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Government Information Awareness 211

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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  • Things like credit card purchases, phone bills, personal contact information, organizational affiliations, travel history, books checked out from the library -- you know, things you wouldn't want to hide unless you were a criminal?
  • Excellent. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mmm coffee ( 679570 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:17PM (#6368876) Journal
    People like these are the true patriots. Unlike my neighbors who never flown a flag until 9/11.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:18PM (#6368879)
    In a democratic republic, WE are the government. And, if you don't feel you are, take a more active role and make it so.
  • Awfully curious... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FredFnord ( 635797 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:21PM (#6368895)
    ...was that serious, or sarcastic?

    It was pretty straighfaced, if it was sarcastic. But if it was serious, it was just plain scary.

  • by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:23PM (#6368908) Journal
    "Will it include the same information they collect? "

    I think individuals pushing for massive data collection should be the most heavily looked-at people on there. People like John Poindexter, John Ashcroft, and any Congresscritter who shows support for anything like the TIA needs to be followed, reported on, have their every purchase logged, their every movement cataloged, their every affair made public, and have every habit at the fingertips of the world. Let's show these people just what it is we don't like about programs like the TIA. Let's show them what it's like to have strangers turning your life into a database entry. Something like GIA could very easily turn into a platform for opposing programs like the TIA with actions instead of words. I'm not saying we should be in-you-face harassing these people; I'm saying we should simply find out every bit of possible information about them on a continuing basis until they drop support for 1984-inspired programs. If anyone who lives near these people would like to help out, then all the better.

  • by Brushfireb ( 635997 ) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:28PM (#6368937)
    While I am not sure if you are serious or not, your logic is flawed. The simple fact that the government has ACCESS to those files should not be legal. This is about challenging your government. Its what happens in fascist and dictator states.

    "Oh Look, he checked out an article by Locke, or Marx, or Lenin, Or an Islamic Text.....he MUST be doing something illegal. Kill him". While this is extreme, the government knowing what people are doing, seeing, reading, and learning allows them to find and target those with different political beliefs than they. The whole point of a free democracy is to prevent such things.

    The MIT cause hopes to prevent the government from having all the info and all the power, and returns some power to the people. The simple fact is, that behind every bad decision in government, there is a person responsible. The MIT site helps us to pinpoint who, so we (the PEOPLE, the CITIZENS) to not elect next time, or to ask our reps to fire.

  • Re:1984? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rectum2003 ( 686009 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:29PM (#6368941)
    This is exactly how should work a democracy. With power comes the duty to be transparent and subject to critic.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:30PM (#6368946)
    People who donate to political parties are the closest that a regular citizen can get to being the government.
    The rest of us just have our one vote.
  • Great idea.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CokoBWare ( 584686 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:30PM (#6368949)
    This idea is phenomenal. Finally a way for people to do a search on some meaningful information about their government officials. Hopefully, it will support more government databases in the future, as I believe that there are more than 3,000 government officials in the US.

    Unfortunately, I can't search on anything cuz the site just got /.ed ;-)
  • A Few Thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shackleford ( 623553 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:31PM (#6368952) Journal
    I actually submitted this article this afternoon. Apparently, it was rejected because another user submitted it. Well, I'm not sure why, exactly. Anyway, I suppose I'll just dicuss a few thoughts that I had after I read the article and checked out the GIA website.

    Here, on the 4th of July, Americans have been presented with something that many of them would certainly like to have. Information on the individuals that have power over them. But is it not true that much of the information is available to the general public? The information in the database, which now contains information on more than 3,000 public figures, seems to be accessible enough. It would include information about campaign finance, corporate ties, etc. I suppose that this website would facilitate finding such information, which certainly is good. But it is all information that already seems to be avilable to us, as it can be submitted by people like you and I (and anonymously: good news for those who like to post as ACs here.)

    But what I'm sure many people would want is a more open government. One that does not keep as many secrets. One that does not do as much behind our backs. One in which there is less "classified information" although that may be a pipe dream. I understand that much information was removed from sites with the .mil TLD as a cetain terrorist organization was allegedly getting much useful information from it.

    But this stil seems to be a good idea. It'll make much information accessible to U.S. citizens, and, perhaps, if nothing else, hold up a mirror to those in power who want as much information on us as possible.

  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:33PM (#6368960) Homepage
    In true foil-hat fashion, I can't help but think that the GIA will only cover a fraction of what our government really does.

    If people start using the GIA as a standard for truth, if they say "It's in the GIA, it must be true," then the government will have an incredibly convenient way to encourage the belief in whatever information or misinformation it feels like. This would certainly have more clout than mass media outlets, which obviously have their own credibility issues.

    No government tells its citizens everything, and of what it does tell them, it's never the whole truth. What I do hope for from the GIA is at least apparent accountability that, while not touching upon all the madman's deeds that go on in secret subterranean complexes, will at least raise the public consciousness with regard to elected officials and get them (both the public and the officials) to act a little more responsible.
  • Re:Coincidence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigjocker ( 113512 ) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:33PM (#6368963) Homepage
    What I wonder is how long before the government pulls the plug on this one. Considering the practices shown, the government could argue almost anything from the Patriot Act to "information in the hands of terrorists", no matter how idiotic it is, and the big media (ala CNN) will repeat it to death so Joe Moron will believe it and feel comfy when the plug gets pulled.

    This project has the potential to show the big players the dangers and possible consequences of the Total Awareness Act (or whatever is named).

    Anyways, a great idea nontheless, and here's hopes for it to live long enough to make a difference. Projects like this, the EFF and the few others make you hopeful.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:36PM (#6368974)
    Except for the Presidential election. In that, depending on where you live, your vote counts for 1 +/- some amount. And for laws. How many people voted for the DMCA? Wasn't even close to one person, one vote there, because the representatives and senators do not all have an equal number of constituents.

    it's a deeply flawed system.
  • by Sagarian ( 519668 ) <smiller AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:36PM (#6368975)
    Any type of information they can collect and access without a search warrant should be fair game for the populace to access about them. And with current legislative trends that body of information is growing ever larger. Hence I was only half-sarcastic.
  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:39PM (#6368991)
    According to the wired article, information about politicians is posted anonymously, and the politician always has a chance to refute the claim. The claim and the reply are always kept together, no information is removed.

    There is system to rank the credability of the contributors to keep things in check, similar to epinions' trustworthiness ranking system.

    However, this could still be open to widespread abuse with a coordinated effort. A person posting a comment could be backed up by hundreds of people vouching for his or her integrity, and even if the politician replies denying the claim, the damage is already done, which is the whole point behind a smear campaign.

    The lesson is, be weary of all information you receive from anywhere. Everything is suspect and most of the details of information you receive about things you did not witness in first person is probably 90% incorrect. Did you ever do that experiment in school where you whisper a phrase around in a circle of people and by the time it comes back to you it's completely different?

    It will be interesting to see how this page plays out, to see if it is compromised by hundreds or thousands of people with an ajenda. It's hard to pick up on subtle slanting of information until it's too late.

    "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." -- Winston Churchill


  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nepheles ( 642829 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:41PM (#6369000) Homepage

    This is an excellent idea, and one which deserves to do well. The delicate system of checks-and-balances has been become skewed of late, and our privacy has been steadily eroded.

    The balance needs correcting, and this is a good way to set about it, by affecting the decision-makers personally.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:43PM (#6369009)
    Whoosh! Thats the sound of something going straight over your head.

    1) Government declares they`ll starts keeping info on citizens in databases.
    2) Citizens say they'll do the same about the government
    3) You find b scary. Where were you when a was announced?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:44PM (#6369011)
    Precisely what these folks are doing, don't you think?

    They're essentially assuming a role that was previously only held by governments-- the role of surveillor and data-gatherer. Much like the cypherpunks who took crypto out of the government's exclusive control, the folks behind GIA are doing something that people outside the government (and a few marketing organizations) have ever done before-- they are closely inspecting, scrutinizing, and analyzing every action of a select group of citizens.

    Whether these citizens are regular folks like us, or public figures like John Kerry, the same rules should apply, shouldn't they?

    Gee, I think there's a POINT somewhere in all of that...
  • by chef_raekwon ( 411401 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:58PM (#6369064) Homepage
    the humour is this: in the US, or any "democratic" state these days, the people ARE the government. An elected official should *in theory* be there for the people who elected him/her. So, because the official represents the people, the people, again *in theory* should make sure the official has full reports of his/her doing. Ie - no hidden secrets....

    why then, are there secrets in Government?

    i think it has something to do with money, business, and money....(and maybe money)
    what do the US citizens feel about this, seeing as how they are the pentultimate of Democracy?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @04:58PM (#6369065)
    Hell, that's being nice!

    Why are they letting the government refute anything? We can't refute what TIA says about us, because we can't even SEE what it says about us.

    I say let 'em hang.
  • by MagikSlinger ( 259969 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:03PM (#6369085) Homepage Journal
    It will be interesting to see how this page plays out, to see if it is compromised by hundreds or thousands of people with an agenda. It's hard to pick up on subtle slanting of information until it's too late.

    That's why the ACLU is opposed to TIA and the infamous TIPS program.

  • Re:Excellent. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:14PM (#6369116) Journal
    Actually, I don't consider it bad not to have flown the flag. I don't consider it bad to stand with your fellow citizens. If flying their flag is how they choose to do it, then so be it.

    However, I do consider it bad to blindly follow a flag like Roman soldiers following a Roman standard. You really need to look at who is waving that flag before you run off and lynch someone, or kill someone, or help ship them off to Cuba, or invade someone else's country.

    Read Stephen King's "Through the Eyes of the Dragon" and "The Stand" if you want to know what he thinks of the Grand Ol' (Randall) Flag (Flagg)
  • by PingXao ( 153057 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:14PM (#6369117)
    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.

    This is all fine and dandy except for one small thing: the government does not have a right to know personal details about citizens with the force of Big Brother's dream come true: TIA. I think it would be more beneficial to channel the energy that goes into GIA into making sure we elect leaders who will kill TIA before it really gets rolling. And un-electing those who permitted it to be born in the first place. Besides, if Big Brother has anything to say about it, this MIT Media Lab project will last only until the first time MIT is unexpectedly denied a government research grant or contract.
  • Re:Coincidence? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Drakonian ( 518722 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:26PM (#6369171) Homepage
    I think it would be outrageous if they took it down. What kind of country doesn't let its citizens read up on the government? Possibly a dictatorship?
  • Re:Not Very Deep (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jpaz ( 512242 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @05:58PM (#6369326) Homepage
    Remember, though, that it is *just* the first effort. The site just went up. And of course it'll be slow on its first day, when slashdot got to it. Give it time.
  • by Lectrik ( 180902 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:14PM (#6369408)
    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.

    Well except they'll probably just make it illegal for us, and write in an exception for their own total information awareness programes
  • by rking ( 32070 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:23PM (#6369450)
    Or in other words, "I say we stalk 'em" (Score: +5, insightful)

    OR "If they plan on stalking us, and argue there's no reason we should mind, then how about we show them what it's like?"
  • Re:1984? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @06:57PM (#6369605)
    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...

    In a word: No. The only information this will collect about the politicians is easily available public information - no credit card bills, no wiretaps, no ip logs, nothing that the government already uses on its citizens. This is far from a 1984 in reverse...
  • by Stephen VanDahm ( 88206 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @08:06PM (#6369927) Homepage
    "But he isn't dumb"

    Anyone who has lived in the United States all his or her life and still cannot pronounce the word "nuclear" is a dumbass. Every time that idiot goes on TV and talks about "Nu-cue-ler" weapons he embarrasses the entire nation.

    "and it's inappropriate to call him Dumbya."

    Can I call him "Fratboy" instead?
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) * on Friday July 04, 2003 @08:56PM (#6370092)
    >The rest of us just have our one vote.

    This is the wrong attitude to have; keeping silent until election day out of cynicism of the system because the wealthy have better access than you.

    Join a political organization, the ACLU and NORML could always use more members. *two organization I'm part of.

    Local government: There are many opportunities to make your voice heard. *I've done a little regarding the local school system, but I hope to exploit this more

    Keep in touch with your congress person: fax and phone them over issues and pending legislation. *A little ackward at first, but now I feel very comfortable calling up and saying "Yes I'm a constituent and I would like my congressman to vote against ..."

    Cyber-politics: web-based form letters, forwarding emails/links, mature discourse on poltics on web forums, etc *this is probably the most accessible way to get involved and will probably change government/citizen interaction in considerable ways in the next couple years.

    I do all of the above, and yes it has its downsides, but en masse getting involved in politics is very healthy for a democracy and when real results come out of it (and they do) then it hard to justify the complete apathetic stance of 'all we get is a vote, they're in charge.' Why not become "them?"

    Regardless of all the examples of cronyism and corruption you can think of, X amount of government will be little people making their voices heard. The question is do you want to be part of that X amount, thus influencing it with your views, or not?

    Lastly, all of the above really doesn't take much time. I think at one time the apathetic stance could have been defended a bit more easily, but with advances in politics on the web its almost a crime not to do something as simple as point-and-click donate or point-and-click fax.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @09:30PM (#6370244) Homepage Journal
    Back in the olden daze we had "demonstrations" against the draft slavery and against illegal undeclared wars (as in the bigfatwhopper lie "nam"). Anyway, the goons back then do what they do now, they infiltrate demonstrations with undercover goons, who proceed to start violence, giving the uniformed goons an excuse to go mad dog. Then the goose stepping regime supporters point at the violence say "see, we need even more lowrrrr-nn-orderzzz!"

    We used to get pictures of these "undercover" goons and publish them in the "alternative press" of the time, or even just mimeograph it and spread them around. Sometimes it was crude, just crowd shots with a rough circle around a goons head and an arrow pointing at them. When we could we found out their names, published that too, but that was hard a lot of times.

    They HATED that stuff and tried to stop it, it was too embarassing to them to have the truth come out. that's why back then they used to hunt to find the cameras and beat up the people with them and smash the cameras, it was typical and common behavior with them. And they are still pulling their demonic crap, decades later, just now they have more money, more technology, more demon goons working for them, and are going for broke, they want THE PLANET.

    Anyway, BOY HOWDY I'm in favor of this effort with the database on the goons! My recent run in with the small time but still foul local goons just triple convinces me, we are living in a junta, a military dictatorship being run by international blood profits at any costs globalists, who use badged and uniformed mercenaries to do their bidding. There are no "laws" that apply to them, they are "above the law", and commit murder on down, any crime you can imagine.

    SCREW THEM! EXPOSE THEM! The USA of today is germany in the 1930s. this is just SO obvious. There's plenty of official demon goons and plenty of true believer goon regime supporters, just like there were back in the 30's. They are BAD PEOPLE, and also, quite insane. These are nuts with guns and jet planes and armies. Their judges are all part of it, you don't get to be a judge unless you are in it with them. We don't have an independent legislature, we have two criminal gangs who share the spoils. We don't have "public servants", we have career bureaucrats who protect their checks at all costs before exposing corruption, or go along with it and profit from it. We don't have an executive branch that follows the laws, we have big and medium and little order giver dictators, who's spokespeople lie daily on the tube. Screw em! It's the same thing, same actions, getting worse daily. We can learn from history or repeat it, that's the only two choices we have. And if we ignore it, it WILL get much worse, much, much, much worse. They are out of control now, completely.
  • Re:Excellent. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elmegil ( 12001 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @10:15PM (#6370435) Homepage Journal
    I think one of the main points is, if you're going to fly the flag as a matter of "solidarity", you need to educate yourself and show the flag some respect. I'm not a flag waver; never have been and likely never will be. But I know enough of the proper procedures to know that if I change my mind, I can get the information to do it right. Like lighting the flag at night (or taking it down), etc. I have a fair amount of respect for my neighbors who do it right (one guy does indeed have a light on his flag at all times)--even if I am certain that I wouldn't agree with them about some things--and none whatsoever for the bozos who think shredding a flag on their radio antenna is somehow patriotic.
  • by underscorebleach ( 675436 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:05PM (#6372701) Homepage

    Once again, a stupendous failure to appreciate that this so-called GIA would be most effectively used against local, small-change politicians. The big politicians are the ones who have the resources to combat this sort of thing in the first place. They have the support of volunteers and paid organizations that can go to bat for them. But what about a city alderman?

    I get mad at my alderman. I get 10 friends to play along. We do a little research on Mr. Alderman. We publish his phone information. Maybe we do a little bit of amateur spying on him, following him to work or watching him grocery shop. We make a few specious accusations for the helluvit--and because hey, he's a jerk, right?

    The big politician can fend that off. The little guy is fighting against you and your 10 friends. And he's not winning.

    Remember, kids: you might want to run for office someday. Manage databases and reading Slashdot might get old. But hey, maybe I just have broader aspirations.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.