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Government Information Awareness 211

Posted by michael
from the sauce-for-the-gander dept.
gbjbaanb writes "Wired News is reporting about the GIA, software inspired by the TIA program. 'Researchers at the MIT Media Lab unveiled the Government Information Awareness, or GIA, website Friday. Using applications developed at the Media Lab, GIA collects and collates information about government programs, plans and politicians from the general public and numerous online sources. Currently the database contains information on more than 3,000 public figures. The premise of GIA is that if the government has a right to know personal details about citizens, then citizens have a right to similar information about the government.'"
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Government Information Awareness

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  • Coincidence? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:13PM (#6368853)
    I wonder if it's just a coincidence that this site was put up on the 4th of July?
  • Finally.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dr Reducto (665121) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:18PM (#6368878) Journal
    Politicians don't like it when they are held to the same standard as everyone else. It will be *really* funny when some unethical "contributions" are discovered. When Politicians see just how bad stuff like this is, maybe they will think twice.
  • 1984? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jimmer63 (651486) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:20PM (#6368890)
    Did George Orwell ever imagine a world where the populace itself would become the Big Brother of the government? It's 1984 in reverse. Quite ironic really. I wonder how the politicians will react. Increased privacy laws? We'll see. Maybe not in my lifetime though...
  • by blibbleblobble (526872) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:24PM (#6368920)
    "Will it include the same information they collect? Things like credit card purchases, phone bills, personal contact information, organizational affiliations, travel history, books checked out from the library..."

    There's always hope. After all, it only takes a few people who work in bars, restaurants, etc. to get the travel history, eating habits, partners' descriptions, etc. of the entire congress...
  • by Loki_1929 (550940) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:26PM (#6368928) Journal
    "But if it was serious, it was just plain scary."

    So are the programs that many of these people are pushing for. TIPS, TIA, Magic Lantern, roving wiretaps, constant surveillance, and more and more and more. If these people want to do it to us, why is it you have a problem with the people of this country doing it right back to them?

  • I like it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Whammy666 (589169) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:32PM (#6368955) Homepage
    After all, it's supposed to be an open and transparent government despite Dumbya's efforts otherwise. But I wonder if it will survive. Some years ago, video rental outfits leaked a list of porno movies that members of congress and high-ranking justices were watching. Congress instantly passed legislation making it illegal to do that. It seemed that they didn't like people probing their personal viewing and reading habits. However, these same bunch of baffoons have no problem doing the same to Joe Public ala the Patriot Act and TIA.

    Keep this in mind in 2004 and vote.
  • by JimmytheGeek (180805) <<jamesaffeld> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:33PM (#6368959) Journal
    The mayor supported the Chief of Police in defying a Court Order not to troll through people's garbage without a warrant. But when a weekly paper went through THEIR garbage and published their findings (which were pretty banal, nothing spicey) the cop got "hostile" and the mayor went "ballistic"

    Both should lose their jobs.

    http://www.wweek.com/flatfiles/News3485.lasso
  • Taking Any Bets? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Coffee Warlord (266564) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:39PM (#6368986)

    If this takes off, how long you think it'll last online before the gov't declares it a 'terrorist informational tool' and starts (pardon the pun) terrorizing the masterminds of this one?

    Helluva idea, but I have a feeling it'll highly piss off our lovely government.
  • by ChadN (21033) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:50PM (#6369037)
    Well, I think his point was if we, the people, demand 'tit-for-tat' information awareness, then they, the government, might start to realize that it SHOULD be illegal. Ie., when push comes to shove, they will want to protect their privacy, and so will give us ours.

    Mind you, that probably won't happen, but the point was this is a tactic we can use to at least TRY to have a government that protects our rights.
  • Open secrets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by poptones (653660) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:57PM (#6369061) Journal
    I saw this last night and thought of submitting it, but after looking it over I blew it off because all it seems to be is a differently organized mirror of the opensecrets.org website. Every single "fact" I found was collected from there.

    One thing I did find interesting was looking at campaign contributions. The amount of money behind Liddy Dole and Hillary Clinton is fucking astounding. More then Ed Kennedy, more than Fritz Hollings - more than anyone else I looked at (and I looked at many).

    aside from campaign money there's just not that much there. No corporate holdings (which would be a helluva lot more interesting than donations), no special interest alliances - not much of nothing.

  • Re:Excellent. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:00PM (#6369069)
    Properly dispose of the prematurely aged flag? Like, by burning it?

    Seriously, how does one dispose of a flag?
  • Re:Coincidence? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by onthefenceman (640213) <szoepf@hotma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:02PM (#6369081)
    This site is a godsend to all those interested in learning more about their government but who might not have the time or inclination to go wading through the public courthouse or library to find information.

    Also of interest is the fact that the MIT Media Lab receives vast amounts of funding from government and corporate donors. While I can't think of any legal means this site could be shut down, it could practically be accomplished by financial pressure either directly from these donors or indirectly from the Media Lab/MIT if it feels the squeeze of the purse strings. Let's hope that if this comes to pass the creators of this project stand strong.
  • by mick88 (198800) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:04PM (#6369087) Homepage
    Seems to me that this database could only provide information that we already know... cause when someone does something really stupid like get a DUI or smoke up, it makes it into the news right away anyway.

    Yeah, maybe with this database we can get credit card reciepts or ISP logs... what does that prove? that gov. employees watch porn or drink booze?? oh wait - so does everyone else.

    BFD, I say.
  • by kremvax (307366) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:41PM (#6369242) Homepage
    Well, in the Alan Moore Book it was Rorschach.

    But in a free and Democratic society, it is us.
    It had better be us. If not us, then the democracy will fail.

    This is an excellent step towards accountability in profoundly corrupt times. Another site that can help you "Follow the Money" is http://www.opensecrets.org

    To find out where your tax billions are going, try searching on: Halliburton, Bechtel, Brown & Root on either and both sites.

    Kremvax

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:44PM (#6369261) Homepage
    This belongs to the family of "blogs with delusions of grandeur". The scheme depends on large numbers of people voluntarily going to the trouble to carefully put info into the right slots of the system.

    Ted Nelson's Xanadu, which was sort of like an overcentralized World Wide Web with revision control and micropayments, was the first attempt in this direction. The "Wiki" crowd has the same idea.

    This works well for popular culture and badly for almost everything else. To work, it needs a fan base. Slashdot is about as good as this idea gets.

  • by jordandeamattson (261036) <jordandm&gmail,com> on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:54PM (#6369307) Homepage
    I submitted this article at 10:00 AM PST, 1:00 PM EST, this morning, but it was rejected. I don't know why that was the case, except I didn't take the standard /. twist to these issues.

    I believe this is actually an extremely positive step, for I am in agreement with David Brian and the arguments he makes in The Transparent Society [kithrup.com], saying that we should realize that there is no privacy, and that we should focus on building transparency in our society.

    When we struggle to preserve annonimity and privacy, we are actually playing into the hands of those that would be despots, by building a system where they don't have to be accountable for their actions. For a small example of this one, think of how many times you have heard a government official state, when speaking of some action that is being challenged, "We can't discuss this matter do to privacy issues." Whose privacy are they protecting? The person that is challenging a wrongful firing or the child that claims they were abused in the local youth facility? No, they are protecting themselves, but they are using (and abusing) our focus on privacy at all costs to protect themselves and their positions.

    Bring on the transparent society. Let's work to end this situation!
  • Re:The Name (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Distinguished Hero (618385) on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:03PM (#6369355) Homepage
    TIA (Terrorist Information Awareness)

    Whhaaa?
    It was called Total Information Awareness until recently, and this [thememoryhole.org] is what their website used to look like. When did they rename it?
    Bah, just more newspeak...
  • by ClarkEvans (102211) on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:04PM (#6369363) Homepage
    While this may be useful, it will die a horrible death; too much information at a high-level and not enough depth. Someone seems to be taking snapshots of CSPAN and associating these with names. Really, a person shouldn't be added unless quite an initial file can be made for them, such as name, associations, etc. Just their name and picture isn't a good start and will only serve to hurt the process.

    This needs to be more like open source "meritocracies", where anyone can send stuff to a "patch-list" but only committers who have proven themselves get access to change the database. Any other mechanism will be flooded by garbage.
  • by The Master Control P (655590) <ejkeever&nerdshack,com> on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:12PM (#6369398)
    Politicians have always been open relays to anyone who offers up money. A large majority of them are scum, whether by their own choice or by having to be scum because they are the proxies of scum. For most of history, they've been able to keep this under the carpet, because the ordinary people couldn't really make ripples; They didn't have the means of distribution available to them. Now the 'net has turned that on it's head.

    For a long time, politicians have wanted to and usually succedded in trying to control the people because they were the only ones who had the means of distribution available to them. Now here comes the internet and turns that around and kicks it soundly out the door. Now anyone can make their opinions available to millions in a matter of minutes or seconds.

    I suppose what I'm getting at is that GIA is backlash, to remind our politicians that they no longer control information or it's distribution. And you can bet they'll be screaming and kicking like spoiled little brats from hell. However, try all you want to put this magnesium-and-sodium candle out. It'll always come back, and if you douse it with water it'll only burn hotter.

    Interestingly, most current politicians haven't played with this kind of fire yet, and they haven't learned that you'll get burned.
  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:24PM (#6369460) Journal
    Pandora's box is open, but there, fluttering on the bottom, is hope. We can't stem the flood of information that is about to wash away every vestige of the notion of privacy, but we can make sure that it washes over the rich as well as the poor, the powerful as well as the weak. I think the weak will bend before the flood, while the powerful, who have more to hide, will break.
  • by chill (34294) on Friday July 04, 2003 @07:08PM (#6369673) Journal
    exactly. http://www.usflag.org/us.code36.html#176. Although I'm sure you knew that.

    Holy Shit! Have you read all that? Unless Little League, BSA, GSA and hundreds of others have been designated a "patriotic organization", they are all in violation for wearing flag patches.

    God help all those people in D.C. who put flag decals on their cars, then later sell them. $100 fine and/or 30 days in jail. (This may only relate to any vehicle used in business, I'm still in too much shock to re-read it all.) [Title 4, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3]

    Want to make & sell a flag or lapel button flag? Get a license from the Sec. of Defense for face $1,000 max. fine.

    However...

    "...no federal agency has the authority to issue 'official' rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups."

    Thus they are customs, not law. Except for the D.C. thing.
  • by lakmiseiru (635364) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:39AM (#6370876) Journal
    Charles Vest, the president of MIT, published a statement in September of 2002 which dealt directly with the issue of openness in universities, particularly regarding scientific research. Although this particular endeavor doesn't specifically fit that category, his words still pertain. I've copied the most notable ones below; the entire statement may be found here [mit.edu].

    "By and large, the academic community has treated this as a reasonable approach and, of course, will comply with the law. But even this seemingly straightforward approach is not without a huge potential price to be paid in the advancement of science, and therefore in our health and welfare. The MIT Ad Hoc Committee on Access to and Disclosure of Scientific Information was deeply concerned about the path down which we may be starting, noting that the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the statutory power to expand the list of select agents. The Committee expressed the view that we could soon arrive at a level of restriction of access to materials by our students, faculty, or staff on the basis of their citizenship, for example--something that would be incompatible with our principles of openness, and would cause us to withdraw from the corresponding research topics on our campus. "

    Hopefully this doesn't come to pass, but if it does, I have some faith in MIT's ideals of openness over funding.
  • Re:Excellent. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MickLinux (579158) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:46AM (#6370895) Journal
    First, you'll have to forgive me -- I don't have a copy of either book here with me. So my quotes aren't quotes. However...

    Eyes of the Dragon: Randall Flagg certainly was old; he had advised the king, and his father. Some said that he was as old as the country; others claimed that no, he was the country; while yet others said he was only a symbol of the country.

    Both stories: Flagg doesn't do the bad things himself, for the most part. Rather, he gets others to do evil "in the name of [the] Flagg". I threw the "The" in there, in brackets, myself.

    That's for starters.
  • by Loki_1929 (550940) * on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:14PM (#6372956) Journal
    "why do we think it is important to have the nation aware of blue dresses and activities between consenting adults in private, but not important to be able to look for patterns in the behaviour of large numbers of people to find the 1 in a million dangerous types?"

    Because "dangerous" can mean a lot of different things. Would George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others have been considered "dangerous" to Brittain in, say, 1770? Dangerous can mean a lot of things. Dangerous can mean someone with a revolutionary idea that could wipe out a major industry. Dangerous can be someone with information that would destroy a major political figure. What a person or group in power considers dangerous often has nothing at all to do with physical injury. George Bush considers the idea of gay marriage to be "dangerous", which is why he's considering pushing for a Constitutional amendment banning it.

    The other problem is with this "patterns in the behavior" approach. What you're suggesting is that once we identify something that many terrorists have done, anyone who does those things (even if they're perfectly legal) is probably a terrorist. What this logic fails to take into account is that patterns of behavior are easily changed by those wishing to conceal who and what they are. The moment you lock onto certain habits and such, those trying to conceal themselves begin altering how they do things. You may catch a few real terrorists, but most simply fade away once again. Caught up in the middle of all this are dozens or hundreds of people who have done nothing wrong, but yet are still sitting in a holding cell being interrogated by MPs for days on end. Or maybe the MPs decide that the ones who aren't telling them all about their terrorist buddies were simply trained in how to defeat interrogation techniques, so they simply declare them "enemy combatants" and lock them away for life. Looking for a pattern of behavior assumes guilt by those fitting it. When you look down a long checklist of things to look for and you're sitting there going, "check, check, check, yep check, does that too, check..." and on and on, the only thing on your mind is, "we've got to get this terrorist bastard now."

    The other problem with looking at patterns of behavior is that people will begin to figure out what government is looking for, and avoid doing those things, even if they're perfectly legal. What you end up with is a chilling effect on a number of different things, like the freedom to simply live your life the way you want to, so long as you're within the law. To have unwritten and secretive laws, which is what you're basically advocating, sounds the death knell in any Democracy. Democracy assumes an informed public, and in turn assumes a public capable of informing itself. What you, and others, are asking for is that we remove as much information as possible from the public sight, making the public less and less informed, while telling them that everything will be ok because it's being done for their own protection. From a government that has berided governments on almost every continent about not being open and transparent, to begin to close things off here simply goes to show that we're moving in the wrong direction.

    "It will be very hard to do properly, but it is just plain dumb not to try."

    It's impossible to do, without simply annihilating the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of so many people that you end up giving up the very thing you're fighting to protect. Pearl Harbor, September 11th, none of it makes me feel any differently about the ideas and the ideals of our Constitution. It wasn't ever written to be something that's easy to follow. It's hard because it's right. It's hard to look at someone you just know did some horrible crime and not simply beat him to death. It's hard to not want to have the police come and arrest the guy who's on the street corner saying thing to you that go against every single thing you hold dear. It's hard to respect the right of
  • by symbolset (646467) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:14PM (#6372958) Homepage Journal
    This represents an excellent opportunity for the unemployed to volunteer for community service. If the out-of-work took up the task of filling out this database the benefit to the republic could be remarkable. A mere hundred polspotters in each city could obliterate incompetence by obscurity from the public sphere, and put a good dent in the quid pro quo system as well.

    Some ideas:
    To defeat nepotism and the system of influencing pols by employing their family members, all family members of pols should be entered with their employment data.
    Some feature should be devised to phrase the statement "This person is a member of this group of seven, each of whom is a CEO serving on the board of the other six."
    Lastly and most difficult, there are many in public service worthy of respect. Some have surmounted great challenges, some have demonstrated courage in the face of danger, some toil diligently to serve the public weal. I hope that reports of these facts find prominent places within the dataset as well.

  • by surprise_audit (575743) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:25PM (#6372999)
    If you think someone's following you, start taking photos. Get a friend to follow you at a discreet distance with a video camera. Place that friend on a street corner, then walk/drive past while your friend films everyone behind you. If you see common faces in the photos/movies, call the police on your "stalker"... Tell 'em you feel threatened, that you think the "stalker" might be armed.

    Or, more passively, lay in a lot of supplies, then hole up at home for a week or more. Don't leave the house, keep the curtains closed, don't even use lights visible to the outside. The watchers will at least get very, very bored, possibly to the extent that they'll quit, or get sloppy enough to fall for phase 2. Get a few friends to come over, the more the better. All immediately exit the house dressed identically and scatter in all directions. Arrange for several look-alikes to leave town.

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