Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Final Post

If 1984 was re-written to be 2084 I strongly suspect that 'Big Brother is watching you' would be changed to 'Big Business is watching you' or perhaps just 'We are watching you.' After reading Andrejevic it is hard not to imagine a future where the big information and technology businesses, secure in the fortified Googleplex HQ will monitor the generation of an entire world worth of information in real time, all the while supplying the government with information it might require. How could real freedom exist in such a system?

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.

Last Week

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

its been a trip

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

Well, what do you know...

I thought my previous post was my last. Lo and behold, I was doing some headline scanning and found this post on the FTC's proposed online privacy plan. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/06/ftcs-online-privacy_n_792548.html

Week 14: The Final Post

Reading Andrejevic's article "Surveillance in the Digital Enclosure" was a really detailed look at how we consumers unwittingly submit our personal and shopping preferences to companies. It reminds me of an old Windows XP guide I was paging through over Thanksgiving break. The guide clearly said to feel free to lie when filling out the online registration form for your Microsoft Passport software; let Microsoft learn about your personal information through mailing lists, like the credit card companies do. Also, while it's really handy for Windows Media Player to find your CD cover album art and song information, it is also reporting what music you're listening to. That guide was written in 2004, this article in 2007, and I still think few internet users really, truly know what information is being shared behind their backs. From Facebook profile content to the data your camera stores on every digital photo you snap, there is information being recorded that you don't even know about.

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.

Reflections

The Andrejevic article made some interesting points. However, I couldn't help but wonder if I might have gotten more out of it if I was more up on my Marx. The central point I took away from the article is that many of the applications and services on the web that many of us have come to expect to use for free, aren't really free at all but come at the cost of us surrendering some of our personal data. This isn't a surprise to me, and I find it hard to get overly upset about this type of transaction. After all the companies that develop applications and are making massive R&D investments in computing and networks must recoup these expenses somehow. If we were to pay a true market cost for some of these services, I'm not sure many of us would think it to be affordable. For example, none of us had to pay a subscription fee to use Blogger this semester, even though the costs to Google (i.e. hosting, tech support, etc.) to maintain Blogger are not insignificant (well maybe to Google they are). For now, at least, I think the trade-off is a worthwhile, though slightly worrisome, one.

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.

Wrapping Up

I agree with my other classmates thus far about Andrejevic, this issue doesn't seem like such a big deal. Giving up something like my shopping history to Amazon doesn't bother me at all. I just do not believe they would ever do anything malicious with it, for one it'd be bad business for them to do such things and for two I just doubt they care for me as an individual beyond my buying power. In fact I find it helpful, just today I was doing a chunk of Christmas shopping and found recommendations for other things to purchase very helpful. I suppose it's someone who is looking out for us all, but even for me as someone who is mildly paranoid about my internet privacy, I like the advances in cloud technology and other things and to give up a bit of info about me to make it better seems a good trade off.

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.

http://lis661.blogspot.com/2010/11/wikileaks-info-supreme.html

T-Voh and 1984 - The Last Post!

[sarcasm] Oh the wonders of technology…thank goodness that a company keeps track of our actions online so that a company, any company, can tell us what to buy or how to think because we may have purchased Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol from Amazon.com because we checked the ILL waiting list and were like number 278 in line…and we didn’t feel like waiting several months to read the tomb of mystery and fictitious controversy which every Dan Brown book brings, apparently. [/sarcasm]
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

Come on, Librarians!

I am continually frustrated by the lack of librarian involvement in policy issues. It's our own fault. Even our cataloging tools are only designed for the physical. MARC can't be used effectively for organizing the giant abyss of information online. Yet, shouldn't we be taking steps to get involved in the online world of information? Seriously, why aren't we?

After reading Andrejevic's article I was even more frustrated. Alcibiades mentions that advertising is no big deal. I don't agree. :) I really think Andrejevic's telling us it's more than that. That's just the beginning. As the article mentions, we are using forms of communication willingly, yet we are unaware of what they are doing with our data. Now that we can be tracked with network access points, they can really start to use layers of information to find trends and analyze our next move. I don't want to be monitored, nor do I think it's okay that I am neither aware or have the option to become involved in this data collection. It's a violation of my basic right to privacy, and it really bothers me. Andrejevic mentions how this will work in the very near future (if not already): "We can access the data we have turned over to them (Google, Microsoft, you name it), but only in exchange for willing submission to, among other conditions, the forms of monitoring and control facilitated by the interactive infrastructure." (311). This really bothers me. Just because I use a particular technology out of convenience, doesn't mean I should lose my right to privacy. Plus, could you imagine telling someone fifty years ago that when they accessed information in the library there would be someone outside waiting to sell them something in relation to their inquiry? Because, that's what is happening on the web and we are just so inured to this behavior it doesn't seem like a violation anymore. (Sorry for the hyperbole, but it's not too far off.)

All that being said, it's our job as librarians to get involved, be on the front lines of information policy decisions and stand up for our patrons and ourselves. The right to privacy is important. We take a threat to privacy seriously when it is threatened at the brick and mortar library by federal agents, yet when marketers watch your every click on a library computer we just shrug it off? 

Something's not right here and we have to be willing to step in and provide guidance to policy makers on several fronts. Or we are not going to be able to stay afloat and work with policy that was decided for us -- and again, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves (because we weren't involved).  I am extremely thankful I took this course so I can get involved with these issues in the future because I am no longer ignorant to their impact on libraries and their patrons.

My favorite blog post was the post I had the most fun writing: http://lis661.blogspot.com/2010/10/banned-books-policy-and-protocol.html
I'm glad I took the time to review my own policy at the library I work at, while at the same time I was able to provide a valuable resource to the rest of the class.

Thanks for a great semester everyone!

Wrapping It Up

Forgive me for waxing sentimental in this (probably) last blog post.

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:
http://lis661.blogspot.com/2010/11/module-ix-tces.html

Happy holidays to you all! All the best both professionally and personally, and I hope our paths cross again!

WikiLeaks Debate: A "Transparency Activist" Takes Issue with Assange; WikiLeaks

If you haven't noticed by now, the Democracy Now! program is an excellent resource for the kinds of topics and issues we've been covering in class and/or we're covering via the tracking papers. Host Amy Goodman frequently brings guests on to discuss contemporary issues such as net neutrality, media conglomeration, access to information and so on. She's been one of the go-to journalists staying on top of the WikiLeaks story, and the other day, she hosted a very interesting debate from two people. One is a "transparency activist," a person dedicated to some of the same principles WikiLeaks espouses, but who feels WikiLeaks will ultimately do more harm than good to open information principles. The other is a Constitutional scholar and writer who is in favor of WikiLeaks.

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.

module 14

I agree with

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oh no! I've been advertised to!

Andrejevic: There are some points for concern here. As we give up control of our data in exchange for free storage, endless interconnectivity, and general convenience, we are certainly signing away a large amount of our privacy. That said, the writer has himself whipped up into such a fury over....advertising? I mean, isn’t that what his article comes down to? These companies aren’t using our information to oppress us, but to sell us stuff. And his contention that by playing video games or grocery shopping we are laboring on behalf of Google is REALLY stretching things.

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.

http://lis661.blogspot.com/2010/10/censor-censor.html

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Amazon Issues Statement on WikiLeaks



"Late on Thursday, after refusing to comment for more than 24 hours, Amazon issued a statement explaining why it stopped hosting the WikiLeaks.org Web site after getting a phone call from Sen. Joe Lieberman's office...Responding on Twitter, James Ball a journalist and WikiLeaks volunteer,called the statement "disingenuous," and noted that when Amazon decided to stop hosting the site, it had published just 300 cables, all of which had been redacted by news organizations, like The Times and the Guardian, which had discussed them in detail with the U.S. government."

Amazon's own statement is reproduced below:

"There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate.

There have also been reports that it was prompted by massive DDOS attacks. That too is inaccurate. There were indeed large-scale DDOS attacks, but they were successfully defended against.

Amazon's Web Statement

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.” It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.

We’ve been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that’s perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.

We look forward to continuing to serve our AWS customers and are excited about several new things we have coming your way in the next few months.
— Amazon Web Services"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Daily Show: WikiLeaks

Here's a clip from the Daily Show about WikiLeaks, be warned: it's a bit cruder than normal.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Informant!
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yet More Leaks

Sorry to keep harping on this. I just find everything that is currently going on with WikiLeaks to be endlessly fascinating. Apparently, early next year WikiLeaks are planning to publish a number of documents from a "major US bank" that demonstrate a widespread culture of corruption and possibly a pattern of behavior that may be linked to our current economic crisis. Bank of America's stock was down today amid speculation that they are the bank in question. Now this is a leak that I am awaiting with baited breath. Banks and their lending practices are at the heart of our recent recession (Are we out of it? By definition, I suppose the answer is yes.) and more information has recently emerged about banks and their possibly fraudulently fast-tracking foreclosure proceedings, so I think a peek into the internal memos of this "major US bank" will be infinitely valuable to our understanding of our current economic condition.

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.


P.S.
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

Follow up on WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks is expected to release the classified State Department cables today. The US Government has asked them to refrain from releasing the documents stating that the release will put lives at risk and jeopardize intelligence gathering methods among other reasons. However, the government has refused to work with WikiLeaks to suggest redactions of the documents or to determine which documents should be withheld due to security or other concerns.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/28/wikileaks-document-release-state-department_n_788842.html

According to WikiLeaks Twitter feed, their website is currently under a denial of service attack.
http://twitter.com/#!/wikileaks

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wikileaks on NBC Nightly News Tonight:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

More Leaks from WikiLeaks

Sometime this weekend WikiLeaks is set to release another cache of documents. This time the documents are believed to pertain to US diplomatic discussions of foreign leaders and their governments. In an effort at damage control the US has already been in contact with many foreign leaders to brief them on the likely contents of the documents. So far, WikiLeaks has been mum on the official schedule for the release of these documents.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/26/wikileaks-release-us-brie_n_788614.html

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WikiLeaks Discussion

With some puréed potatoes and heavy cream, they make a lovely winter soup.
I want to take a moment to jump in and thank everyone for the rich and truly engaging discussion you are creating around the WikiLeaks issue.  As you can see by the many interesting and nuanced points everyone is making, so much of what we've been thinking and talking about this semester - access to information, government documents, technology, public good, ethics of information, who owns and controls information creation and dissemination, the politics of making information available, legal regimes and info access, and much, much more -is coming into play in this one issue.  I appreciate very much the way you have taken hold of the issue and grappled with it from many angles.  As you are clicking around the web and engaging with news sources in your daily lives, it is likely you will come across more resources on this breaking topic; I encourage you to post and share those when you do.  Thanks for the contributions.

Week 12: WikiLeaks

I remember hearing about WikiLeaks in recent news, but I didn't understand what all the fuss about. It just sounded like a Wikipedia-esque website that has gotten itself into hot water. Then, for this class assignment, I took a peek into their archives and was impressed by the brevity of what I had access to. The About WikiLeaks page is not shy about the information its archives has to offer: everything from abuse reports to government corruption, environmental crimes and prison conditions. In the Peter Ludlow article, the section that really stood out to me was this:

"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.

WikiLeaks

I share in the mixed feelings about WikiLeaks. I always feel a bit guilty when I cannot quickly and efficiently make up my mind on big issues; like I should stop dragging my feet and throw my support (even if it is often a more-or-less silent supporting) behind the side I choose, my side. This time was no exception, at least at first. Then, as I looked at the sheer amount of information present, I realized that I hadn’t fully made up my mind because I, or anyone else, will never be able to fully take it all in. You can get bits and pieces here and there, watch interviews with Assange and get sound bites from the White House, but in the end it is just like everything else, a simplified version of a too-complex reality. It basically comes down to a certain level of blind faith in one side or another (I am, in this case, speaking of the normal everyday person, not the insiders, decision-makers and the zealously committed to the cause). I have never been big on blind faith, but here goes.
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.

relativism of secrecy (or something)

Does the length of the Afghan war affect how we view the appropriateness of these leaks? What I mean is that I think the public is more willing to give leaders the benefit of the doubt regarding the necessity of classifying information during times of true national emergency. The first month or two of the Afghan campaign, for instance, when the US was making a push to track down Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, etc., is an example of when a level of secrecy is acceptable and warranted. If wikileaks had chosen that moment to publish sensitive information that could have derailed the chance to grab Bin Laden, I have a hard time believing even Mill would have approved. Clearly, there are matters of national security that must be kept confidential, and our democratic system allows us to put in place people we believe we can trust to act appropriately given access to that information. I'm not certain how to establish a strict timeframe after which the government's classification of information becomes less essential, or if it ever does. But I think the government's ability to make a compelling case to keep information secret wanes over time. Since the public has now largely turned against the war, and most Americans want US forces out of Afghanistan, there has been much less public outcry against wikileaks than there might have been under a different political situation. I know that as information professionals we want to have hard and fast rules about this sort of thing. The truth of the matter is that the state of public opinion at any given moment has as much to do with what an entity such as wikileaks can get away with as any rules or guidelines about freedom of 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

module xii: wikileaks

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?

Stats - Late November

Here's a screenshot grab of our audience stats.  I note that my views from Sweden have rolled off.  Enjoy!

Site Audience Stats - All-Time, up to November 22, 2010

wikileaks

I am slightly torn about wikileaks. On the one hand, I strongly believe that information should be free and available to the public. However, a part of me believes we should not reveal classified information if it risks causing harm to informants and/or supporters. I am not sure how, or even if we should, weigh the benefit of free access to information against the possible harm done to others; I think ultimately, the public should know what the government is doing, especially militarily, but I do not think information that could identify and compromise informants or supporters should be revealed to the public until the situation has become such that revealing any identities of those involved is no longer a danger.

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

Wikileaks and Mills

So, I got confused and posted this on Wikileaks last week...Here it is again.

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.

An aside..

Several days ago, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. The warrant stems from allegations that Assange raped one woman and sexually molested another while in Sweden this past summer. The charges were dropped then the case was reopened and now an arrest warrant has been issued. Assange maintains that the charges are baseless and that he has sought to cooperate with the investigation, but until this point had received no official notification from Swedish authorities that they wished to question him. Assange has alluded to the fact that he believes that these charges may be part of a smear campaign to discredit him following the publication of the Afghan War logs. You can read more about it here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WikiLeaks

I hadn't followed the WikiLeaks story much as it was going on, so this was a good opportunity for me to catch up. Ultimately, I have conflicting feelings on the release of these documents. I'm given to skepticism of our militaristic endeavors, and as such, I don't put much stock into our government's official explanation of their motivations, description of conditions on the ground or their metrics for judging success or failure. I also believe that for much of the last decade the American news media has been asleep at the wheel when it has come to providing critical and insightful coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've discussed some of the reasons for the lack of in depth news coverage in the media (i.e. focus on ratings, declines in revenue, cuts in staff, especially expensive foreign correspondents, etc.) Unfortunately, the American media has often shown itself to be overly deferential to our government's explanations of things, especially when it comes to matters of war and national security (WMD's anyone?). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been rife with stories, such as, prisoner abuse or torture; the abuses of private contractors; under reporting of civilian deaths; the scope of the war in Afghanistan and how it has bled over (unofficially) into Pakistan, that exemplify the tension between our right to know what our government is doing in our names vs. the government's claim of the need to protect this information in the name of safety and security. Justice Louis Brandeis has a well known maxim, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Our current military entanglements in the Middle East are in dire need of some sunlight. In this respect, WikiLeaks has been able to play a role that our traditional news media has been reluctant to play, and I am thankful for that.

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

(late) module xi social justice, privacy and the connecticut four

Sorry for the late posting. I've been really ill.

Module xi

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.

Wikileaks: Info Supreme

Leakphoto © 2010 Thomas Angermann | more info (via: Wylio)
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.