voh? ;)
Kidding aside, it is for us to decide scenario would make the world a better place? Which is more likely to become the reality? With luck, those two questions have the same answers.
My favorite post this semester was Daniel’s Ban Hammer Blog. I especially like the comment “I keep thinking about how it seems many people are of the opinion that if a library possessing a piece of material it also means they agree/approve of said piece of material.” I am also a fan of the picture. It reminds me of a D&D character I played once…I realize that this may not be the most “academic” of comments, but it is the one truest to my personality. GEEKS UNITE!!!!!
Thanks for a wonderful semester and a great finish to my grad degree!!! Good luck Everyone!
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Thank you, Sarah and colleagues, for making me really think and question my own role in the world of information at my local level and also on a much larger scale. I wish this could've been a face-to-face class because I think the conversations would've been awesome! As a middle-ager, I have to say I am excited for the future of our profession due to the intelligence, passion, and commitment I sense from online interactions I've had with all of you.
I've found WikiLeaks absolutely riveting, and down the road, I think we'll be telling others that we were taking this class during the height of the controversy. These are strange times indeed and also pivotal on a number of fronts. An informed constituency is more important now than ever.
I think I've been most struck by the diversity of opinions during class and the nuances of meaning that class members brought to issues. I thank all of you for making me stretch my frame of reference and opinions. For me, Week 6's discussion about the ethics of access was particularly personal and important. Week 9's module on TCEs was also interesting. I've been exposed to so much that I may never have otherwise seen/read/listened to. How cool is that!
One of my favorite blog posts is Diana's from the TCE week. Hopefully, I've correctly added its link below:
Happy holidays to you all! All the best both professionally and personally, and I hope our paths cross again!
The nuances and standpoints in this debate are very interesting, and go well beyond the kind of black-and-white soundbites you might hear on network news, for example. Check it out if you have a few minutes.
Here is the link to the debate, which you can also read as a transcript on the same site.
At any rate, I think the other concerns the author mentions worry me more. I think we really do need to consider who is gathering information and how that organization will control and leverage that information. That is, private companies have motives, namely profits, that do not necessarily align with the public's interests. As some of Andrejevic's examples show, private companies may find it more profitable to bow to the requests for censorship from governments, like China (example about censoring of a blog, pg. 311-312), rather than support freedom of information. It is the possibility that private companies will use the networks and, as Andrejevic refers to them, enclosures to censor ideas, create and enforce strict intellectual property protections, and use information and data stored on their servers to their commercial advantage but the disadvantage of the public or certain subsets of the public.
As I read the article, I thought of a lecture one of my law professors (Shubha Ghosh) gave on the commercialization of data. He suggested that in the context of the commercialization of data/information the profit seeking goals of private companies conflict with the public's interest of transparency and accountability. I think that is an interesting concept because the public does want information to be accessible and free but private companies want to keep information private so that they can charge organizations and individuals large amounts of money in order to access the information.
I found this course very interesting and thought provoking; I enjoyed reading others views on the issues covered. I think this final article was a nice way to end the course because it draws in many ideas we already discussed and made me think about many topics we have already discussed: privacy and whether loss of privacy will hinder intellectual freedom because people will not search for certain things or read certain things because they know everything they do online is monitored; do we want the government to have control or a hand in providing access to information; and do intellectual property rights and laws fit into a networked, digital society.
Like Alcibiades, I am not going to link back to a post of my own but a classmate's post; I liked Diana's post on tensions in libraries because it is a good reminder that the issues we have discussed really do pop up in real life situations, http://lis661.blogspot.com/2010/10/module-6-tensions-in-access.html.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
First of all, let’s assume all this is true: companies like Google are tracking your spending habits, the websites you visit, and even monitoring your location via your wireless devices. Computers then take all that information, process it, and send you an advertisement. Wow. I feel so alienated from my labor. Attention: nobody is forcing you to buy that product! It’s a suggestion, an enticement, not a gun to your head. Andrejevic makes it seem as if we are mindless cattle who will respond to whatever ads we receive. He goes so overboard, it’s hard to take him seriously. While all this is certainly a developing issue for our current age, and one that deserves a national dialogue, he needs to present the threat better. People won't be motivated by receiving advertisements. And what is his proposed solution? Municipal wi-fi networks? That seems like a pretty small response to the EXTREME privacy threat he perceives. And it ignores the fact that people are more and more liable to access the internet from their mobile devices, which would still be under the constraints of that encroaching cloud, the “prison” he fears.
OK, I could go on and on ripping Andrejevic. But better to use this as a chance to reflect on the broader issue of information privacy. We are facing an unprecedented situation, and we do need to start thinking about the implications of allowing companies like Google and Microsoft to control our data. This, as I said above, requires a national dialogue. How many people are aware that these companies are tracking all that information? Some, certainly. Most won’t care, because the trade off is real convenience and (let’s face it) some pretty cool technology. But there is a significant segment of America’s population that is very protective of its privacy. How can we present the threat in a way that will mobilize this segment into action? In my opinion, Andrejevic needs to reconfigure his message in a way that will resonate with the public. Continually invoking Karl Marx, and making vague references to the enclosure of the English commons is probably not the best strategy in this country. Just saying.
My reflections on the course lead me to this conclusion: it is up to us to find a means and a message to more effectively communicate the potential danger to the American public. We are the ones equipped with the knowledge of what Google is doing, and what the implications are for privacy and liberty. We are the ones who must work to lobby congress and other governing institutions to ensure our constitutionally protected freedoms are not imperiled by the corporate machinery. To do so, we must investigate the potential dangers, beyond just targeted advertisements. I think we all have a vague idea about what those dangers are, but let’s put some real effort into formulating a concrete message to deliver to the public. We must draft serious policy. We must work with Google and Microsoft to find common ground. These corporations are not totally evil: Google has been involved in a recent dispute with China over censorship, and Microsoft’s founder is one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. It’s too simplistic to paint these companies as unstoppable forces of evil out to enslave us.
I feel as if I could go on and on, but blog posts are supposed to be short and sweet. I have enjoyed this course tremendously, especially the opportunity to engage the rest of you on this blog. Rather than fulfilling Sarah’s request to link to a favorite post of mine, I am instead linking to a post by Tecumseh. This one really connected with me at the time and still gives me chills.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
|Amazon's Web Statement|
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I'm very excited about these leaks. Despite all of the attention the diplomatic cables are receiving, I'm not quite sure what the goal of releasing them was. The goal is more clear in regards to the dumps of Iraq and Afghanistan war documents, they are meant, as were the Pentagon Papers, to highlight the discrepancies between the official government line and the reality on the ground in two disastrous wars. In regards to whichever bank this happens to be, I can really see the public interest in making these documents available. Wall Street and many other major financial institutions may very well be responsible for pillaging billions of dollars from our economy. These pending leaks could really help to shed a light on what has long been a fundamental injustice in our society, steal a few hundred dollars, end up in an over-crowded California prison, steal a few hundred million, end up in Club-Fed, if it's investigated or prosecuted at all.
Good-googly-moogly I hope the above makes a modicum of sense. Note to self, don't drink Belgian beer and then post on the internet. But, here goes...
Sunday, November 28, 2010
According to WikiLeaks Twitter feed, their website is currently under a denial of service attack.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
|With some puréed potatoes and heavy cream, they make a lovely winter soup.|
"In a profile of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, the man accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, the New York Times considered many explanations for what Manning did. He was troubled because "classmates made fun of him for being gay"; he was "ignored" by his superiors; he was "self-medicating."...[When asked about the data] Manning replied in true hacktivist fashion, "Because it's public data...it belongs in the public domain...information should be free...if it's out in the open...it should [do the] public good." (Ludlow 16). So in light of the DADT controversy, we have a private who spills government secrets to WikiLeaks because he is possibly getting harassed for his homosexuality. Yet, he remains calm and gives a statement that would make any librarian's heart go pitter-patter: he feels this information should be free.
I am fascinated by the WikiLeaks story, and I think I will be frequenting its archives more often to see what I can learn. The latest WikiLeaks Twitter tweet is rather ominous: "Pentagon says it expects 'nothing new' in next Wikileaks dump. 'Nothing new' to THEM goes without saying." As a future librarian, something tells me I should keep paying attention to this phenomenon of making government secrets instantly public.
I do believe that WikiLeaks is handling some information of value to people that could and would use it for less than altruistic, information-wants-to-be-free purposes. Documents that can lead to the exposure and prosecution, persecution or execution of those in sensitive situations in a war zone are potentially very dangerous… but so are scissors if you don’t use them properly (and I am not about to get rid of my scissors… took me forever to find a left-handed pair big enough to fit my hand comfortably). That, I think, is the trick, knowing what you have and using it properly. By all indication WikiLeaks has done that so far. Despite all of the government’s doom-and-gloom about compromising security and safety in the field the pentagon reported that there were no issues created by any of the leaked information. It would seem that the WikiLeaks people take their redaction seriously. I can’t help but think that with that much info being processed for release by that many people that there is still a good chance of something being released accidentally that might cause issues down the road, maybe a very good chance, but so far it just makes Washington and the military look like they are upset because someone took the power out of their hands. Information is a commodity and they have lost control over a lot of it to a rival – they are afraid of losing face but clearly more concerned over the loss of control. As Assange points out, it is a disturbing and more than a little telling that government has gone after WikiLeaks sources but paid little to no attention to investigating some of the alleged abuses of power and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington is being a petulant child that is still angry about the other kid that got to go first on the slide so they won’t play at all. The pentagon stated that it expected that none of the leaks from the Iraq War Logs would be knew information trying to downplay the whole thing. WikiLeaks points out that it goes without saying that the information wouldn’t be new to them on the War Logs page of their website. In the face of the government’s response to this, with the only thing to counterbalance it being the leaks might potentially be dangerous if something isn’t edited properly, I am going to have to side with the WikiLeaks crew and Julian Assange. Side note: Did anyone else feel really bad for Mr. Assange during the Amy Goodman interview? The man looks haggard, and when she asked him at the end what gave him hope he looked on the verge of breaking down for a moment. I guess making an enemy of the governments and intelligence agencies of the world will do that to you.
I think if there is something that WikiLeaks could be faulted for (and I would not be the one to bring it up to them, given what they have accomplished/risked so far) it is the inaccessibility of this newly accessible information. Like most of you, I found the documents I looked through a confusing maze that had no real relevance for me. This is not even mentioning the massive amount of info. It is great that it is out there, but one has to question the effectiveness of it. All the hactivists and journalists and conspiracy theorists of the world could work on it for years and there could still be valuable things missed. It is almost misdirection through information overload. Again, not that I would bring it up. It is still impressive that it is out there to begin with and that so many people are laboring to do what they think is right by distributing this information.
Where do we fit in here? Since the government seems to lack an official entity to advocate for the declassification of information, it is up to us to fill that role. Barring truly compelling situations of national emergency, we should always support the freedom of information, regardless of public opinion. There will be times when that stance can get us into hot water, of course, but since the government will always try to keep information secret, there needs to be a dedicated corps willing to fight on behalf of the public's right to information. Wikileaks helps provide us with the tools to make the fight a bit more even. Hopefully, out of that struggle, somewhere in the middle, there will be a point where the appropriate degree of secrecy vs. access is reached.
Monday, November 22, 2010
As I searched through the WikiLeaks site, I was both amazed and overwhelmed by the information made available. It is organized, searchable and cross-referenced. I was expected a big blob of text 100 million pages long. I did have a hard time making any real sense of it, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I plan to go back and delve further. The maps helped make a connection to the text I was reading. It’s amazing to be able to see exactly where each report is taking place. Somehow, the maps made it all the more real for me.
In truth, I am very torn about wikileaks.org. On one hand I do applaud Assange’s work in making available this information. The current conflict in the Middle East has divided this country, especially politically. Furthermore, many have questioned former president Bush’s motivations, tactics and leadership from day one. Some consider him a war criminal. I have no doubt that many government activities would shock American citizens if we knew about them. (Think Watergate, Guantanamo Bay.) From this perspective, WikiLeaks brings about the opportunity to read and analyze government and military information, and gives the media a chance to tell real stories, and not regurgitate the official statements from our government.
On the other hand, to what degree should this type of information be made available? Will its ultimate use serve the goals of a free democracy, or highlight our secrets to those who would do us harm? Like most of my classmates have already said, John Mill would be cheering Assange from the highest rooftop. The inclusion of all of this formerly hidden information would, in his view, only further discussion from all sides and enhance the search for truth. I agree, but should truth override the safety of other human beings? In Engleberg’s ProPublica article he writes that through the 75,000 documents posted on WikiLeaks, it is “possible to identify Afghans who have cooperated with Western forces.” How ironic if the country they helped only served to facilitate their demise in the end by making their actions know to anyone. (Certainly, WikiLeaks can be accessed from any computer in the world.)
Should there - can there? - be a line drawn in which “secret” documents remain secret? Through our readings we know that the government secret stamp was used not only to protect information to keep us safe to protect those who made bad mistakes and tried to cover them up. But what if documents on WikiLeaks, or any other such site, truly compromise our national security and our personal safety?
After three paragraphs, I am still torn. I believe our government has shrouded many of its activities in secrecy, and I believe that we should have the right to be able to access that information and question the motives and decisions of our leaders. Whether it be Assange or any other political hacker, there will always be a select group of people fighting very hard for, as Ludlow wrote in The Nation about Levy and The Mentor’s hacker principles in the 1980s: “information should not be hoarded by powerful constituencies-it needs to be placed in the hands of the general public.” Online, the general public is anyone with a computer and Internet access. It can be a journalist, a library student, a teacher, or a member of an enemy military. Is it even possible for a site such as WikiLeaks to promote free access for all without putting anyone at risk?
I was also a little surprised at the usability of the wikileaks website. I don't know why, but I was also envisioning long written out reports rather than short little snippets. The subject terms were in plain, understandable language, but there were both terms in all caps and no caps and some terms repeated. Additionally, I got sort of lost in all the abbreviations. The addition of the map feature was definitely cool and really made the events told in the logs more tangible. I think it is hard to really digest and comprehend what is going on in the middle east because it is so removed from our lives; it is physically distant and although we talk about events in the middle east we are not first hand seeing the action. Therefore, I think the maps help create a stronger connection between what is happening in the middle east and our lives here.
As others said, I think Mills would support the sharing of information since he argues for listening to both sides. I think the release of information and documents, like on wikileaks, can lead to further discussions about topics from multiple views and allows people to make more informed decisions about what they believe, develop well supported arguments for their beliefs, and have a better understanding of the opposing view.
And now a brief aside, relating back to copyright. Last week in my copyright class, my professor mentioned a statement from the UK that the UK copyright law needed to be reformed to include provisions similar to the US's fair use doctrine in order to attract technology companies to the UK. I think that is an interesting proposition, but, as my professor mentioned, hopefully the UK will be able to find a way around the problems with the fair use doctrine in the US; for example, avoiding a doctrine that involves so much judicial discretion in balancing the four factors that no one can guess whether fair use will be found.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
First, let me say that I found this week’s topic of WikilLeaks to be among the most interesting discussed within this class. I did not know of its existence prior to this week. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.I have to be honest that I did not know what to expect when I searched WikiLeak’s archive, specifically, “Diary Dig”. What I suppose I would find would be complete sections of information – documents which consisted of 20-pages-or-more of juicy information noting edits, deletions, and the “top secret” red stamp of approval. Basically, something that stood out as information which should not be known.This is not what I found in “Diary Dig”.
What I DID discover were thousands of short documents which contained the essential elements of information - # of casualties, units involved, target specification, and so forth. Alone, one document with a few numbers and abbreviations does not provide any insight to the happenings of war; but a coalition consisting of tens of thousands of documents paints a full picture – a story of attrition that any war tells.What would Mills say on the ethics of WikiLeaks?Mill’s writings argued, in so many words, that an ignorant argument breeds ignorant thought. Freedom of Information, therefore, is a fight against ignorance. Is not information classified as “top secret” the manifestation of ignorance promoted by government action? Thus, I believe that if Mill’s were alive today, he would be sitting at his own lap top reviewing potential articles to be posted on Diary Dig. In short, Mills would be continuing his fight against ignorance in this new medium.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
On the other hand, I do have concerns about the consequences of leaking secret documents and what this may mean for the safety of the informants that are providing or have provided our military with intelligence. In his interview with Amy Goodman, Assange pointed out that WikiLeaks has held back 15,000 pages of documents with this sort of concern in mind. However, in the ProPublica article "How WikiLeaks Could Change the Way Reporters Deal with Secrets" it is noted that the New York Times has identified dozens of cases where the identity of an informant has been put in jeopardy in the 75,000 pages of documents that have been released. These people, as a result, are in grave danger, if they have not come to harm already.
With that said, it doesn't help our government's case that they have often abused their ability to cite national security concerns in order to protect information as secret or classified. All to frequently, these national security concerns have been an attempt to dissuade the news media from reporting stories that have little to do with national security, but may be damaging to our national reputation, having uncovered uncomfortable facts about our military involvements or possible unlawful conduct. The governmental response is often to blame the leaker or the reporter, insinuating that there may be grave consequences to the disclosure of secret information (think Abu Ghraib), but the ultimate responsibility does not lie with the individuals who brought abuses to light, but with those who allowed the abuses to happen in the first place.
As others have remarked, trying to glean much from the Afghan War logs is difficult. They are often cryptic and lacking context. It was hard for me to make much of the few documents I viewed. This accentuates a point that is often missed as we have discussions regarding information and access to it, while we all regard access to information as a good thing, essential even, information still requires an interpreter. Raw information does us little good if we or some other trustworthy source are lacking in the ability to determine the raw information's "aboutness."
Friday, November 19, 2010
Britz’s article has a legitimate issue in identifying low ethical standards in the global information community and how, in the author’s view, we should apply social justice these wrongs in the international information society. It brought to my attention the many ways that the flow of information is impeded, especially to those in under developing countries. On page 1178, Britz gives examples of violations of participate (social) justice:
§ Restriction of the freedom of expression.
§ Violation of a person’s right to privacy.
§ Unfair intellectual property regimes.
§ Creation of information monopolies.
§ Economic policies that do not allow affordable access to essential information.
Despite the article’s thorough research, I couldn’t help myself from thinking that this is great in theory, but I am apprehensive about its application in the real world. Especially, if we are talking about Third World countries, who have always been at the receiving end of tyrannical politicians and regimes, as well as their access to education whether it be proper primary schools, the opportunity for university, or learning better ways of water irrigation, agriculture, etc. Access to information is just more of the same for populations that have always gotten the short end of the stick. It doesn’t mean that I think we should not discuss this issue, or that it isn’t important. It is. I just don’t feel that many of those who have the power to do something put this issue at the top of their list.
One sentence on page 1173 did stick out for me: “Essential information is that information that people need to survive and develop.” In some ways, that statement can be applied as a moral guideline for many of the examples of violation of justice Britz describes. If we are committed to making essential information available to everyone across the globe, they will, hopefully, be empowered. But it might be awhile before this begins to gain any real ground. For those to explore the potential of essential information, they must first have the ability to know about the information, comprehend that information, and have the technical tools, skills and infrastructure to receive and process that information.
As for the Bowers article, it is amazing to realize that there is no law in the U.S. Constitution protecting our privacy, and that no law exists to protect the records of library patrons in this country. HEPA protects medical patients, and the government protects your video rentals, but no one protects libraries other than the committed librarians and library staff that uphold the highest standards of privacy and protection.
I’ve read about the Connecticut Four before and was truly blown away, both by the government’s actions and by the willingness of the librarians to stand up to the Patriot Act privacy, regardless of the consequences. They sued the government, and they won. I can only hope that if I ever find myself in a similar situation, that I will have the courage to act as they did, and the support to back me up.
There is a great chapter on the Connecticut Four in a really great book called, This book is overdue: How librarians and cybrarians can save us all, by Marilyn Johnson. I hope, as describes in this book, that wherever I am working, my library will be strong enough to proudly display the sign “The government has not been here today” each time federal agents come into the library.
Libraries need a policy that outlines the steps to take if the government demands patron information. Additionally, librarians need to know what they can expect in terms of support. Basically, will a library cave to a NSL or will it fight it? Will they pay for your lawyer, or demand you acquiesce so the situation comes and goes without a peep?
Not get too much off the subject, but privacy is a novel term in some ways. In LIS 644, we covered how Google and Facebook, among many others are tied into our preferences, our purchases, our daily lives. Of course, the government invading our privacy is much more serious, but millions of us post online in blogs, social networking sites, web sites, perhaps not realizing that information can be linked to us decades later. In a general way, we actually give up our privacy to some degree.
I am prepared to fight as a librarian to keep the records and information tied to my patrons through the library safe and private, for no other eyes than their own. However, I do believe that the security of our great nation and the threats against it are serious issues with dire consequences. I also believe that going through library records to look for threats against our country will not turn up much, if any, tangible proof against an alleged terrorist. Other evidence such as affiliations with known dissidents, uncovering actual bomb-making devices and paraphernalia in a place of residence, or interactions and conversations about plans for a criminal act certainly lend more weight than a library book on explosives in the courtroom.
One of the first things I noticed when I came to the wikileaks site was the lack of controlled vocabulary. It's nice to see a break down into categories, but to my eyes "FRIENDLY FIRE" is likely the same as "Friendly Fire." There could be a difference between capitalized and not capitalized, and I could see an argument for limiting the amount of keywords to preserve the raw data aspect of it. But if the mission is to make this information available to the general population, then making the UI and search options better seem a good place to start. Mr. Assange did mention in his interview on democracy now that they were going to beef up the search options, so I suppose they're looking into it. This was just one aspect of it's inaccessibility that I found. Not that people can't get at it, but it's hard to understand what's going on.
Like Mel, I am a bit overwhelmed and confused as to what I'm actually looking at on the site. The check box for expanding acronyms is huge. A really good feature. Still though, it's hard to draw conclusions about anything on there without some serious research. For this reason I think the idea of forming a news "coalition" was probably a good move on Assange's part. The three newspapers are in more a position to review and extract important parts to the records. That said, there is always the danger of losing the forest for the trees and I think Assange made a good point in his interview that when people ask him what the most shocking thing is he talked about the more long term patterns rather than a single incident. I imagine most people want to find their My Lai Massacre for these army operation instead of seeing many smaller infractions that add up to bad moves on the part of the military.
The most interesting thing I learned from Assange's interview was not actually about wikileaks at all, but instead when he was talking about revealing his sources he said how it was illegal to do so in Sweden (one of those Scandinavian countries anyway), making me again wish I could get back to my Norwegian roots. In general, I feel a bit like the whole wikileaks issue in the same way one of our classmates (sorry I forgot who) felt about challenging books. While people revealing secret information and government trying to squash those people are both a bit problematic, the struggle between the two sides is very democratic just as the act of challenging a book. I definitely think that some information is important to keep secret, but it's likely that a lot of what is classified doesn't really need to be so, and it's investigative journalists job to find said information. Hurray for equilibrium through conflict.