Eeky Geeky: Weekly Peeky at the Freaky

Carl Brooks

“Privacy is impossible, dude.” This was the soi-brilliant consummation of an exchange of newsgroup postings from a certain individual with whom I share the ether regarding my griping about the insidious intrusion of the governmental zeitgeist of information gathering. Well, thank you, Dick Tracy.

This topic seems to enjoy the same recrudescent attention as the brown, greasy surface of a pot roast as it lazily revolves in the pot liquor, gleaming with murky brown highlights that promise stewy goodness in the golden, cloudy light of the oven. Such is the revolution of a news topic, and the moist, aromatic surface of the privacy issue slowly ambles up to meet our eyes again.

But first, the news. SCO, evil fetchling of the Unix heavens, has rolled out licenses for the use of Linux operating systems. All of them. Yes, according to scion of the demon-haunted California plains, Darl McBride, you must needs purchase a $700 downloadable chip to use a free operating system. In other news, SCO is developing a licensing system for fish based on their proprietary intellectual property in regards to piscine kinesiology in variable fluid environments.

And Microsoft has apparently used money and influence to peddle its software systems to large international organizations over open-standards, freely available models. Shocked, I am shocked, I tell you.

But really, what’s surfacing above the bubbling jus of computer culture is alarm over privacy. The Old Grey Lady (New York Times to you) carried a piece on finding credit card numbers and social security numbers on Google that had the same rattled quality that I’m sure a hamster experiences every time he discovers that the walls are see-through. Ever since the data-party days of the nineties when fresh-minted computer geniuses sold corporate infrastructure on the idea of putting all your data where everyone on the Internet can get at it, this has been a real problem. Heck, ever since some brain got the idea of putting data into files, it’s been really easy for dastardly peons to look for information. How dare they!

Now, it’s hard to blame the brainless consumer for this, tempting as it is, but really, this kind of boner is an old one. If you put your files where the outside world looks in, well, it will. Back in the old days of hand-crank modems and penny-whistle packet headers, a relatively small pool of curious little keyboard monkeys would do this, and now that banks can’t be bothered to train clerks to use database software unless it’s a web browser, anybody can do it. This is culture hurrying along behind technology, folks, and we may expect diverse alarms about strangers peering at your dental records every so often.

But the real danger here is not from keyboard monkeys. The real danger is that when gathering data becomes so simple that an AOLer on Google can do it, you may rest assured that the technique has fallen within the grasp of the federal government, and indeed it has. The Total Information Awareness project, apparently shot down last year by the SAM missiles of public hue and cry, has resurfaced and lumbers on apace. The project, headed up by Iran-Contra felon and notorious conspirator John Poindexter changed its name, but the funding and the project proceeds. TIA, which ironically means “auntie” in Spanish, is essentially search technology designed to digest the masses of information out there and create a dossier on every single person extant. So write your congressman, and remember, someone’s out there looking. It behooves us all to make it hard for them

Next week: E-voting or 64-bit computing! It’s a surprise!