Confidentiality, secrets, and government

Some public secrets have recently been revealed, apparently coming to light for political effect. So there are questions, as usual, about timing. There are, as usual, choruses of outrage.

I’ve long wondered how our clandestine surveillance network will eventually become better recognized. We’re well into the century, and most people still believe in restricted access to information. For the large and growing group of ‘extra-governmental’ ‘national defense’ workers, there are no restrictions. AP leak? You’ve gotta be kidding. There’s nothing, on any network, anywhere, that isn’t available if you’re on the inside.

It has to be this way, both in the interests of national defense, and simply because the technology behind moving and storing information inherently makes it all accessible. But it creates a situation that, I think, is new. Any sort of communicating we do, electronically, still exists. It’s all backed up in giant server farms built precisely to back it all up and store it for algorithmic content searches. I still don’t know how to explain this simply: it doesn’t matter if you’re a top government agent or your own mother-in-law. You speak into the same system and it’s all recorded for future research. There’s a whole community of people who have access to it, and these people know what the data says.

The situation will gradually become more explicit. We’ll have public lawsuits over this and that, and there’ll be references to lots of electronic information which may or may not be allowed into the trial – but a whole community of people already knows what it says. There will be more and more information clearly available to some, but inadmissible in court because, well, it shouldn’t be available. It’s only around because, of course, all information is around, now.

So, it’s a new world in terms of what we choose to look at, and what we pretend we cannot see.


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