By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
“TIA was the ultimate Big Brother play,” says McKinley. “Every time any system like this has been built, no matter the reasons, it always ends up being used for abusive purposes.” But, he realized, he had access to the same technology the government did, and it would be possible to use it to watch the watchers instead. The result was the Government Information Awareness project (opengov1.media.mit.edu).
Just like its TIA counterpart, GIA is a huge database where all sorts of information can be stored and searched for, um, patterns of suspicious behavior. The Web site now offers a thorough breakdown of every aspect of the U.S. government, with everything from biographical information on our secretary of labor to lists of campaign contributors for every Congress member available. It is one-stop shopping for information that previously has existed in dozens, if not hundreds, of other places. Still, that’s only the beginning.
GIA’s eventual goal is to extend the database so ordinary citizens can add information, possibly utilizing anonymous Napster-style file-swapping software to protect listers. “Right now, I’m trying to set it up so when someone adds information to the site, both the information and its source are subject to some kind of peer-review process,” says McKinley.
Meaning, if I were to enter the fact that I saw Dick Cheney out walking with the queen, doing the werewolves of London, last Tuesday, other users would be able to comment on my sighting. If someone else saw Cheney at the San Francisco office of Bechtel on the same day, that would pop up and cast doubts on the veracity of my report and on all my other postings. It’ll take time, but eventually McKinley hopes for a site where information is rated by other users (in the same way Netflix users can rate movies), with the end result being something similar to the community of book critics that has evolved on Amazon.
It’s a big goal. And to make it happen, McKinley needs to solve a few more problems. To this end, he’s currently touring the country, teaching workshops on GIA data entry in order to build up public awareness and participation (if you’re interested, he’ll be in L.A. in late January; contact him at email@example.com). If everything goes according to plan, the result won’t just be the lab geeks watching the watchers, it’ll be all of us — which is how things are supposed to work in a democracy.
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