The Internet and Intelligence

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Well, I garnered quite a bit of traffic from my post about Facebook and its possible CIA ties. Thanks to everyone who linked, particularly Andy over at!

I just recently started thinking about the Internet, its conception and its future, and it really is a bit of a conundrum. As reader Kenneth pointed out:
It's like anything that you have large quantities of information for, whether it be baseball (Moneyball), the weather or Google. It is being recorded and it will both benefit us as a society (Fun tools like the Facebook and easy access to information like Google) and hurt us (Release of Privacy - What we search for in private).
I don't know whether Facbook's "connections" to the CIA are relevant. As many bloggers pointed out, the CIA could spider these databases if they wanted to, regardless of any monetary investment. What I do know - and the overall purpose for the article - is that we are at a critical point in history. We have the technological facility to index all known information, and this ability provides us with unprecedented convenience. What we must think long and hard about is the cost of that convenience. Where is the balance? How transparent do we want our personal lives to be in exchange for networking, indexing and searchability? I don't know the answers, but we are the generation(s) that must come to terms with this issue and make some decisions.

That said, there have been some very interesting links in the past few days that correspond with my concerns. Here's a quick "round-up":

1. Apparently President Bush authorized the NSA to do some domestic spying without warrants following the September 11 attacks. (Google News - Forbes)
The New York Times quotes government sources as saying a presidential order signed in 2002 allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity -- without court-approved warrants. Perhaps thousands of international telephone calls and e-mails were monitored, the Times said.

The Times said the decision to conduct surveillance without a court order within the United States represented a major shift in domestic intelligence gathering.

2. On a humorous (but in the context, ominous) note, heres an interview with Google's Larry Page in 2038.
Q: I would like to talk a bit about Google Real World Texts Search, the former Google Books Search. When did you decide it wasn’t enough to just scan books?

A: Well, just look at our mission statement. You’ve heard it a million times, “Google’s mission is to organize the universe’s information ... “ etc. After we finished scanning the last book, we were sort of like: “Wow. We did it. Everyone thought it’d be impossible.” But we’re not here to tap each other’s backs and sip champaign. For us it’s more like, so where’s the missing data? And really, we think there’s a lot of text outside of books. On product packaging, comic books, magazines, school papers, and so on. Even when you’re doing a phone scribble, that has the potential to contain valuable information to some. So really, it was only a matter of getting this right, technically, ... we knew very soon we just had to do it.

Q: The phone scribble scanning raised some privacy issues.

A: Yes. And we don’t take those lightly. Internally, we repeat our mantra, discuss it... “Do no evil”. But really, people can easily exclude their trash from being indexed. Our Googlebots will not scan any house, trash can, letter, postcard, magazine or anything else marked with the “no index” sticker. This is really important to us, that people get the chance to opt-out if they’re concerned with privacy.

The rest is worth a read.

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