Friday, June 01, 2007

The Age of Transparency

"I can see clearly now, the rain has gone..." goes the song. These days, the more we look, the better we can see. And look we do.

Monica Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee was not being broadcast on CSPAN1 or CSPAN2 the other day, so I went online to the Committee's web site and watched it there. They broadcast it live.

A person has only to look.


For decades, computing bang for the buck has doubled every two years. A man named Moore noticed this long ago, and the effect was promptly named "Moore's Law". For shy transgressors who hope to hide their faces from the sun forever, Moore's Law makes the light grow ever brighter.

Moore's Law has helped our cellphones evolve simultaneously into leashes and tools of liberation.

Our cellphones follow us everywhere. For those few of us who matter, the powers that be can triangulate between cell towers to pinpoint our location, even when our phones have been turned off. Triangulation recently located the mother of a would-be transplant recipient at a concert and found her in time for his operation. Yay for our government, the heroes...

Oh-oh. A quick dip into Google reveals that a friend's (or enemy's) cellphone may now let them locate cellphone numbers they put in their phonebook. Anyone can be big brother. And this was true four years ago, two Moore's Law doublings back

Another side of the leash was displayed recently when a court case used evidence obtained by a spy program that the FBI had downloaded remotely into a mobster's cellphone which turned it into a room listening device. A guy was bugged by his own cellphone. (From Politech, who has more here.)

Any conversation with anyone who has a cellphone in their pocket that still has a battery in it can now be remotely and secretly recorded. All ordinary conversation - what was said and where it was said - are now potentially a matter of record.

All conversation is public.


What we say can be recorded by the government at almost no cost, scanned electronically for interesting words and phrases, and referred for further processing. If you say things like "Did you get the igniter for the charcoal?" or "Does everybody have ammo for their, uh, squirt guns?" - fishy stuff like that - the government is sure to get you.

Does Igpay Atinlay ukfup NSA? If human beings ever got the idea that their conversations were being monitored, they would revert to nuance and secret languages. For example, "I've got six dozen of the ceremonial candles. Shall I load the candlebra?" or "Yes, we have the cake mix. Should we add the cherries to the cake?" But fortunately, evil people are too stupid to realize that their phones might be monitored. That's the current thinking.

So we all become vanilla. The goal of the exercise is not our security but our conformity.

At the same time that cell phones make us vulnerable, however, they also make us strong.

Cell phones around the world are now poised to photograph anything newsworthy and upload it for global viewing. Police tasered a student who wouldn't show his library card; their violence was captured by cellphones. Two days later, it was all over the news. Tasers can kill. Oops.

Cellphones are the eyes of the world. It can only get better. Doubling every two years.


The NSA and CIA themselves stand out like sore thumbs in a world that is increasingly titillated by the secret and corrupt. Interesting stories can be told, and surely they are now being written. Secrecy practically guarantees corruption, so there may be many marketable stories in the hidden city.

Newt Gingrich, in preparation for a run for the Presidency, has revealed that even as he excoriated Bill Clinton for dallying with an intern, he was himself cheating on his wife. Trying to get a lead on his detractors, he would appear to be. Running scared of the Age of Transparency, he is.

Rudy Giuliani was once photographed in drag. Several times. He's running for president, and the photos are everywhere. Embarrassing for Republicans trying to one-up each other in kowtowing to imagined ultra-right litmus tests is that this exposure of Giuliani's sorta-gay side hasn't hurt him in the polls a bit.

Meanwhile, thanks to all the bad news, the Republican Party has just fired its telephone fundraisers. The process is a waste. Small contributions are drying up. Republican voters know too much about their party. Let the Daddy Warbucks types fund the party, they say, and stop bothering Grandpa.

General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the other day made it abundantly clear that he has no idea how many soldiers have been killed in Iraq. He did not know that more soldiers have died there - 3400 - than civilians died here on 9/11. What else does he not know?

A political posture that denies a known reality in this blooming Age of Transparency risks sooner or later foundering on its own foolishness.

1 Comments:

Blogger Dan McIntyre said...

Exactly one week after this posting, General Pace resigned. His appointment was coming up for renewal and the Secretary of Defense did not want to fight for it in Congress.

Pace has served six years. His fear of homosexuality led to the firing of 46 gay translators who could have enabled his troops on the ground. He did stand strongly, however, against any extension of our failing Mideast adventure into Iran.

9:21 AM, June 10, 2007  

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